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“It will be airing at 5:00 tonight. Thank you for your time,” said a news reporter. I had just finished doing a ten minute interview for a well-known news station. I was a speaker for a round-table discussion with a Connecticut Senator, regarding the opioid epidemic that is destroying the entire world. During the discussion I had shared about my experience with addiction, how I maintain my recovery, and most importantly; my suggestions of how to properly handle this epidemic. Besides the Senator, there were very influential people sharing this table with me representing different departments; law enforcement, the Department of Corrections, community leaders, family members of addicts, doctors, educators, and several others. This discussion that was being held caught the attention of the media and I was asked if I was comfortable sharing my story on camera. Expose myself, my addiction, on television? I definitely care to comment, Mr. Reporter.
I rushed home to watch my feature on the news. I had answered several questions that the reporter had asked such as; my name, age, drug of choice, how I got started, how long I used, how I got help, and what I’m doing now.
“A young woman named Allison became addicted to heroin which caused her to go break the law and go to prison. She used heroin intravenously and eventually she got help. Allison says drugs spun her life out of control. She went from a college student, to a heroin addict,” said the news reporter. End of segment.
“Wait, what?! You’re kidding me! They didn’t even say how I’m clean now and all the good stuff and the resources out there!” I yelled, as I shook my fist at the television. I knew it was typical for the media to only show the “gory details”, but with an epidemic that’s destroying every community; I couldn’t believe that they didn’t make an exception this one time. Classy, news station; classy.
I’ve shared my experience, strength, and hope in front of several different audiences. Sometimes I’m in front of students, community members, churches, parents, politicians, the Department of Corrections, the legal system, institutions, providers, doctors, and many more. I’m always very aware of my audience and I tell my story differently depending on who my listeners are. However, no matter the audience, my story always has one common message; a positive face on recovery and that recovery is possible.
Public speaking is something I always enjoyed, so despite the little bit of nervousness I have, I love doing it. However, there’s definitely a different vibe in each setting; some not so friendly and welcoming, others are loving and open-minded. In every environment, I try to captivate my audience by connecting with them. I may not have experienced the same event that took place, but I can always relate to the feeling that happened in the event. For example, law enforcement is one of my hardest crowds to attract positive attention of. Since I had broken the law due to my addiction, I’ve found it very common for officers to immediately judge, form an assumption, and draw their own conclusion of me. So I ask myself, “What can officers relate to me about?” My answer; frustration. I’ve learned that officers are frustrated with seeing the same people, in and out of the back of their cop cars and county jails. Well Mr. Cop, so am I, especially because I was one of them. So, I find a way to incorporate solutions that officers can be a part of in my story. By doing so, I’ve always had positive feedback from cops. One time, a cop came up to me after my speech and explained how I had opened his eyes to a new side of addiction and recovery. Positive face on recovery? Check. Recovery is possible? Check.
A lot of people have reached out to me after knowing that I had shared my story publicly. The most common feedback I hear is, “I don’t know how you do it. I could NEVER tell my secrets like you just did.” I completely understand the importance and comfort of anonymity, but I find myself feeling uncomfortable staying silent. When I’m sitting silent, I can’t help but think about the people who lost their lives because of this disease and their families who are affected by it. They no longer have their voice. I want to be their voice. I am constantly hearing negativity about addiction, which I agree has very negative effects, but what about the people who recover? What about the people who are surviving and thriving? Why can’t we, in society, hear about these stories, instead of the deaths, arrests, and heartache? How can someone who is suffering believe that they can recover, without hearing about anyone actually recovering? By speaking out, that’s how!
“Hey, I just wanted to thank you for coming into my school and speaking. I struggle with a lot of the things you talked about and now after hearing you doing well and getting through it, I really believe I can do it too,” a fourteen year old girl told me. She had approached me after I had given a speech to her high school. That was just one of the several people that have expressed to me how hearing my story of recovery has encouraged them. I will never forget a mother who had said to me, “Because of your story of recovery, I have faith that my son will recover too.” Take that, Monkey.
I’m not proud of anything that my addiction led me to do, but I am not ashamed of my recovery. I will expose every single skeleton in my closet, just to hear those words that young girl and mother said to me. If just one person feels confidence, relation, encouragement, and compassion from telling my story and spilling my secrets; then it becomes worth all of the anxiety, ridicule, judgment, exposure, and shaming that comes along with it. I want to be that voice for the people suffering and who are no longer alive to speak. After all, how will this epidemic be handled properly and effectively without the voice of someone who’s surviving it? I am that voice. I will forever scream for The Silent.
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