When I disclose my past opiate addiction, I am constantly confronted with horrifying stares and disapproving nods. It always seems as if I imparted the news that I was diagnosed with a highly contagious, fatal illness. The word addiction has become the scarlet letter for the throwaways of society

Addiction has been denounced as a hopeless malady, one that only ends in death, guaranteed despair, and illicit behavior. The tragic behaviors of addicts have consequently flooded into the lives of those around us and ultimately warranted assumptions that we have a choice. To the ignorant and uneducated, this ailment has been synonymous with Amy Winehouse, disheveled appearance, Kurt Cobain, dirty needles, Charlie Sheen, and reckless behavior. The moral compass of said addicts has been called into question. Snowballing out of control, the effect of such ideology has resulted in the stigmas promoting this silent epidemic. I can say I was a part of this better than group of Pharisees until I became the addict.

For as long as I can remember, I exhibited the characteristics of an addict but I was never educated on the disease. The only council I had came from the D.A.R.E program I was forced to attend in early elementary school. Shaming drugs and usage, the information was bias, to say the least. Drugs are bad and so are the people that use them. My lack of knowledge propelled my judgments, but not as much as my experiences with my addicted biological mother. I never understood how a mother could choose drugs over her child, until I became her. Years of broken promises set the tone for my opinion on all addicts. As life continued, I acted out by creating my own misery through self-induced chaos. This kept me satisfied for a while but not permanently. Eventually, I started to recreationally drink and that ultimately led to abusing my prescription medication. I felt so ashamed. I would wake up to indulge in my vices before kissing my son good morning. As I realized how my behaviors mirrored my biological mother and I was overwhelmed with shame. The silent guilt I carried launched me into full-blown addiction. I was afraid to tell anyone, in fear of judgment and condemnation.

The first person to validate that I was sick and not bad was a DCF counselor. Yes, DCF was now involved and I still couldn’t stop. With risks of losing my son, countless times I would cry while preparing to revel in my next fix. Tammy offered me the help I never knew I needed. Even in the midst of my addiction, I still thought this was a matter of willpower. She explained to me that I had a disease, one that manifests in the brain. I remember laughing and brushing her off. Two weeks later, I was in jail and forced to face the reality that I had a problem. I wanted to stop, but I couldn’t. Standing in ruins, I valiantly checked myself into treatment.

Upon entering the rehab facility, I was convinced I was a terrible mother, daughter, and woman. As I continued to surrender to the process, hope found me. I remember a specific group facilitator going into vivid details of what addiction is. He explained to the group that addiction is a disease, affected by environmental, behavioral, and even genetic factors. Physiologically the brain of an addict responds differently than that of a non-addict. In other words, the “normal” person can put a mood or mind-altering substance into their bodies and after a negative consequence will be able to stop whereas the addict can not. Scientific acknowledgment has played a major role in cultivating conversations of understanding rather than judgment.

Finally, I felt like a burden had been lifted. Guilt and shame escaped me. The pain I was experiencing was far less than my fear of change. Today, I live a life of acceptance and grace. I am far from perfect, but I choose to learn from my mistakes today and refuse to chastise myself any further. Gratefully, I escaped the stigma and sought out recovery but this isn’t the experience of every addict. The truth is, many addicts will suffer in silence, in fear of the judgments and consequences that follow disclosing their struggles. We wouldn’t punish a sick friend for their uncontrollable symptoms nor would we enable their unhealthy habits and we must treat addicts the same: we are sick. It’s quintessential for us to spread awareness and cease the criticizing conversations. If sharing my experience can help one other addict and demolish the judgments of a critic, then it’s all worth it.