Together We Can
For the majority of my teenage years I was afflicted with alcohol and drug addiction. It started out fun and innocent – and I ended up 20 years old underweight and a shell of a human being; homeless and prostituting myself on the streets of South Norwalk, Connecticut. At some point in my early teens I crossed a line, where drinking and getting high was no longer fun, but it was no longer an option. I felt broken, hopeless and empty. I was not drinking or getting high for pleasure and the party was long over. I was drinking and getting high to escape the darkness of my reality.
Alcohol and drug addiction derailed my life, robbed me of so much, killed my spirit and left me broken. I was bankrupt in every sense of the word – emotionally, physically, financially, and spiritually. After years comprised of psych wards, detoxes, life-threatening situations, a miscarriage, extensive counseling, physical and sexual abuse, arrests, out-patient and in-patient treatment, and finally a 5-week stint in as Florida jail – I was done. Just as drinking and getting high was not an option, eventually getting sober was no longer an option either. It got to the point where if I continued as I was, I was going to die. I had a minimum two bundle a day heroin addiction and fifteen hundred dollar a day crack habit – and the places I was going and the things I was doing to acquire these drugs were both dangerous and illegal. I was slowly killing myself. At 21 years old I did not want to die. My recovery story starts here, May 2007, with a moment of clarity and a little bit of willingness. I got very involved with a 12-step program, where two very important things occurred: I was taught about what I suffered from and I realized that I was not alone. It was not until I was aware of what I suffered from that I was capable of properly treating it. Slowly but surely I began to change who I was, my view of myself and the world around me, and perhaps most importantly my reactions to life. The transformation I have undergone has been extreme – and at times incredibly painful – however nothing has been more worthwhile or rewarding then this journey. I am a useful and whole woman. The life I live today is beyond amazing!
Obviously I have struggled with many things, but I specifically want to talk about two things … One, I had no understanding about alcoholism/addiction. I didn’t know that it was a brain disease that affected people of all ages, races, creeds, cultures, religions, socio-economic statuses. I honestly thought that since I was an upper-middle class white teenager, that I couldn’t possibly be an addict and that what I was just ‘going through phase.’ Obviously that was not only delusional; but more importantly it was based upon lack of education – what I had been taught about addiction, and more importantly, what I had not been taught about addiction. The world must be better informed about addiction; for so many reasons – but simply if only to allow addicts to self-diagnose. Two, I didn’t know anything about recovery – and my only thoughts about life without alcohol and drugs included: boredom, misery and church basements. Now having been in recovery for some time I can tell you that my life is anything but boring or miserable! Although sometimes I do hang out in church basements – my recovery is so much more than that. My life is filled with excitement, joy, passion, contentment, love, laughter, faith, gratitude and purpose. Why is it, that recovery is not talked about and celebrated? What if recovery was understood and attractive? Let’s stop talking about the tragedy of addictions, let’s step out of the shame and the guilt of addiction; and let’s step into the light and start focusing on the hope of recovery. Recovery is beautiful, possible and real!
Also when I think about the financial sacrifices that my mother made to try and get me the help I so desperately needed; I am humbled, overwhelmed and grateful. Due to the lack of parity in the world of medicine and the world of insurance, mental health and addiction are not treated or covered the same way any other illness is. If I had cancer, insurance would have gotten me the best treatment available, and immediately! However, with drug addiction and mental illness, my mother had to pay for almost everything out of pocket. Despite it being a tremendous hardship for her, luckily it was something she was capable of. And treatment, although by no means the final answer, was the first step for me. It was a glimmer of hope, it was an introduction to the possibility of living a sober life. What about all the people who are not capable of paying for treatment? Does that make them any less worthy of recovery? Absolutely not.
I moved to New Jersey a little less than two years ago. A couple months after I got here, a girlfriend of mine brought me to see a screening of Greg Williams’ feature documentary “The Anonymous People.” What I had no idea of, was that that evening would shift the entire course of my life. This movie was about the 23-million recovering people in long-term recovery from alcoholism and addiction right here in America. At this very moment there are 20 million people in the thralls of their addiction; which is a sad statistic; however what is even more poignant for me, is that there are more people in recovery then in active addiction! This movie spoke about and encouraged bringing a voice to the recovering community. It highlighted the brave individuals who were starting to stand up, bring a face and voice to recovery, and fighting to break the stigma of addiction through advocating for proper prevention, treatment, and recovery support services. I was so emotional and empowered that evening. I remember crying throughout the screening, I also remember feeling a new calling and a new purpose. I jumped right in to the New Jersey advocacy movement. I started by getting involved with NCADD-NJ (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency – New Jersey) and then shortly afterwards got involved with YPR-NJ (Young People in Recovery – New Jersey). I was quickly all over the state: writing letters to the editor, testifying in front of and meeting with state legislators, attending and participating in forums/panels/conferences. I ended up being offered a job with NCADD-NJ in April in their Public Affairs department; which has been one of the biggest blessings. I work every day doing what I’m passionate about. Many folks don’t have this opportunity.
When I think of what is going on currently in regards to addiction I get chills. I truly believe it is “our” time. Although addiction may be at an all time high, recovery is also at an all time high. Hope is available for those afflicted. Addiction is a disease and must be treated as such. Throughout history, people who has been treated unfairly, and discriminated against, have had small grassroots movements which have broken stigma and facilitated better treatment and less discrimination. Think about African-Americans. Think about women. Think about AIDs patients. Again, it is our time! Margaret Meade once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” My wish is to be a part of the movement that revolutionizes the way alcoholism and drug addiction are viewed and treated. I advocate publicly for recovery wherever and whenever I can. My name is Mariel Harrison and I am not anonymous!
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