Recovery from addiction: Stigma and many obstacles, but no excuses!

Many of the people in my life nowadays forget that I’m an ex-convict. Still, I get daily reminders that the “ex” part of convict doesn’t carry much weight. I also know that I have it easy because I have a Ph.D. after my name. For many others in recovery, things are even harder.

Still, when filling out job applications, considering possibilities for the future, or trying to start anything new, my past convictions are ready to jump out as the first hurdles.

Stigmatization after recovery from addiction

My first encounter with this sort of stigmatization came at my first job search after I got out of jail in 2003. I was applying for an Apple Store job and did well. Even though I told them that I’d been arrested on the job application, I got a second interview. Then the coveted email letting me know I was to report for training next week. Only the background check remained. But that final email never came. I never heard from Apple again and none of my emails and phone calls were ever returned. I can only assume that they found out that my arrest resulted in 9 felony convictions and decide to “pass.”

When I started at UCLA (no questions about felonies on school applications), I tried to volunteer at the Los Angeles Big Brothers and Sisters organization. I was rejected as soon as the background check was completed. People wouldn’t even let me volunteer and I had been drug free for over 3 years and attending a doctoral program at UCLA… It was frustrating to say the least

Being licensed is probably also going to be an issue if I want to become a clinical psychologist in the future. It was one of the reasons I didn’t try to go to medical school or law school. The hassle of having to fight for the right to work in my chosen field wasn’t something I was looking forward to. Apparently though while I wasn’t quite ready for the fight then, fighting addiction stigma is something I feel strongly about now. Between our “Anonymous No More” campaign and my efforts on and off the website, I think we’re going to be able to slowly move public opinion away from either the notion that drug use in itself is a terrible thing or that addicts are lepers and should be kept at a distance.

Recovery success, there is a life after addiction

Still, I am constantly reminded that success follows perseverance. When I’m told “No”, I feel disappointed, but I pick my head up as soon as possible (my great fiance often helps) and try to figure out another way in. That was true when I first set on my path and its true today. I’m proud of my achievements and by now, more than eight years after the last time I used crystal meth, they are many.

I know my worth, I believe in my purpose, and I’m not going to let anyone else hold me back. Yes I have nine felonies and I used to sell drugs for a living. But I’m done with that and I’m trying to do the best that I can.

I think my recovery is pretty damn good – I’ve got All About Addiction that is visited by thousands of people a week, more than a dozen publications and articles about addiction in professional and popular journals, and I’ve spoken at literally hundreds of sessions, classes, and conferences about addiction and the problems associated with it. If you believe in yourself, you need to think the same of your own work. Stay on the right path. Don’t let anyone stop you.

Believing in Recovery: Addiction treatment and faith

Faith Hill seems to believeSarah Henderson return with another article about addiction treatment and recovery. This time, Sarah gets all philosophical with us and discusses the concept of faith in recovery. Personally, my faith is and always has been very logic-based. I’m not a very spiritual person, and the things that are most important to me are usually right around me – my family, my work, and my new baby boy Kai. I’m not against the concept of a higher power, I just don’t feel a deep need for it and it’s probably the one concept that doesn’t keep me up at night (which is weird now that I think about it). But in the addiction treatment and recovery field, faith is a common word that can take on different connotations so I think it’s important to talk about.

Believing in Recovery: Articles of faith

I have a friend who is researching the history of the Bible. He’s on a bit of a mission, searching for some verifiable proof of certain articles of faith. He and I have lengthy discussions on this, going back and forth on the nature of faith, on whether or not one needs proof to believe. His position is, wouldn’t it completely change everything if we COULD verify the existence of God? My position is, yes it would; proof would make faith irrelevant.

Think about it. If you have proof of the existence of something, then believing in it is no longer faith, is it? It’s not even belief. It’s just actuality. I believe there’s a reason that we as a species have never been given proof of the existence of a higher being. (From here on out, I’m going to refer to this being as God.) I don’t believe that we, with our tiny human brains, have the capacity to understand or conceive of God. I also think part of the wisdom in perpetuating the mystery is that it keeps us engaged, keeps us seeking, keeps us wondering.

Faith is a very common word around addiction treatment and recoveryThe character House, MD (who is an atheist) said on one episode, “I love how people are always so proud of believing in something that isn’t there, like that’s some sort of accomplishment.” Well, actually is IS an accomplishment. Believing in nothing doesn’t take a whole lot of work. But believing in God without any verifiable evidence? That takes effort, takes devotion, takes love. Faith is a difficult path, no matter what you believe in. I also think that in believing in something outside of ourselves teaches us to believe in each other. For instance, when falling in love; you have to hold out your heart with no certainty that this person will not crush it. When forgiving someone; you are risking that they will hurt you again, but trusting that they won’t. When learning something new; you may fall flat on your face, but you have to believe that you can do it. If people never took a chance on each other, no one would ever get married, move away, try a new career, or have kids. Eventually, we all have to have faith in something, even if it’s just our own capabilities.Can you imagine a world without faith? I can’t. It’s what helps us believe in the future, surrender to the moment, look up when the world is falling apart and trust that things will right themselves soon.

When it comes to recovery, faith is essential- and I’m not just talking about God or religion. While attempting to recover from an addiction or other self-destructive behavior, you must have belief. First, you need to believe in yourself. You have to have confidence in your own ability to fight, to know that you have it in you to make it. And when that belief falters, as it inevitably does, you need to have faith in something outside of yourself too. You’ve got to hold on to something- God, a friend, the stars, the color blue- some entity to turn to when your confidence in yourself is flagging. And of course, there will be times when you are overwhelmed and feel like the pain of the transition is going to last forever. You have to be loyal to the concept that if you continue on the path of recovery, eventually you will find peace; that’s the “fake it ’til you make it” part. But it doesn’t happen without faith.

The word “faith” in itself has become so loaded that I think we often lose sight of what it really means; though truthfully, I think we each have to create our own personal definitions. To me, faith mean taking chances. And in recovery, that meant everything from eating when I wasn’t sure if it wold make me gain weight to reaching out to a friend without being sure I would get a response. All of those little risks built on each other until I developed some true self-confidence. With that in hand, I was able to make more proactive choices that have helped me get to the place I am now.

No matter what you believe in or how you define faith, I think we can all agree that recovery is something that cannot be done alone. It requires both external AND internal resources. At some point we all are faced with the fact that it will probably feel worse before it feels better; and in most cases, the only thing that keep us walking across that painful bridge is having faith that we’ll reach the other side.

A final word from Adi about  faith and believing in recovery

As I mentioned above, my faith is centered the things close to me and I don’t dedicate too much time to wondering about the existence of that god everyone is fighting about. Unlike Sarah, I see belief as something different than religious faith. As a scientist, I can believe information and data about addiction without having to make any leap other than in the objectivity of science and the honesty of scientists (which has certainly proven to be wrong at times). However, while I can see why people believe in a god, from the beautiful shafts of light that bounce off an ocean after a storm to the notion that there must be a master plan to make sense of all the pain and suffering in the world, I sometimes wish that I believed in a real higher power.

That’s not to say that I can’t see any power out there as greater than my own – Nature, humanity, my family, and the love I feel for my son are all ideas who’s incredible power is easy for me to grasp. Personally, that’s enough. When it comes to addiction treatment and recovery, I’ve seen the information, I’ve read the research, and I’ve personally experienced and viewed many success stories so belief doesn’t take a leap for me. That’s why I think education is so important and anonymity can be dangerous – By making successful recovery a point-of-fact, we make it easier for active addicts, and their loved ones, to believe that a different life is possible.