How does the average person define community? Most people would define community as a sense of connectedness and belonging. Community means the street you grew up on, local schools, places of worship, hometown high school football games, the neighborhood grocery store, or waving at the couple that has lived in the same house across the street for 40 years. However, how would a person in recovery from substance use define community? The answer is quite the same, yet more challenging to obtain.
As a person in recovery myself, community means all of those things. For most in recovery, the missing piece of community seems to be the sense of belonging and connectedness. We long for waving at the couple who lives across the street without fearing the whispers from them after they go inside. We love to attend hometown football games, but might be afraid to see members of our graduating class because according to social media, they have a perfect life that we think we could never have. We love to shop at the neighborhood grocery store but hope we don’t bump into anyone we know. We enjoy attending our places of worship, yet we are afraid of our addiction being judged quietly as a moral failing instead of having a disease. We do those things still, most of the time. We feel that we have to assimilate about our daily lives in a dance of apology just for being who we are, a person who has struggled with substance use.
Stigma and shame, guilt, and isolation, whether self-imposed or community-inflicted: these things are the exact opposite of connectedness. Those of us in recovery are your mothers and fathers, your teachers and lawyers, your coworkers and bosses, and your daughters and sons. If we survive our active addiction, most choose to recover quietly in 12 step recovery meetings in church basements due to fear of losing our jobs or our families. However, a few of us decide to recover out loud in our community, putting ourselves in full view and risking labels and preconceived opinions because of our past struggles. Why? First to start showing the communities in which we live that recovery is possible and that our pasts don’t define our futures. Moreover, secondly, to show others still chained by addiction that they needn’t hide their stories anymore, that we can and do become vital members of our communities, and that we do indeed recover.
Everyone struggles at some point in their life, either financially, socially, physically, spiritually, or mentally. And one doesn’t need to be a recovering addict to know that reaching out of that darkness for help is tough to do. We need to normalize struggle as part of life as a human being, no matter your profession, race, age, disability, educational level, gender, sexual orientation, or spiritual background. We all need help at some point, and at some point, we all need to help each other.
Someone once told me that the opposite of addiction is a genuine connection, and I could not agree more. Our communities need to be inclusive of everyone. That inclusivity starts with reaching out to people who are struggling. And that inclusivity continues with the struggling reaching back, unafraid of the labels, stigma, and shame that might still come with getting the help they need. Now is the time to love our neighbors struggling with substance use unconditionally. The recovery revolution is here in our communities, and it is growing stronger every single day. With the help, love, and connectedness of our communities, we can all finally come out of the shadows of addiction, and prove that in fact, we DO recover.