The “war stories” of people with substance-use disorder prove to be some of the most enticing stories, judging how popular they are. They can be morbidly entertaining, emotional, provoking… they are like the proverbial train wreck where you just can’t help yourself and watch.
But why do we watch? Because we are interested in grotesque, because it makes us feel better about ourselves, because it’s so foreign and even if we don’t want to admit it, unless it’s personal—affecting us—bad news is more interesting than good news. But it shouldn’t be. In the realm of addiction it is the good news that should be on the forefront. Given all the media portrayals, documentaries, films, we’ve exploited the bad side of addiction; we know what addiction does to a person and her family. We know. We know that the children are neglected, that the partners are angry and exhausted, that there’s sexual and physical violence, poverty, that there’s homelessness.
I’m not saying to not acknowledge those things, but it’s important to have balance. Always balance. I want to say to the media: if you present a story of downfall, present a story of triumph as well. Otherwise, the only message people are getting is the doom and gloom and that’s not the whole picture.
For people who are trying to get sober and clean, the only stories worth paying attention to are those of recovery. And, if I had that sway, I’d encourage media to focus on those stories. Talk about the opioid crisis, but also showcase how people use addiction services and treatment to recover. Give all the scary statistics but also show the stats that prove it is possible to get better.
Have a look at these Statistics on Drug Addiction. It’s all Causes, Demographics, Specific Substances, and the Treatment section does not provide any numbers in terms of how many are in recovery or self-report that they have recovered. So we don’t know those numbers. And searching the Internet does not provide any satisfying results.
I can tell you, as an addictions specialist and someone who has recovered, that recovery does exist – but you’re already interested in this blog, in reading about addiction, so you’re not the target audience. The target audience is the general public, who is being misled. The target audience is people who believe that addiction can only affect others rather than them, that it’s always deadly and that it destroys lives… because that’s how it’s portrayed in media! The general public does not go to open AA meetings to listen to speakers talking about their journeys to recovery. They have no idea that people with substance-use disorder can have great, productive lives if they recover.
I mean, look at me—I (most of the time) present like a respectable, productive, and successful individual. And I am that. I am a success story, but you only know this because I am open about my life in my book—or in this blog—where I am able to show the world that it is possible to recover. Still, unless I get my story out into the mainstream media, people won’t see me as a kind wonder, which is what I am because I have not died from addiction.
Stories of recovery are far more beautiful than any other stories. There is joy in them; they have real-life happy endings. They are the stories of people who have lost everything and who got their lives back. They are stories of people who went bankrupt in every way—actually, emotionally and spiritually—but who have triumphed over their adversities. With the right addiction treatment and willingness to change, they were able to get their lives back and often those lives expanded beyond their imagination. And so many of those people got their lives back under the most strenuous circumstances. I don’t know if I believe in miracles, but so many of the recovery stories border on miraculous—I think that’s the sort of news that should be reported because what isn’t worth more attention than something that is… well, extraordinary?
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