There was a large room filled with officials and town executives. At the front of this room was a platform where speakers sat to describe who they are and what they do. The audience was all professionals in their field. All of the people in attendance were people with high titles and degrees on their walls. Some were people in law enforcement and they all sat in their seats, professionally, and at attention. I was here for this. In fact, at the end of the platform of speakers was me; at the time, I was a basic specialist and person in recovery.
The subject was this so-called epidemic and overdoses from heroin and the opiate crisis. I listened to the lectures and dialogues about addiction and the treatments thereof. I listened to people who spoke about substance abuse disorders and the different branches or “Avenues” of recovery. I heard from speakers who discussed the different demographics and listened as they talked about “The people with addiction.”
I was thinking about some of the different presentations I have done. I can say that some are the most impactful experiences of my life. I can say that my skin in the game is personal to me. I do this for reasons that run very deep with me.
I cannot say why anyone else has chosen to enter the ring in this fight—and to be clear; my reason is personal to me. I am someone who has lost friends. Throughout my long-term sobriety, I have watched good people go back to an old way of living; only to die and leave an empty chair in their place. I have met with doctors and lawyers and even politician who by way of anonymity, they were also people in recovery. I have seen people from the street level to the CEO levels and they too were people in recovery. I have learned that there is no specific face nor race, nor creed. I have learned that mental health is in fact universal and therefore, mental illness is equally universal.
No degrees on the wall or bank account or address can change the fact that if we are stripped down, no matter where we live, we are all human. And this amazes me. I am amazed by the so-called professionals. I am amazed by the people who see themselves as better-than or above. I am amazed by the people who buy into the idea that this does not happen in their backyard. Or if it does, this only happens to certain families.
I remember when it was my turn to speak. We all sat in chairs. I was dressed in a suit. I had my tie on. My hair was combed neatly. None of my tattoos were showing. The scars from my past were all covered. To put this simply; I had my “Good boy” face on. I was placed here to play nice with the others—which is not to say that I didn’t play nice. It is not to say that I was not part of something good. However, what I wanted to make very clear is that the idea that substance abuse or substance abuse disorders will only happen to “certain” people is completely untrue.
There were more than one hundred people in attendance. I offered my presentation while standing instead of sitting. Rather than take the microphone and sit in my chair, I explained, “It’s okay. I’ve got a really big mouth.” The crowd laughed at this. They laughed as I proceeded to jump down from the stage and explain, “I got into this for a different reason.”
I instructed the audience to look around and how statistically everyone in attendance knew someone or was related to someone who struggled with substance or alcohol abuse. I explained that if we look around, there are people in this room who have this very same struggle. In fact, it would be statistically impossible that no one in that room had this kind of struggle—even with all of their degrees and their salaries, their jobs in public office or their official jobs in law enforcement—substance and alcohol abuse are still very real. “Even in this room,” is what I said.
No one needs to look very far to see the faces of addiction. Look left or maybe right, or even straight ahead. It’s there. It’s all there. Addiction does not care about our education. Instead, addiction depends on it because addiction and the addictive mind are always looking for a rationalization. People are always looking to say, “That’s not me,” or “I’m better than that.” But if this were true, would addiction be what it is today?
Sometimes I hear people direct me on how to do my job. I’ve had parents tell me what to do and say to their children. I have had workplace leaders tell me how to treat my clients. I’ve been told what to do and what to say. And to be clear, this all amazes me. It seems to be that everyone knows it all . . .
I was told the smartest person in the room is the person that knows what they don’t know. Could you imagine what the mental health world would be like if everyone was brave enough to be this smart?
By the way, people thanked me for my presentation. I was told however, that perhaps this might not be the right field for me. It was said that my sights for making a living this way would not pay me an adequate salary. I was told to stay in my lane. I was told this by a president of a not-for-profit. There were people who wanted me to go away—but no. I’m still here. I’m still learning more about what I know (and what I don’t).
I’m not here for the food and friends. I’m here because there was a point where I swore my life would never be anything more than what it was. There was also a point where I thought I was going to die this way.
Fortunately, there were people who were able to teach me that I was wrong.
So, my goal is to be more like them.
One day at a time.