I can remember walking out of the doors of Brighton Center for Recovery just having finished an inpatient stay. Here I was, day one of my new life. I was excited about the possibilities ahead, but at the same time, I certainly felt a level of anxiety.
What was I about to experience?
Would I continue to grow as a person?
Would I be able to maintain my recovery?
Facing the unknown, my inpatient stay now seemed like the easier part – with the real challenge lying just ahead.
My addiction had not only impacted me, but those who were closest to me – my wife and my children. My hope was that we could engage in recovery as a family, together. This desire was being fanned by the process of self-evaluation and the commitment to personal growth I had entered while in treatment. I was hungry for more depth in my personal relationships and I wanted to experience this depth first at home.
Almost instantly, however, barriers to my hope for mutual recovery began to erect themselves.
Stigma of Addiction
Some family and friends began to distance themselves. I soon discovered that my decision to embrace recovery didn’t mean that those around me would also be willing to make this choice for themselves. As a result, I began to watch close friendships become increasingly estranged. The more I expressed my new found convictions, the more distancing I seemed to experience. When this happens with a friend, that’s one thing, when it happens with your spouse, it’s another.
Within six months of leaving inpatient treatment – and while still going through outpatient counseling – I found myself staring at divorce.
To this day I still have the vivid memories and feelings of my heart being torn apart by the weight of what was happening. The realization of the uphill battle to recovery I was facing flooded my thoughts. I wrestled with feelings of hopelessness. My decision to seek a divorce ultimately led to a lengthy evaluation by a counselor at the family law division here in Michigan. During this evaluation process, my recent inpatient treatment, transitional housing stay, and subsequent recovery goals were all brought to light. With my spouse strictly opposed to joint custody, outside lawyers got involved.
I can remember standing before the opposing lawyer. I wasn’t referred to me as Mr. Masi, the father, or even as the plaintiff. I was immediately labeled and referred to as “the addict.” I watched as the court referee wrote the words “drug addict” on a piece of paper in front of him. It was as if no other information was necessary. Without my counsel so much as having an opportunity for rebuttal, it was ruled that I could only see my children every other weekend – supervised, and without overnight visits.
I was devastated.
This is the stigma I immediately faced, even though over 25 million Americans (10% of the US population) are identified as being in addiction recovery and another estimated 23.1 million Americans (9% of the US population) meet the criteria for treatment related to drugs or alcohol addiction.
My story is definitely not uncommon. For many in early recovery, things seem to get worse before they get better. For instance, adding to the difficulty of my divorce, custody battle for my kids, and being stigmatized as “the addict,” I also had to weather being placed under surveillance by a private investigator hired by my spouse’s family, and had to work long hours at a low paying job in order to pay for my outpatient treatment and legal fees, all while struggling to provide financial support for my children. But once again, the tools and support I received from the recovery community were an invaluable blessing – providing the help I needed when it was needed most.
Thank God that through this treatment I was equipped with new coping skills, abilities and beliefs that allowed me to continue the path of recovery even with an uphill battle that looked hopeless at the time.
Living Life on Life’s Terms
While it felt like I had lost my kids, I knew I couldn’t compound this loss by losing my recovery. I was determined not to allow old habits to creep in – habits that I knew would only make things worse. Instead, I would work to uncover the values that I needed so much to reinforce my commitment to recovery. I wouldn’t allow the stigma of addiction or the disappointments of my relationships define who I was or who I would be. Rather, I would define me; the new me. In terms of stigma, I realize today that there is likely no other physical or psychiatric condition more associated with social disapproval and discrimination than addiction.
Thank God that through treatment I was equipped with new coping skills, abilities and beliefs that allowed me to continue the path of recovery.
Our Responsibility to Others
Today, my recovery journey continues to unfold. Thankfully, while I still face barriers to continued recovery, they are not as difficult to surmount as those I faced earlier in my experience. But the one barrier that remains as strong as ever is the stigma associated with addiction.
Recognizing the significant challenges many people in recovery face, each one of us has a shared responsibility to become a “safe place” – not another barrier or obstacle in the way.
How do we do this?
More than just helping each other initiate recovery, we need to be proactive in our approach to becoming a community that readily welcomes and celebrates others who walk this journey with us. For me, this means being available and willing to share my story wherever and whenever possible. Our friends in early recovery often feel lost, isolated, and overwhelmed. The threat of relapse during this vulnerable time is very real. Supporting those around me instead of tucking away that part of my past is vital.
We are all in this together. There is no one who hasn’t been touched by addiction in some way. The more I reach out to others, the more I see how necessary this kind of support is. It’s really not difficult to be available, especially when we realize that just one word of encouragement or one shared story of grief or triumph can be that lifeline that helps someone make it through another day.
I am willing to be available. Are you?