Just How Crazy Are Addicts?
Addiction is not kind to anyone. It does not judge and it has no bias. It does not select who falls into its web based on status, on money, race, whether you excelled in school or where you grew up. I know of doctors who struggle with it. CEOs. Housewives. People on the streets. Children. Creatives. Accountants. The rich, the poor. The famous. The normal. It’s real and it is rife. And it can happen to anyone.
The problem is that despite coming to the realization and understanding of the nature of addiction, I’ve continued to hold very firmly onto the stigma that I’ve always had around people who are addicts. It’s a wide held belief that people who are addicts are ill. That they’re not proper members of society. That they’re crazy. These thoughts have been absolutely incessant and have been exacerbated in my recovery — they have utterly plagued me since I realized that I myself am an addict. I carried a huge amount of baggage into my recovery by believing that there was something inherently wrong with my character and my mind.
Because of this stigma that I so vehemently held onto, and for fear of being placed in the exact light under which I placed other addicts, I chose not to speak about my journey and my story of recovery. I chose to make a joke of my sobriety, or would even go as far as to pretend that I was using, just so that people had no inkling of my being an addict in remission. I didn’t wear my sobriety badge with pride. I placed it in my bottom drawer, hoping no one would ever notice it. Isn’t that tragic — I was ashamed of what has become the greatest blessing that the universe has ever afforded me.
However, I walked into a Narcotics Anonymous room tonight and the idea that there could even exist a stigma around addicts in recovery simply dissolved immediately. It was a fundamental shift in my belief structure around addiction. I defy someone to show me a community that has people from more walks of life than a South African Narcotics Anonymous room. It’s very surreal. There are some attendees that have been so overwhelmed by their addiction that they have raped, they’ve robbed, they’ve seen death and oftentimes caused it. Then there are career-driven corporates with extensive education and ample privilege. There is extreme and utter poverty. There is unbelievable wealth. And everything in between. The level of inequality of South Africa couldn’t be more visible than in those four walls.
Yet, there is no divide. You walk into the rooms with the only commonality being that of fighting the daily battle of not using. You drop your guard, your airs and graces, your privilege, your oppression, your default judgment.
And you just be.
You be someone with struggle and you let strangers support, guide and uplift you.
In a world where “the tallest trees catch the most wind”, where people shun others’ success and where the misfortunes of some are thought to be caused by fortune of others, this is a breath of fresh air. Fellow addicts literally applaud your success. You reach a ninety-day milestone, they applaud. You’re ten years clean, they applaud. You arrive for your first time, only a few hours clean — people fucking applaud. And it’s real. It’s so genuine. And that’s the magic that makes you want to keep coming back. It’s pretty fucking powerful.
And so I have to ask myself how it is then that these are the crazy ones. Are they absolutely mad or utterly incredible? Is it perhaps that they’re crazy enough to, through their life stories and experience, transcend societal norms, say-so’s and upbringing and just be radical and vulnerable human beings?
If addicts are so crazy, how is it that through addiction I have for the first time experienced pure and unadulterated union in a room of all races in a country that is famous for discrimination, segregation and bigotry?
Well if that’s crazy then I’ll wear my crazy badge with pride, thanks.