Geoff Gates
Jul 11, 2016 · 9 min read

Whoa. Heavy shit, right? You’re probably surprised? Shocked? Saddened? Thoughts running through your head about who you believed I was, now turned upside-down. My name now forever tainted as I’m no longer Geoff, I’m drug addict Geoff.

Therein lies the problem for people on the road to recovery—the stigmas that are associated with being labelled a drug addict are overwhelmingly scary and prevent thousands of people from pursuing the help they desperately need.

Seven years ago I was routinely stealing, lying, and walking over any person who got in the way of painkillers hitting my bloodstream. I went to detox, rehab, I suffered through withdrawals, I relapsed, and I did it all over again. I lost myself, I lost my mind, and I nearly lost my life. Through hard work and an unwavering support system, I‘m still here. I came out the other side stronger, self-aware, and more disciplined than I ever imagined I could be. Unfortunately, I’m a rare case. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 18,893 overdose deaths [source].

The majority of people who do survive and are able to manage their addiction will never make it public knowledge that they’re drug addicts—let me clarify something, when I say that I’m/they’re drug addicts, it’s because I’ll ALWAYS be a drug addict, no matter if I’m using or not. I have to be hyperaware at all times to ensure I don’t fall back into old habits, and it helps to remind myself that even though I have time of sobriety under my belt, I’m always at risk—and that really really sucks for the people who are trying to get better. The only place with guaranteed safety is an AA Meeting, but should we be relegated to only knowing each other by first name and meeting for an hour once a week in the basement of a church? That doesn’t seem right to me. We should feel safe talking about it in any situation we may find ourselves in.

One of the most upsetting parts of being an addict is feeling like no one understands what you’re going through, and holding the people back who made it through the experience of recovery from voicing their stories is a disservice to everyone—current, former, and non-addicts alike. Hell, I’m guilty of it. It’s taken me seven years to write this. What are people going to say? Will they talk about me behind my back? Will they silently judge and make fun of me? Will a potential employer not hire me? Then I woke up one morning and realized I didn’t give a shit anymore. I went through a war and came out on top. I’m proud of the strength I’ve shown in managing my disease, and so should every other recovering addict/alcoholic.

Over the last seven years I’ve kept quiet about my experiences with addiction, and with that I’ve heard people talk about their views on the subject. People tend to pander audiences, so the fact that I’ve always been looked upon as a normal guy has allowed me to hear unfiltered opinions, a few of which we’ll get into shortly.

By understanding what it means to be an addict, we can change the perceptions that accompany the title. I’m a firm believer that in order to help our friends and family who are battling addiction — to save lives — the single most important thing we can do is acquire the ability to relate. If someone with a problem doesn’t know it’s possible to live a judgement free life as a drug addict, they’ll never make the necessary changes to heal themselves.

Let’s help.

Drug addicts have the choice to stop taking drugs. It’s easy, just stop taking them.

You know those two cups of coffee you have every day? What if I told you that starting tomorrow, you can never have another cup of coffee again for the rest of your life? You might be exuding confidence in your ability to do it right now, after all, you’ve already had your fix for the day. But I’m confident that once your alarm rings and you settle into your morning routine, you’ll give in. And when you do, you’ll justify your actions by convincing yourself you could stop anytime if you wanted to, you just don’t want to.

Do you hear that? It sounds pretty familiar. I remember saying the same thing about painkillers. Every addict says that at some point.

When you become chemically dependent, your brain no longer produces dopamine on its own—it needs opioids to do it. Without opioids, you’re fucking miserable [source].

It’s not that simple to stop something your brain has become chemically dependent on. When you get in a solid workout, see a long lost friend, have an orgasm … that sensation you feel is dopamine being released in your brain. When you become addicted to opioids, your brain no longer has the ability to produce dopamine on its own. So basically, you’re fucking miserable/ill/moody/not yourself if you don’t have drugs in your system. It’s a vicious cycle since you need more and more to feel good again.

Drug addiction is a disease, plain and simple. There’s extreme mental and physical pain that comes with the decision to stop, and no one wants to go through something like that. Withdrawals are indescribable, and when an addict begins to feel it, he’ll do anything in his power to stave it off.

Addiction isn’t an on/off switch. It takes years of mental discipline to wrangle in those bad thoughts and behaviors.

Drug addicts are bad people.

This is one of the hardest stigmas to deal with being in recovery. We shouldn’t feel ostracized for having a disease, the problem is that most people don’t view drug addiction as a disease, they view it as a choice.

Yes, when I was using I did some messed up shit. And I’m sure the drug addicts reading this right now can recount endless stories that would make me look like a Boy Scout, but that doesn’t mean we’re bad human beings.

People make mistakes, everyone does in some way, shape, or form. It’s how you learn from those mistakes that defines who you are. The person who stole all of his sister’s pain medication after she just had major dental work is not the same person typing on this laptop today. You don’t want to be judged for your past mistakes because you’ve grown up and learned from them, so why is it ok to assume that every person who has a drug problem is a bad person?

I can’t believe he went to rehab. That’s so messed up.

I’ve heard these words from multiple people (they were referring to someone else when they said it, not knowing I went to rehab). I’ll come out and say it, I’ve struggled with this one the most. Saying out loud that I went to rehab has been even more difficult than admitting that I was so fucked up on painkillers and muscle relaxers that I fell into a fire pit and couldn’t get up because my muscles were no longer functioning.

The stigma that surrounds rehab is HUGE. Just take this article regarding Zac Efron:

Zac Efron Relapse After Rehab! Zac Efron has fallen off the wagon yet again after being caught red handed boozing in the VIP room of popular Hollywood hot spot, Bootsy Bellows on Friday night. [source]

Notice the excitement via exclamation mark, the subtle “yet again” thrown in there to add insult to injury, and the phrase “being caught red handed” like he’s a child being scolded for reaching into the cookie jar.

Or how about this article:

Blake Shelton Says He’s Never Gone to Rehab in $2 Million Lawsuit. The 39-year-old country singer filed a $2 million lawsuit in October over an InTouch Weekly story that reported he checked into rehab after his divorce from Miranda Lambert, claiming defamation and false invasion of privacy. Now, in a declaration obtained by ET, Shelton says he was “furious” to see himself depicted as “a man who cannot function, cannot do his job, and is on the brink of death without treatment.” [source]

Look at all that juicy gossip! Except Blake Shelton is a fucking human being, and we shouldn’t destroy him whether he has a problem or doesn’t. Not only did In Touch Weekly SLAM Blake Shelton for being a drunk, but it’s such a stigma to go to rehab that he’s suing them for $2M for saying he did.

Everyone should go to rehab.

Here’s the deal, rehab was the best experience of my life. Everyone should go to rehab. I learned about who I was and why I was operating with no regard for anyone else. I found out that no matter what I’ve done, someone’s done something way crazier. I met artists, musicians, writers, CEOs, comedians—some of the brightest, most creative people that I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with. Rich, poor, black, white, you name it. I had 6 weeks to be with people just like me, fighting the same fight, strangers supporting one another in ways most family members wouldn’t have the courage to do.

The sooner we start celebrating people for making the mind-bogglingly difficult decision to address their problems head on and go to rehab, the higher the likelihood that an addict you know will go get the help he needs.

Drug addicts are weak.

This could not be further from the truth. The mental and physical toll that drugs take on a person is severe, and overcoming that is the single hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Sleeping is out of the question. Bouts of extreme hot and cold sweats keep your body confused. A tingling feeling that I can only describe as a thousand tattoo needles hitting you all at once. Your mind turns on you. You get so damn angry. Hallucinations.

Withdrawing from drugs is no fucking easy task.

I met people in rehab who had been binge drinking every day for DECADES. Think about the worst hangover you’ve ever had in your life, multiply that by infinity and stretch it across three weeks for 24 hours a day, add in the risk that you could die from not drinking, and that’s a small taste of what it’s like to kick an addiction that severe. The amount of mental discipline and strength it takes to do that is enormous.

People who overcome addiction have to re-wire their brains to function properly again. And the most frustrating part is there’s a simple solution to feeling better, an instant cure: take pills. Your mind plays tricks on you by saying, You can feel better if you just go take a pilllllllll. I promise you won’t have to suffer anymoreeeeeee. It’s so easy to go take that pill, it takes every ounce of strength to fight the urge and stay true to recovery.

So the next time you see someone doped up on the street, take into consideration the road that they’re going to have to walk down in order to recover. It’s one that takes more courage than you could ever imagine.

This doesn’t pertain to me. I don’t buy into any of the stigmas that are associated with drug addicts.

I’m sorry, but I’d say 90% of the people reading this do, even at a subconscious level. I don’t blame you, it’s a societal issue coupled with a general lack of knowledge on the subject because it’s so taboo. The media doesn’t help, either. Before I volunteered with children with special needs, I used to throw out the word retard all the time and not think twice. The moment I learned just how hurtful of a word that is, I changed my perception and my behaviors. It’s not that I was a bad person, it’s that I didn’t know how hurtful I was being.

And that’s what I challenge you to do. Keep these stigmas in mind the next time you hear a story of a childhood friend who battled a substance abuse problem, or become an advocate and defend those who get made fun of or judged. When someone is going through the early stages of recovery, they’re vulnerable. Don’t chop them down, help them stand back up. We can lessen the death count by simply changing the way we talk about people.

It’s a long road to recovery, and we can all use a helping hand every now and again. This is your chance to lend one.

Want to discuss addiction further? Feel free to email me or hit me up on Twitter.

If you dug this article, hit the recommend button below and share it with your network. Let’s change something that needs changing, together.

Geoff Gates

Written by

Associate Director, Social and Content @lakers. Former @trboxing, @vaynermedia, and @sfheat. | LA |

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