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Op-Ed: Why Recovery Month may save your life

This September marked the 26th year of National Recovery Month, a nationwide observance to promote the prevention, treatment and recovery of people dealing with substance abuse issues. Recovery Month also, in the words of President Obama, highlights how “prevention and treatment work and people recover,” and encourages people seeking help to “feel empowered, encouraged, and confident in their ability to take control of their future.”

Substance abuse causes almost 20,000 deaths a year in the United States; heroin-related deaths alone have almost tripled between 2010 and 2013, and analysis of individual cases shows how the stigma of addiction continues to play a large part. Shrinking this stigma is another aim of Recovery Month, as well as emphasizing that it isn’t just addicts who need support; addiction is self-destructive as a rule, and the ramifications of it engulf not only the user but those around them too.

So, who are some of the people that Recovery Month has actually helped? What does Recovery Month mean to them – and how did it save their lives?

The Sober Supporter – Clare R.

As the husband of an addict, Clare attended a presentation organized by National Recovery Month which helped her understand the importance of seeking help and support for herself, and not just her husband.

“When I say Recovery Month saved my life people are always surprised – because it wasn’t me who had a problem with substance abuse, it was my husband. While I remained sober and tried my best to keep my husband sober, I found that I too had become lost in his addiction.

I knew he needed support and I spent a lot of time trying to find him as many forms of it as I could – but the one thing I didn’t consider was the fact that I also needed support. For a long time I had avoided confronting my own pain at living with an addict. It was only by learning that I had to focus more on myself and my own issues that room was created for my husband to make his own decisions.

Last September I went to a presentation put on by National Recovery Month that was aimed at the family of those affected by substance abuse. I started attending family support groups and it taught me a lot, not least the ‘three Cs’: I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it and I can’t cure it. Once I truly understood this, it lessened some of the tremendous guilt that I’d been carrying around for years.

When I began speaking to other people in the same position, it felt like an instant weight off my shoulders. I can’t adequately describe the relief I felt at being able to share the pain in my heart with others who know that very same pain. Seclusion sets you up for failure, yet sharing your struggle eases the burden and allows you to grow and develop. I became stronger.

So in reality, I don’t think saying “Recovery Month saved my life” is actually correct; I think a far more honest statement when it comes to my husband and me is that “Recovery Month saved both our lives.” And I couldn’t be more grateful.”

The Former Addict – Tara L.

Tara struggled with alcoholism for several years before Recovery Month spurred her into seeking help. She entered a rehab center aimed at young people and now volunteers for Recovery Month each year.

I had regular black-outs where I had no idea what I’d been doing, and I got three DUIs in two months. My parents begged me to get help but I wouldn’t listen – I was in denial and wasn’t strong enough to face up to the fact that I was an addict. I did agree to accompany my parents to a Recovery Month talk to appease them – it seemed better than going to rehab! And that was where it all changed for me.

I learnt so much about addiction and recovery and the idea that I could turn my life around seemed possible, for the first time ever. I listened to talks from former addicts and couldn’t believe how they’d turned their lives around. Some of them had truly been at rock bottom, in far worse situations than I was in – and yet here they were, happy and healthy and sober. If they could do it, why couldn’t I?

For the first time I fully understood the pain I had caused my family. I hated the effect I was having on their lives and I wanted to change. Right there and then I told my parents I wanted to go to rehab. They were absolutely stunned, but so pleased, and a week later I entered a rehab center aimed at young people, where I was able to carry on with my studies in preparation for going to college.

Four years later, I graduated college without relapsing – something I never would have thought was possible. I now try to participate in Recovery Month in my local area as often as I can. Last year I gave a talk to young adults and families struggling with addiction which felt like a real milestone: just a few short years ago I was one of the skeptics; today I am an addict in recovery sharing my story of hope and recovery. I don’t just think that Recovery Month saved my life – I know it did.”

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