I know this person. She is kind, and she is hardworking. She loves her family and her friends with a fierceness that takes my breath away. And so, I was shocked when I saw the meme she posted to Facebook. It was essentially making fun of anyone who calls addiction a “disease” because people choose to use substances. Sure, it was funny, and she asked in her post for people to “please not be offended.” So that makes it okay, right?
If she had posted something racist, or misogynist, or a meme making fun of cancer, the whole internet would have exploded. But because she was making fun of substance use disorders, I saw comment after comment of people laughing, agreeing, adding to the “fun”.
Let me be clear. People are dying.
Sentiments such as this keep people from reaching out for help. They stay locked in a dark place of shame, afraid that asking for help means that they are somehow broken and unfit to be part of humanity. These opinions encourage people to feed their denial of a problem and to suffer in silence. More than that- these attitudes perpetuate the cultural belief that people who struggle with substance use disorders do not deserve help and are not worthy of grace.
I believe that all human persons are worthy of grace and that people who are hurt are worthy of the support they need to heal and grow. And- I believe that if this person truly understood that her meme could cause harm to another human person she would not have posted it. But, we don’t see “addicts” as human. We see them as something to avoid- someone “other” who lacks willpower and moral fiber.
If you think about it, many adult onset diseases are diseases of “choice”. Many heart problems, lung problems, chronic illnesses and cancers are related to the choice to not exercise, to smoke, to eat the wrong things and so on. People make choices everyday that can cause them to have chronic medical and mental health problems. You would never (I hope) make fun of a random stranger because they have lung cancer or heart problems. You would never deny care to a person’s loved one because they “choose” to get COPD.
We must remember that those who suffer are still human persons. And although the problems people face vary in severity, this is not a competition. We don’t have to lift one type of suffering above another. The path to recovery of all kinds is not judgement, but love. Whether you ascribe to the belief that addiction is a disease or not please ask yourself, “Do I want to be the kind of person who makes jokes about someone else’s life-threatening problem? Do I want to be the reason someone does not seek help?”
As humans, we all make choices that have consequences. And we all struggle when faced with change. I hope that you will all consider promoting recovery and healing, rather than “otherness” and fear. And if you know someone who is struggling with a substance use disorder, please encourage them to seek out help from a facility such as The Virtue Center, where they can receive care without being judged or shamed.
-Sabrina DeQuasie, MS, LPC-C