I wish I knew that addiction was a brain disease before I lost so many friends. Had I known that it was more than just them refusing to give up drugs and alcohol because they didn’t want to, maybe I could have helped. It’s not that I fully blame myself; I was ignorant and I didn’t know the extent of the disease, but now I do, and I wish I had known before.
It was so frustrating to see my friends who were intelligent, motivated, and loved throw everything away. They didn’t want to die; that much I know, but they couldn’t help it, not on their own. But what did I know? I thought I knew that if I reminded them how much they had to lose and rationalized with them, they would stop. Because how could they not? It’s completely irrational to keep doing something you know is ruining your life and ultimately going to kill you, right? Anyone in their right mind can understand that; and they did. My friends were some of the most intellectual people I knew. They knew their addiction was taking everything from them, but they couldn’t stop.
Knowing what I know now has shed light on the fact that people who suffer from addiction don’t want to hurt themselves or their loved ones. Decades of research has proven that addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences to the addicted individuals and those around them. In layman’s terms, addiction doesn’t discriminate. Smart people, successful people, young, old, single, married, people with kids, people who are loved; addiction ruins lives and those who are suffering from this disease will do things to themselves and their loved ones that they would never normally do; just to feed their addiction.
When I started working at Lakeview, I was able to sit in on therapy sessions (with the consent of the patients and therapists) in order to get a firsthand look at why people choose to go to treatment. Who wants to get uprooted from their lives, their families, their jobs to spend weeks or months in a strange place with strange people? It’s not the ideal situation, but these addicts decided that enough was enough. I watched grown men cry when they talked about their kids at home and how they made the choice to get help so they could watch their kids grow up. I heard stories from kids as young at 19 who had parents that died from drug and alcohol abuse and now they’re suffering from the same thing and didn’t want to die like their parents. To say that sitting in this therapy session, listening to the heartbreak and desperation spill out of these people was eye opening is an understatement.
I just kept thinking about my friends that I had lost and what they must have been going through and how none of us on the outside truly understood. We were mad at them for their addiction. We hated them for doing that to themselves and to us. How selfish? You don’t get mad at someone for having cancer, right? You support them and stand by them and get them help. But with addiction, it’s different and people think that those who are suffering from addiction aren’t suffering at all and that they can stop any time they want, so when they don’t, we get angry. It’s easy to get angry at what we don’t understand. I am capable of having one drink and stopping, so I felt like it’s not a big deal for other people to be able to do the same. I didn’t know, but I wish I did.
People can’t change the past, but they educate themselves and arm themselves with the knowledge that could prevent tragedy in the future. Getting a job at Lakeview was the best thing that could have happened to me. I was able to learn about the disease of addiction and while not everyone can work for a substance abuse treatment facility, the information is out there and you can consume it in so many different ways. Whether it’s online, in books, magazines, on television; the truth about addiction is out there and it’s important for everyone to know. Please, don’t wait until it’s too late to understand what your loved one is going through. There is hope and help is always waiting.
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