It’s a curious thing, having to live a double life because of the way you were raised; to be a man and a leader – all while battling a disease that strips you to your very core and manipulates you into being the opposite of what you were taught to be. Addiction doesn’t discriminate by gender, and while it’s not easier for one gender over the other as far as dealing with the stigma of substance abuse, the impact it can have on the psyche of a man is profound.
Nick Goslin, the Alumni Recovery Coordinator for the Star of Lakeview Health, and someone in recovery for over four years, knows all too well about growing up with this impression of what a man should be. You don’t express feelings or ask for help, and you never admit defeat. Those are signs of weakness and men aren’t supposed to have weaknesses. “Admitting defeat, asking for help, telling people I love them and staying humble didn’t sound like the idea of ‘a man’ when I was growing up,” Nick explains. “But those are the qualities that keep me alive today.”
Ben Ertel is a person in long-term recovery, and the Aftercare Coordinator for the Star of Lakeview Health. He was raised with a similar notion that a man should be a trailblazer and always do the right thing; his addiction had a negative effect on this mindset. “My parents always told me I was a leader and to stand up for what I believe in. However as soon as I would go to school, work, or became part of a team I was the follower,” Ben recalls. “I never believed in myself and had that internal uneasiness about how I came off to people. Regardless of what I did in the world I always felt less than and that I didn’t have anything to offer.”
You see, Ben and Nick grew up thousands of miles apart, raised by two different families, but were both taught that a man should be a man and until they both became men in recovery, never truly understood what it was like to be accepted for who they really were and that it’s more than okay to ask for help. “Being a man in recovery is more about being a friend and a brother than being strong or fearless,” Nick says. “Having other guys around that share the same stories and same pain you’ve been through is unparalleled. I didn’t have to prove myself to anyone anymore, I was stripped away of all of the ‘tough guy’ stuff.” Similarly, in recovery, Ben began to feel the same way. “Over the course of treatment I went to three different gender specific residential treatment centers and found the same result every time; no matter what the background or reason for being there, the other men appreciated what I had to bring to the table and respected my opinions. We had been down the same road and experienced the same loss and grief and powerlessness and shared that common bond. It stripped me of whatever persona I may have tried to project all my life to fit in and I was left with myself,” states Ben. “Seeing other men accept me for who I am and want to build friendship gave me the confidence I needed to be myself and stop acting.”
Being a part of a community of men, who all came from different places but were likely raised with the same ideologies of what being ‘a man’ is supposed to entail, and being understood, is an incredible feeling. To know that your disease doesn’t define who you are, or make you less of a man is liberating. Nick says, “Life has become incredible because of the brotherhood and fellowship in my recovery community,” and Ben elaborates, “Being able to stop living a double life was essential to my recovery. There was a point when I was three or four different actors all in the same play. Character defects such as lying and manipulating had to be shed if I wanted to live a life of freedom the other men I saw with long term sobriety had.”
There should never be shame on the part of anyone, man or woman, who is battling addiction, and millions of people around the globe work every day to stamp out the stigma surrounding this disease. There is courage in men like Ben and Nick who share their stories in hopes that it will inspire others who feel like they might be going through this alone – you’re never alone, and help is only a phone call away.