I have been quite active in a few discussions lately surrounding the need for shelter, detox and rehab services in Brandon to serve the Westman area and I believe that we are in desperate need of these resources. What I have discovered however is that there is a whole lot of finger pointing going on, accusations of who and what to blame or community addiction crisis on, the police, the government, the lack of funding, lack of compassion, laws that are too tough, too soft, no communication, stigma and bias…. the blame game goes on and on but it is what I am not hearing enough of that concerns me the most.
Very few people want to blame the addicts.
Addiction is a disease. Street drugs have become more easily accessible, more addictive and more dangerous. We need resources to support those in crisis when they seek help. All of this is true, I don’t deny it and I will continue to advocate for it anyway I can but… addicts are not blameless victims here. And I know this from experience.
I am a recovering addict. Cocaine my drug of choice. I loved cocaine, I loved how it made me feel, I loved being high. Even 17 years cocaine-free, I can’t say for sure that if there were lines on the table in front of me that I wouldn’t do them in an instant knowing I would throw away everything and everyone in my life because I would head down that ugly road again. THAT is addiction. THAT is what addiction makes you think and how it makes you feel. It kills pain, creates a feeling of omnipotence, Ecstasy, oblivion. It destroys you from within. Being high is not the problem for addicts, it’s not being high that scares the hell out of them. It hurts. Mentally, emotionally and physically and most of us would do absolutely anything to avoid that pain. I did.
I lied. I stole. I put myself and my child in dangerous situations and kept company of dangerous people. I risked my son’s life, love, welfare. I risked my own safety. I hurt people, intentionally and unintentionally. I am an addict, it is what we do. It is what we did and I must own that. The decisions I made were mine. I didn’t choose to become addicted but I must own the choices I made after I did. I have told my husband that if I were ever to start using again, he was to take my children and himself as far away from me, no matter what I said or did and stay away until I recovered again. I have made him promise.
I am an addict. I am not a victim.
Sure, circumstances beyond my control that I was a victim of made me susceptible to addiction. Sexual abuse, neglect, poverty – these made me a victim then but can not be used as an excuse. Self-medicating an undiagnosed mental illness for decades made me susceptible to addiction but none of those things absolve me of the decisions I made.
I didn’t have to steal. I didn’t have to lie. I didn’t have to hurt people, but I did. I chose to because at the time it was easier than the alternative – getting help, getting clean and facing the pain.
Addicts know they have options. Don’t let them fool you. I know that when we have a loved one that is suffering, we want to see them as a victim, as powerless, as blameless. It is so much easier to point the finger at circumstances, at the dealers, at the government, at society – it is so much easier to play the blame game than it is to admit that our loved ones are choosing to hurt us. It’s a hard pill to swallow. It’s terrible. And I know that for a fact. ‘If only I was better, my mommy would love me.’ ‘There must be something wrong with me or they wouldn’t do that.’ ‘Why does no one love me enough to care how I feel?’ ‘If only they loved me enough they would stop.’
These have been life long mantras of mine. Sound familiar?
There addiction is about them, not you and as much as it eases pain and guilt to cast the blame elsewhere, it is a dangerous practice. You know why? Because it tells your addict that they are not to blame. There is nothing they did or can do about their situation, it is society’s fault, the law’s fault, the dealers fault… as long as you are not blaming them, they won’t blame themselves either. And if they are not to blame for their own actions, how will they ever change them?
We need education. We need discussion. We need detox. We need rehab. We need compassion. We need programs. As a society we need all of these things. We need to be ready to help when they are ready to be helped, but what we don’t need, what no one needs, is sympathy. Sympathy kills. It feeds self pity and self pity to an addict is like fuel on a fire. Don’t let them burn from your good intentions.
It’s OK to blame them. It is OK to say ‘No more’. It is OK to be angry. It’s OK to cut ties and protect yourself. It’s OK to blame the addicts for their addicted actions. Addiction is not absolution.
Just don’t write them off just yet – be ready to help when they are ready to be helped.
If there is hope for me, there is hope for everyone.
~ Michelle Renee Budiwski