You And I Are Addicts.
We may be addicted to things other than drugs, like gaming, smoking, shopping, even our cell phones…but what comes to mind when we see the word, addict? Drugs. Dark alleys. Needles hanging out of arms. To understand why, I traveled over 57,000 miles throughout America interviewing hundreds of people suffering or recovering from drug addiction. Here’s what they taught me…
Turning Judgment Into Empathy
Drugs are an empty fix. Users are trying to fix themselves, to escape reality, to numb the pain. Very often, the pain is rooted in psychological injury: bullying, neglect, the loss of a loved one, sexual abuse, isolation. Drugs drag their users into very dark places. They need ladders of empathy, rather than oil slicks of judgment to emerge.
Empathy began growing in me while interviewing a young woman at a tribal wellness center in Washington state. “Suzanne,” she said, “It was my fault. I chose to use that drug, but pretty soon after I began using it, it began using me.”
The Questions People Ask
The first question people ask me is “How did you find drug addicts?” Given that there are 20 million in the United States, it was not hard. I met people suffering from addiction in soup kitchens and homeless shelters, in treatment centers, and on the streets. I even hung out at a pawn shop once. But there are plenty of people who are actively hiding their addiction–high functioning addicts–who are hiding in plain sight. It is for them that reducing stigma is so critical–so they will seek the help they so desperately need.
The next question folks ask me is, “How did you get people to participate?” Imagine being a drug user, maybe having lost a job or a relationship, or even your home. Society blankets users in stigma, leaving little space for dignity, much less any feeling of purpose. Participating in my project to lessen the stigma, gave them purpose. It was a means of helping others. I send out my heartfelt thanks to all who lent their eyes and words to the Empty Fix Project.
Another thing I learned out there in America, is that the front lines of our war against drug addiction are filled with survivors. Time and again, when I met people working in recovery programs, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters, very often, they themselves had recovered from addiction. They are the unsung heroes of this epic battle.
Join the Journey
Check out the books I read along the way. Discover on the map, the people and places I visited. Follow my blogs to learn about the continuing creation of my art series and how you might see the art in person.