Above are three conversations that I had with three different non-profit organizations regarding volunteer work. Each inquiry received the same email from me asking for details. The first response disturbed me so much that I thought I’d reflect on this as an opportunity to really discuss the stigma of addiction and recovery.
I reached out via phone and spoke to the person who sent this message. This conversation did nothing but confirm my initial reaction of discrimination. I couldn’t believe that someone who is working for a company that CONSTANTLY deals with discrimination due to their own population could levy that judgment on others. I had to dig deep, give myself time to respond, and consider the deep empathy that I have for people who can’t open their minds to the beauty that recovery brings this world.
I wanted to ask her if she knew the percentage of her volunteers who were recovering addicts, because from my experience this is a large percentage of the people who are willingly volunteering and serving in our community. I wanted to ask her if she would consider having coffee with someone in recovery to educate herself, so that she could see the altruistic nature of so many in our community. She made so many comments during our phone conversation that implied, “I’m clueless and scared”. As I went back and forth between empathy and anger I realized it’s probably not just her, that many think about addiction and recovery in the same way. This is saddening.
I felt like I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, I wanted to be publicly proud of my program and the people in it. I want my participants to be proud to be in recovery and not shameful. Yet this individual was re-enforcing the exact reason why people in recovery maintain their anonymity and are fearful of identifying themselves as an addict.
To the people that feel this way toward addicts in recovery, ask questions, go to meetings, read books. Addiction might be scary but recovery is not. Recovery is absolutely the most beautiful transition you can possibly witness in a human. I encourage you to open your mind and simply see a human. A human that has the ability to change more lives than most of us can comprehend because of what they have experienced and what they are willing to give back in the recovery process. Simply rejecting without question creates its own problem and misses out on opportunity. Be more like the people in the conversations that understand that anyone looking to help is needed today.