By Jessye Sedergren
We need to have a serious conversation. As a nation, we are living in a state of emeregency. There is an epidemic that has infiltrated our communities. According to the CDC, in 2015, 47,055 people have died from it, and that number will likely reach 60,000 by the end of 2016. It has been declared a national emergency, but efforts to cure the disease have been alarmingly uneffective. The number of deaths is increasing every day, but neither presidential candidate even mentioned it. Unsettling, isn't it?
You are likely wondering what I could be referring to. Admittedly, I am hesitant to tell you, as the stigma attached to the carriers of this disease generally has side effects of eye rolls, snide comments and victim shaming by those who do not understand. However, the consequences of this disease are fatal in nearly all cases. Something needs to change. Something must be done. I cannot continue to be silent. I am a carrier of this disease, but miraculously, I am in remission. I found a way to survive, which puts me in a unique and rare position to speak out for my fellow carriers who are dying from our disease. I must do this, because I am only one person, and I cannot alone reach all who suffer. So, here it goes. My name is Jessye, and I'm a drug addict.
Addiction, and the stigma attached to it, has been around throughout history. It literally kills those who suffer from it. It is unlike any other disease, in that the side effects cause its sufferer's to behave in ways that can, and normally do, produce proufoundly painful and horrific consequences for both the addict, and all of the people around them. This is what causes the stigma. It's a heartbreaking disease.
I want to share with you something I wrote when I had just gotten out of treatment. i had 34 days off heroin, alcohol, meth and crack cocaine. These were my drugs of choice, and also the cocktail that brought me to my knees and broke me. My family told me that they had given up on me. I had lied, and cheated on the father of my kids, stolen and lost everything. I was homeless, couch hopping, unemployable, broke, utterly hopless and terrified. I desperately wanted sobriety. Despite having acquired a great deal of self-knowledge about my condition through the 16 years I spent trying to get sober and maintain recovery, I had absolutely no idea how to exist in my own skin, let alone doing that sober. In short: I was a hot mess. This is what I wrote:
As I said before, I am sober still, and have been for over two years. I have a new lease on life. I did not get here easily. I am not employable, honest, useful, and loving. I'm responsible, I don't steal, I pay my bills, I have integreity, and I'm an incredible mother to my twins. I do not look or act like the stigma attached to "drug addict" would have you believe. I am not a bad person. I never have been. I told you all of this, because I need your help; we need your help. We need to end the stigma attached to addiction. This will not, alone, help addicts and save their lives. There are many evidence based treatments available, but discussing those is outside the scope of this narrative. We must make this simple beginning before we can proceed.
No one wants to be a drug addict. No one. We don't choose it. If you love an addict, good. Set boundaries, and protect your heart. Know that you can love someone and not be physically present in their life. But please do not confuse setting boundaries with shaming someone. I speak from experience when I tell you that they are not doing any of the things they are doing in order to hurt anyone. They are not using to escape. They are using to overcome a craving beyond their mental control.