A treatment option that’s effective for one person will never be the answer for everyone.
There is no right way to achieve recovery.
It’s no secret that the United States is in the middle of a full-blown opioid pandemic that’s responsible for killing more than 100 people a day. There’s widespread media, political, legal, social and psychological attention dedicated to this issue, yet people are still suffering.
The painful memories of my own opioid addiction get reignited every time I hear of another fatal overdose. It’s not uncommon for me to find myself sobbing in my car on my way home from work as I become consumed with the pain of complete strangers who continue to be victimized by this crisis: a mother who must bury her child, a child who must force his or her parent into treatment, a client who has relapsed and died or a friend who asks for advice on how to help a loved one.
For years, my father struggled with his own addiction that shattered our family in more ways than one. My community has been ravished by this public health crisis, and it seems like every week, the death toll continues to rise. The breadth of this crisis is all encompassing, aggressive and merciless on its victims. The antiquated beliefs that addicts simply choose this life and that we’re beyond compassion and the opportunity for healing is simply ignorant and insulting.
I have lost more than 40 people in my life to opioid-related overdoses, and not one of those individuals deserved to die. They were sick, suffering and desperate for a human embrace, not a cruel rejection. Sadly, they didn’t survive the grips of their addiction long enough to experience the true freedom of recovery and show the critics what they were made of. Society continues to get robbed of the opportunity of knowing and loving some of the most caring, intelligent, creative, hard working and inspiring human beings to ever gift this planet. For that, I am forever wounded.
I, too, was one of those people whose value as a human being was overshadowed by my sickness. Countless times, I tried to get well and stay well with no success. As a result, my hope of a full recovery diminished with each day that passed. Eventually, I discovered a non-opioid medication called Vivitrol and began treatment after I completed the detoxification process. Vivitrol is a non-addictive, once monthly injection used to treat opioid addiction, which provided me the opportunity to remain opioid-free for approximately 30 days at a time – something I couldn’t have accomplished on my own. As result of receiving treatment and committing to the process of my recovery, my cravings and compulsive thoughts to use opioids began to disappear. I was able to put in the necessary work to sustain long-term success in my recovery and began to recognize the person I once knew – the person who had become a distant memory.
Soon after, I enrolled in a master’s program to become a clinical mental health counselor and started to regain my confidence that my brain, body and soul could be repaired. I began proving to myself that I no longer had to survive a sad, depressed or mundane existence. I learned that I could thrive in this world and achieve my dreams. As a result, I began to feel joy again, and that excited me.
I continued to gain traction in my recovery and decided to pursue another degree, this time in clinical psychology. I am now a third year clinical psychology PsyD student and dedicate my life to helping people who are stuck in the same cycle of torture I experienced. I want others to know how tangible recovery can be for them. The truth is that I’m not special; there’s nothing unique about me that allowed me to turn my life right side up and find my purpose. I want to share my experiences with anyone who will listen with the hope that it could save a life, heal a family or alleviate the anguish of someone’s internal imprisonment. For those who don’t see a way out of the abyss, I share my hope with you until you build your own.
This summer, I celebrate six years of recovery from opioid addiction, and I want to rejoice. I want to wear my sobriety proudly on my sleeve and fully embrace the sweeping movement across the nation to speak up, speak out and recover out loud. Yet, I’m often faced with the overwhelming barriers that we still need to overcome.
It’s essential that we combat the social, personal and institutional stigma that keeps us ill and begin shifting the conversation about addiction treatment to be more accepting and open-minded. I call on all my of my recovery brothers and sisters to end the stigma in our own community so the rest of society can follow suit. It doesn’t matter how we get to the finish line, as long as we do. We need not impose our definitions on one another of what recovery should look like and the way in which one must achieve it. We’re all working towards the same goal – who cares how we get there?
To the incredibly resilient and strong parents, spouses and loved ones doing their best to support people like me, please know that you could never hate us or our disorder more than we do when we’re in active addiction. We are consumed with the shame, guilt and disappointment we feel for hurting you and ourselves, which often emerges after failed attempts at recovery.
A treatment option that is effective for one person will never be the answer for everyone. It’s scientifically impossible. Please have some patience and love us through this process until we figure it out. Most importantly, help us keep fighting.
I encourage everyone to advocate for the proper treatment option that suits you or your loved one best, whatever that may look like. There is no right way to achieve recovery; rather, myriad helpful avenues to explore that can range from medication to mindfulness, and everything in between. Check out some of my favorite recovery resources here: