A life in active addiction often brings about interactions with the legal system. Many of the friends I made in recovery (myself included) had brushes with the law and consequences related to actions we had taken during the darker times in our lives.
Several years ago, as I attended the hearing of a friend, I listened to his lawyer recounting his experience representing addicts over the years. He was speaking to his own observations on the likelihood of certain addicts to return to a life of crime, referring to those who were addicted to heroin as “the dregs of society.”
I sunk back a little in that hard, unforgiving courthouse bench and nodded along with the couple other friends who had also come to show their support. I didn’t speak up about my own past, but I certainly held on to those words while trying as hard as I could not to internalize them.
I knew I wasn’t “the dregs of society,” but that I had dealt with a disease that took me to places I couldn’t escape without help. It opened my eyes to the outside perspectives and stereotypes associated with addiction and made me realize how hard it is for some people to escape labels that society so quickly wants to slap over them.
I had to decide whether I wanted to accept this lawyer’s definition of a heroin addict or if I wanted to make my own.
I chose the latter.
I continued to stay clean, I helped others in my situation, I got healthy, and I certainly didn’t stay quiet about what took me down in life.
My anecdote has to do with addiction, but I’ve been defined by many other things in my life: my academics, my gender, my age, my appearance, etc.
I’m sure you can think of a time when you felt labeled and stereotyped in one way or another.
It’s easy to buy into those labels and behave the way that society expects you to behave. The harder, and more courageous path, in my opinion, is to fight those labels and work to become whatever version of yourself you want to be.
Sometimes you may find a label you WANT to embrace. I choose to emphasize that I am a recovering addict because who I am and how I portray myself is often contrary to the commonly accepted definition of an addict. I choose to let others know because I want to give hope to anyone struggling with similar things.
I’m an addict, but that’s certainly not the only thing I am. I’m also passionate about health and fitness, FOOD, a lover of books, a wife, daughter, friend, etc., etc. You get the picture.
Make sure that if you choose to emphasize yourself as one thing above all other things, you still show care and nurturing to those other parts of yourself before becoming lost in one identity.
If you’ve ever overcome anything or find yourself breaking the mold of common stereotypes, I say embrace that. Not only will it help you be proud of your identity, it will help to show others that there’s no cookie cutter mold or path that needs to be followed to live a happy and successful life.
Your life is your own. You can absolutely choose to perform the way that those labels expect you to, but if you have the desire to reach beyond those constraints, you should follow your path and don’t let anyone else pull you down along the way.
Remember, this is your story. You are free to create and plot it out however you want.
Thanks to Amanda for letting me think out loud.