“What’s often frustrating about social justice issues in general is that in order to get people to show basic empathy or understanding, you have to use the ‘what if it were your wife, your child’…”
The Journey of addiction for many is a practically untouched subject. It is one which causes much pain and grief to talk about – revisiting subjects of substance abuse or addictive personalities, only unroots the core of one’s past.
In a world where people spam hashtags of ‘be kind’ on social media when another celebrity dies – these are often the first people that bully anyone of a different background, a less privileged one, a less educated one; these are the people that effortlessly show classism, sexism, homophobia, racism and ableism all in one sentence – completely contradicting their previous statement.
For those who may not know, the #BeKind movement was a trending hashtag that went round in 2019, shortly after TV presenter Caroline Flack’s suicide – as it was allegedly a famous quote from Caroline herself. In recent days, ‘be kind’ is losing most of its meaning – as it has become very apparent that it only seems to matter when someone in the public eye is struggling, and people throw the words around whilst still exhibiting harmful behaviour to others online.
Things need to change. That is evident from 2020’s recorded deaths in the UK from stigmatised addiction problems.
Vulnerability is a nakedness that exposes so much more than flesh ever could. Charlie knows this, from first-hand experience.
Sitting opposite a zoom screen with a man named Charlie, a Devon-born thirty-something who upon first speaking, appears larger than life, and incredibly humorous. Charlie jokes about his ‘shit hair’, his love for his kids despite them being ‘utterly unbearable’ at times.
Charlie sips his coffee and says: “I’m ready to talk about this, ask me anything!”
I suppose I wanted to ask how it all started – a simple question with a multi-layered answer. Of course, that’s the first question that comes to mind for one that’s lived in their ivory tower of sobriety wrapped in white silk ribbon.
I tangent slightly: “How are you doing today?”
“Yeah, not bad, sweetheart. Better sunlight out now.”
I ask him if he deals with SAD, as a fellow struggler myself.
“Oh yeah. Big time. I bought one of those daylight lamp things to help my mood, didn’t do jack shit, though. It’s an interesting time of year now isn’t it; days are getting a bit longer again.”
I then delved deeper and asked about his first use.
“It started… well, – I started using when was 17, only recreationally. Not sure when I was quote-unquote ‘addicted.’ It’s all a big blur. I think it did something to my head beyond the mental health issues, I genuinely can’t remember a good 4 years of my life. I don’t even remember my first child’s birth, and I was there, so I was told. I’ll never forgive myself for that.”
He seemed beaming to discuss his children, saying: “Oh, they changed it all for me. So, I knew I had to change for them. Never had a purpose until they came along. They’re my absolute world.”
As for whether his children were aware of his past experiences with addiction, Charlie replied half smiling: “They don’t know about my past and I’ve got their mother to thank for that, really she protected them well. I might talk to them about it when they’re grown, but they are 5 and 8 at the minute, so, lots of time you know.”
If you had the power to change society’s views on how we view people who go through journeys of addiction and recovery, such as yourself – what would it be?
“We’re people who were hurt. I’d never hurt a fly. Which is a funny thing for me to say actually because it’s true, I’d never hurt a fly, but I’ve hurt myself so many times. It took the first lockdown and having no choice but to go cold turkey for me to get clean and really take a step back.”
How do you think we can help to end the stigma around addiction?
“If there’s one thing we can do as a society, it’s to stand up to people who say we’ll never change. Leopard never changes its spots and stuff – we’re not criminals, we are people, it is as simple as that. You may not agree with the methods we chose to take, but if you’ve never been in our shoes – you’ve got no idea of the amount of passion we’ve got, the amount of love we have to give, we’re just people who are hurting and see no way out.”
“Another thing I would say that I wish people knew is that recovery is very possible for addicts. I was practically using coke like a drip for years and now the thought of using the stuff physically repulses me – change is possible. We just need compassion; we need affordable access to therapy most of all. I was put on the NHS waiting list a year ago and still waiting to hear back. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to have friends that took me in and helped me get on some sort of routine path. I’m now employed with a company I love, and I get to help people in situations like myself too, which is the best part of it all.”
Many people have struggled with addiction, publicly and privately. Take Amy Winehouse, for example. She suffered horrendously, which ultimately led to her untimely death. People write all sorts about her saying how cruel the world was to her, how she didn’t deserve it – all of which is incredibly valid. But why don’t we express the same empathy for those without money who struggle? Money speaks volumes in society’s eyes, and that’s how the majority of those struggling with addiction end up reliant on dangerous sources. Therapy is a privilege not available to most, and as human beings – we seek to numb pain and do so in any way we possibly can.
Referrals from NHS mental health professionals currently stand at 18 weeks pre-referral, and a further 3 years for access to free therapy through CAMHS and related NHS mental health services. This will undoubtedly be contributing to the increasing death rates as stated earlier by the House of National Statistics, which also causes those suffering with their mental health to turn to alternative methods such as self-medicating, and addiction.
On another phone call, I speak with Charlie’s best friend Glen, who Charlie is currently living with. He seems incredibly straight to the point, a real stand-up guy. Glen expressed his concern for society’s lack of empathy.
“What’s often frustrating about social justice issues in general is that in order to get people to show basic empathy or understanding, you have to use the ‘what if it were your wife, your child, your best friend, your x, y, z – but it shouldn’t take for us to be personally affected for us to show basic empathy towards people. We are humans with such complex brains and nervous systems, we need to do better. Educate, better. Simple as.”
“Never dismiss people in their early warning signs.” – says Kelly Loughty
Speaking with an old friend, Kelly – an ex-recovery counsellor for the Salvation Army, gave some insight surrounding this problem: “Societal stigma not only makes things worse for the individual’s personal mindset, but it has this real domino effect on people that stops them completely from talking about their mental health and thus not seeking help. The result is situations of social isolation – leading to unemployment, homelessness and poverty making their mental health issues become physical – making their situation far worse than it started off. We as a society need to see an end to jokes surrounding slurs related to those in their cycles of addiction and recognise, they are the same as sober people, except without the privilege of receiving affordable help and never dismiss people in their early warning signs.”
Editor’s note: While people have a responsibility for their actions or their habits, drinking and pub culture is so rife in this country, it’s so accepted and encouraged which makes it harder to abstain if one is in recovery. This world is tough enough, lets be gentle with one-another.
If you are currently struggling, or know someone who is in and around the UK, here are some useful resources available: