Nobody wants to talk about it, and I even hesitate to broach the subject on social media as it is highly controversial and very emotional for many. However, as I have felt about some of my writings in the past, if one person relates or is encouraged, it was absolutely worth me sharing about. I also have to preface this with that my perspective has shifted in recent years about how I view addiction, this was not always my view. Life experience, tragedy and discussions with medical professionals in the field have shifted my mentality.
Let me introduce you to the man that initiated my change in perspective. This man had 20 years of sobriety. In that time frame, he ran marathons, was a triathlete and built a hugely successful law practice. Running 26.4 miles is not an easy feat, to do so one has to not only train with discipline and commitment, but also have a significant amount of mental strength and will power to finish the race. Discipline, commitment, will-power and strength are not words we use or even associate as a society with an addict. Often, we look at addicts as missing those character traits, but in the case of Brian Loncar, he very much encompassed those traits when he was sober.
However, in 2007 Brian was in a terrible car accident, nearly killed him. Shattered his pelvis, ribs, he almost died. As they were literally pinning and piecing his broken body back together, they put him on pain medicine. Understandable. However, for him that would initiate a complete downhill spiral. He would die in 2017 from an overdose. It was living hell for my family, both his death and years leading up to. Let me make this abundantly clear: Nobody is more aware or sensitive to the repercussions of an addicts choices than their family, that I assure you.
However, something that is very important to me, is that I believe and it has been supported by the medical community that addiction is a disease. Just because there were choices involved in my stepdads addiction and overdose, does not mean that there is not a disease component to addiction.
I can have 1 beer, 2 beers and even 3 and be done. I have family members that absolutely cannot. Don’t you think they would like to have a cold beer on a hot day or go enjoy happy hour with their friends and co-workers? But because of the way the neuron path of their brain operates, their choice is to be a drunk or not drink at all. Thank God and utmost respect for those that choose sobriety. Ponder this: there are people that when they get migraines or have accidents/surgeries, they have to refuse pain medicine because of their inclinations to become addicted. Seriously reflect on that, do you think someone would preferably choose to have to go that route?
Here is where I believe in lies the confusion on whether addiction is a disease: just because I believe it is a disease does not mean that I don’t support serious and grave consequences to the choices addicts make. It in no way makes their behavior “excusable” or even acceptable by labeling it a disease. It also does not infer that there is nothing they can do about it. On the contrary, I believe that consequences and accountability that result from an addicts poor choices, is the only hope they have in getting help and treatment for their disease. People don’t go to the doctor to get healthy until they become increasingly uncomfortable. Same with addicts. Until their life gets to a level of discomfort and becomes unmanageable- they are unlikely to get help. So to me, as a disease, there’s nothing more I want for an addict than for them to feel the full repercussions of their choices and symptoms because therein lies my hope that they will seek professionals for help. I think that’s where people get caught up, that when we approach it as a disease we are some how softening the terrible decisions that active addicts make. Contrary, I am softening my attitude towards a person not their actions.
Here’s also where I have been humbled: addiction is not my struggle. I love having a beer in the evenings, but I’m good with one Coors. So how dare I judge someone for a struggle I legitimately know nothing about. It’d be like me telling a cancer patient chemo is not really that bad- how the heck would I know, I have never had cancer? So I am not going to look at an addict and judge their lack of will-power when I don’t know if mine has ever been challenged to the extent theirs has. Where I am responsible is drawing personal boundaries that lesson the affect of an addicts choices on my life. In a situation I have no control, there is my power.
Its really hard to love an addict, I know. We can’t help who we love and what family we are born into. My story and life has been incredibly affected by the disease. I’ve lost sleep and cried many upon many of tears about it. This is not an easy topic for me to type, but I share my story in hopes it encourages someone else in theirs.