January 9th is a special day for me, it is my birthday. I have not turned another year older but I have turned a year wiser. On this day I celebrate a rebirth of sorts as opposed to my original birth. This day is my sobriety birthday.
Eight years ago on this day, I sat on my best friend's bed, having finally had enough. I had just arrived on a Greyhound bus from Atlanta escaping an abusive relationship and my belongings consisted of what I carried in my suitcase. I was reeling from the comedown of the day before’s usage and I vowed to never feel this way again.
And thus far, I kept that vow. With the help of many friends and friendly humans along the way, I have flourished in my sobriety for eight years. It has taken me much longer to feel comfortable in this skin of mine though. The stigma surrounding addicts is thick like a fog in the bay and it took me many years to embrace the weather.
I give this backstory as a precursor to the level of disgust I harbor towards the remarks made by the Trump administration regarding Hunter Biden and his addiction issues. Here is the damage these remarks do, aside from wounding a poor man’s resolve.
Addiction Issues Being Shamed in the Spotlight
During the first presidential debate, President Trump decided to go for a low blow. He directed remarks at Joe Biden that were inaccurate regarding his son Hunter Biden.
“Hunter got thrown out of the military,” Trump said of the former vice president’s son. “He was thrown out, dishonorably discharged, for cocaine use.”
Hunter was given an administrative discharge due to testing positive for cocaine. He has since overcome his addiction, according to his father Joe Biden, and is leading a sober and successful life.
These attacks on Hunter Biden continued with Matt Gaetz, a House Representative from Florida. Gaetz disclosed during impeachment hearings for Donald Trump the knowledge of Hunter Biden trying to buy crack cocaine and wandering through homeless encampments.
While this situation is true, the story had already been put out in the public eye. Gaetz took this excerpt from a story about Hunter Biden in The New Yorker. Biden was recounting a scenario of relapse in his addiction. Relapse is very common among addicts and 40–60% relapse at least once during their sobriety.
This attack on Hunter Biden’s sensitive and private battle with addiction is finished out by Donald Trump Jr. when appearing on Glenn Beck. In this radio show, he refers to Hunter Biden as crackhead Hunter and breaks down his accomplishments as handouts.
Our leaders seem to want the support of all but never take into account what being a leader means. Being a leader means your speech and public persona are that of an individual who inspires and instills peace. A leader is not hateful and mocking when it comes to a serious illness such as drug addiction.
The Danger of Stigmatizing Addiction By Leaders
While these individuals think their rhetoric is just falling onto the ears of supporters and is of no consequences, let's say a young teen is listening to them speak.
He is in his early twenties and has been using since his teenage years. Last night he made a decision to finally tell his family and ask for help. It has taken him six months to finally approach his family. Before he can have his conversation with them, the boy watches the presidential debate. He hears his president mock and poke fun at a man with addiction problems.
The boy fears his family or friends may mock him as well. He feels he will embarrass or disgrace them, so he vows to never tell them he needs help. That night he takes more of his drug of choice than usual to numb his feelings. He never wakes up.
Words are powerful. Public shaming of someone based on their addiction issues is the epitome of addiction stigma.
Have Those Tough Conversations About Addiction
While our own leaders may be ignoring addiction as the illness it is, we do not have to follow this path. Many of us have experienced addiction. If you or a family member has fallen down the path most traveled then do not begin the healing with shame.
Offer space to those who are struggling. Treat them like any other friend or family member without a second set of standards to follow when they come around. Talk to them about their addiction. Ask them questions, and be prepared for the answers in their blanket of raw truth.
Hold space for those struggling. Give them silence when needed and noise when asked for. Do not be the reason someone goes back out today, tomorrow, or ever. I am not naive enough to think that all can be saved with loving-kindness and space held to thrive. But I do know these human beings deserve every bit of that humanity no matter what they give you in return.
Do not let the thoughts of one taint the minds of the many. We are more than the stigma’s we are pushed towards fueling. After eight years of sobriety, I can tell you that we hold the power to our sobriety in the same way you hold the power to destigmatizing addiction. It begins one day at a time.