Would You Recognize an Addict?

One day I walked into a facility as a volunteer and the women at the front desk greeted me with such pleasant attitudes. They asked me about my meeting and complimented me on my appearance, and as I sat down waiting I thought about how nice the women were, and how welcomed I felt. Afterall, the building was gorgeous, the people were gorgeous, and what I was about to embark upon would be life altering.

I sat for about five minutes in the waiting area, then the woman who I was meeting came in to walk me to her office. We then toured the facility, which was purposed towards providing me with the background of the organization and their aims. We spoke outside briefly, and then walked back to her office.

As we headed back to the meeting room, she mentioned that the facility is really run by people who went through their program. Meaning, the women I met at the front desk were ex-addicts and I had no clue. They were so pleasant to meet. They were very very kind and to the naked eye one would never know.

It was then that I realized that I could not recognize an addict or anyone with an addiction, but how many people could? How many people do you know could point out a recovering addict? What exactly does an addict look like?

The common misconception is that we think we know how people with addictions look. I blame Hollywood for this. We think that they will be individuals with hair all over their heads, smelly clothes, and bad teeth. Rarely, if ever, do we think about the corporate executive, the married woman, or the college professor. We think we know what addiction looks like, but what we really know is how to identify its aftermath.

With this in mind, I wonder how many people knew that I was an addict. While I wasn’t a hard substance abuser, I was one with an addiction. My drug of choice was dysfunctional relationships. I was addicted to people who would feed my insecurity and I would use them to inject the substance of their attention into my body. I would receive a euphoric high and be happy until they couldn’t inject me again.  I would then dispose of them like dirty needles that were no longer of any use to me.

In retrospect, my drug was also pain. I moved to make room for it, I nursed it, I made excuses for it, I worked hard to get it. In essence, I built a life around it and it became my normal. If pain wasn’t present then I wasn’t either. I needed a quick hit of it. I needed it to survive while denouncing its presence in my life.

Interestingly, no one thought to ask me if I needed to check into a rehab center. No one asked me if I was ok. Maybe because I was functioning well. Maybe they thought that a strong person as myself didn’t need help. Maybe they couldn’t spot an addict either.

Honestly, it takes a special kind of person to identify an addiction before the impact becomes visible. Maybe I should say that it takes a recovering addict to identify a present one. I can spot out a woman who’s struggling with the same drug that I once struggled with. I can smell the seduction of it in her speech, her body language, her heart. The reason I can identify it is because I had so much practice with it. I’ve toyed with the idea of it, I’ve flirted with the momentary fixes, I was once her.

Addiction is not just what we see on television, and it isn’t only what people admit to. In fact, it’s much deeper than that. It is heavier than what we think, but many of us refuse to pay attention close enough to save someone else from overdosing. Well we say we care, but refuse to go out of our way to prevent their demise.

This is a charge to you! If you see someone struggling with your drug of choice (insert the thing that keeps you bound) help them.



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