With all the talk about addiction and recovery happening in the news, online, and in cities and towns big and small across the country now; even the 2016 presidential candidates are talking about addiction as a national health crisis, you would think that it would be easier than ever before to acknowledge having an addiction issue or loved one with addiction.

In some ways it is; more young people are talking about addiction than ever before in schools and with their parents and peers. There are now mobile options for dealing with addiction treatment, and online meetings make finding recovery support possible for those who can’t or don’t want to go to in-person meetings. New and creative options for addiction treatment and recovery are being created on a regular basis, but for many people and families dealing with addiction, the stigma and shame is still so powerful that it keeps them in the shadows and suffering in silence.

Why is that? Why is it that after all this time and all the advances made in the addiction field, addiction is still so hard to talk about?

Of course stigma is a major barrier, but I also think that admitting that there’s a problem is a huge barrier as well. I come to the subject of addiction not as a person with an addiction, but as the sibling and spouse of loved ones with addiction issues. I lost a brother to alcoholism and my sister and husband are in long-term recovery and I can tell you that it was extremely difficult for us on both sides of the issue to admit there was a problem and then do something about it.

Why Families Need to Admit There is a Problem

In order for families to help their loved ones with addiction, they first have to admit they have a problem. If we don’t admit there’s a problem, how is the person with the addiction going to admit they have a problem? If the family turns a blind eye, they will as well.

To get your loved one to admit there is a problem, you have to be willing to approach your family member without judgment, find out what the issue is, and then educate yourself as much as possible about it. When it comes to addiction, in a lot of instances families will be the ones responsible for getting family members into treatment, so it is vital to learn as much as you can about what your loved one is dealing with so you know how to help them.

It’s also very important for the family members to admit that they need their own treatment and/or support when it comes to dealing with addiction, because we go through just as much as the person with the addiction does. If we don’t admit this, then the person with the addiction will get the help and tools they need to deal with their issue and the family won’t. This means only half of the problem is being treated and that can be a path to failure for both sides.

When family members admit there is a problem and they do it in the spirit of love and wanting to help, I believe it makes it easier for the person with the addiction to admit they have a problem. They know their families will be with them through the entire process because they will be going through their own treatment and recovery, and they understand the need to support each other for successful long term recovery.

One of the things I know that families need to be very aware of is the feeling that only the person with the addiction needs help and not them. I know from personal experience how detrimental this can be; it can build resentment on both sides and delay much needed healing. For years I knew my siblings and spouse had an issue and needed help, but not me and I was extremely resistant to seek out any help for myself until this past year. I believe that my relationship with my sister suffered greatly because of this, and had I sought help for myself sooner maybe our relationship could be better today.

Maybe the reason I couldn’t admit that I needed help back then is because I felt it would make me complicit in what they were doing, or maybe it was just the shame and guilt. Whatever it was it hurt me deeply and all these years later I am still dealing with the fallout.

My point is the first step to dealing with a problem, regardless of what it is, is admitting that you have one. In the case of addiction, that admission could be the difference between life and death for your loved one and years of happiness and peace of mind for yourself.

Nadine Herring is a virtual assistant and owner of Virtually Nadine, an online administrative support company. She is also a blogger that specializes in writing about addiction from the family perspective and community building & organizing. She is a family addiction advocate, community activist, Boston Celtics fan, runner, and owner of a small animal kingdom consisting of 2 dogs and 3 cats (all rescues).

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Addiction…The word itself causes a lot of feelings from sadness to hope to judgment. I’m going to suggest another one: compassion.

Now I know this can be hard to do for a disease that causes such pain to others; even the fact that addiction is considered a disease is a hotly debated topic by some. I understand these feelings because I myself held them at one time, and it wasn’t until addiction touched my family personally that I learned about compassion; even then it took years…

I will be the first to admit that I used to think that addiction was not a disease and would argue that position passionately with anyone who tried to convince me otherwise. As a matter of fact, my husband (who will soon have 15 years of recovery) and I used to argue about this a lot when he first got out of rehab;  keep in mind though that he had 6 months of inpatient treatment and education about his addiction, I had nothing .

Back then, I used to think that addiction was a choice. You chose to pick up, you chose to abuse your substance of choice, and you chose to keep using despite the pain it caused yourself and your family. In my mind, addiction was a very selfish choice and if you really loved yourself and your family you would just stop. I remember being so angry at my brother, sister and husband for their addictions because I truly thought they didn’t care about anyone or anything but themselves; it broke my heart.

It wasn’t until several years into my husband and sister’s recovery, and my brother’s death that I started to open my mind to the possibility that addiction could be a disease. When I would talk to my brother and he sounded so sick, or we would get the call that he was being rushed to the emergency room yet again for complications with his liver; or I would hear my sister talk about how sorry she was for causing such pain to our family and her children; or my husband would talk about how devastated he was at missing the first 11 years of our daughter’s life… How could I in good conscious think they would ever choose any of that?!

Why Compassion is Necessary

You know the old saying “don’t judge a person until you walk a mile in their shoes?” Well that is exactly what I did until I walked miles in the addict’s shoes and it was a very long, grueling journey. Because of this I now have an understanding and a compassion that I would never have had I not gone through this with my family.

Compassion means having concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. – Oxford Dictionary

When you experience addiction firsthand and you see all the pain, destruction and in my case, loss of life it can cause, you develop a deep concern for the sufferings of others who are dealing with this horrible disease and you want to help in any way you can. You want and need to learn as much as you can about this ‘thing’ that completely takes over your life and the ones you love and changes it into something unrecognizable.

Once you come to learn how addiction re-wires the addict’s brain and how it works, you realize they do things they would never do if they were sober. That alone should give some perspective of how out of control addiction can make your loved one and hopefully give you some sense of compassion when dealing with them.

I also know it’s a lot easier said than done to show compassion to someone who has stolen from you, disappointed you countless times, destroyed any semblance of a relationship you may have left and may have even physically or verbally abused you. But again I would remind you that the person who did those things to you is not the person you know and love, it’s the disease of addiction masquerading as your loved one and as hard as it is at times to remember that, you have to.

When you look through the lens of compassion at addiction, it makes you more tolerant, more understanding, and more forgiving but it doesn’t make you a pushover! When you show compassion to a loved one that is suffering, you’re letting them know that you love them, you support them and you understand (or at least you’re trying to).

When your loved one knows they are not alone in their battle against addiction, it can be very powerful and make all the difference in having successful long-term recovery and that is what we all want!

Nadine Herring is the owner of Virtually Nadine, a virtual assistant company that provides online administrative support and social media management to addiction specialists and social service organizations. I specialize in working with this undervalued and overworked field to help them deal with the time consuming process of running an organization.

Connect with me on LinkedInGoogle+TwitterPinterest, or my website

Addiction has been quite the topic of conversation lately. With the opioid epidemic exploding across the country, the Unite to Face Addiction rally in early October putting addiction on the national agenda, and the 2016 presidential candidates all talking about substance abuse issues, addiction is finally getting the attention it desperately needs.

People are finally starting to understand that addiction is not only a problem that the substance abuser and their family have to face, but one that the entire community needs to work together on in order to get it under control. For too long addiction has been looked at as a moral failing, or weakness of character or only affecting a certain demographic but now that the opioid crisis has turned that way of thinking upside down communities are realizing that something has to be done NOW!

Addiction is a public health crisis and can not only destroy families but entire communities by draining public resources like police, health, and legal services. It also has an economic impact because if businesses are in areas where substance abusers hang out, people will avoid those areas and those businesses.  In my city, we have a beautiful downtown Green which is divided into an upper and lower park area. Everyone tends to frequent the lower Green because the upper Green has become a haven for drug users and homeless people. There are businesses located across the street from the upper Green and I know that they are experiencing some fallout from the activity that takes place there.

What Do We Do?

So if we know there is a crisis, and we know something has to be done, why isn’t more happening? I feel the only way real change is going to take place is if the community makes it happen. We as a community have to demand that our local elected officials come up with common sense policy and laws that stress treatment instead of incarceration. We as a community have to demand that our police officers receive more substance abuse training so that they know how to properly deal with someone who has an addiction issue and can steer them toward treatment rather than the legal system. We as a community have to demand that treatment is accessible and affordable to all those that need it, including their families!

We have to make these changes happen on a grassroots level in our local cities and towns and show that they are successful and then we can seek change on a national level. By showing that we can successfully address the addiction issue in our local communities, we can force the federal government to follow our lead and not reinvent the wheel. Time is of the essence when dealing with addiction, so if the federal government can duplicate existing local programs and adapt them on a national level, it will save millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives.

I’ve recently started having conversations with local community members and organizations about addiction and what we can do to spread education, increase outreach, change policy and break stigma. What I’ve noticed is that when I start talking about addiction and sharing my personal story about losing my brother to alcoholism and having a spouse and sister in long-term recovery, it seems to really connect with people. I see a lot of heads nodding as I tell my story, and they say how much they appreciate hearing a different perspective as well as giving a voice to their feelings. Sharing our stories is the most powerful thing we can do to break stigma and raise awareness because everyone knows someone who has dealt with addiction.

Advocate for Change

Addiction can seem like a huge problem that is difficult to deal with, and while it can be complicated it is not impossible to get under control. One of the first things you need to do once you decide to start advocating for addiction is to find other people who are willing to take on this issue with you. Once you start looking, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to find these people because they’re all around and it is such a relief to know that you don’t have to take on this battle alone.

When I decided to start speaking out on behalf of families battling addiction, I had no idea my story would touch so many people. It has been incredibly motivating and inspiring to talk to other families who have gone through or are going through the struggle with addiction, and helping them see that there is life after addiction. Even if you’ve suffered the loss of a loved one to addiction, that loss doesn’t have to be in vain if you share your story with others so they don’t have to experience the same. Advocacy has been so good for me because in helping others, I help myself and it has had a powerful impact on my recovery.

Speaking out about addiction is not for the faint of heart. It means sharing intimate details with people about some of the darkest moments of your life and dealing with emotions and issues you may not be comfortable with, let alone share with others. But addiction is bigger than one person or family; if helping millions of others is the price of some discomfort then that’s a price I’m willing to pay!

Nadine Herring is the owner of Virtually Nadine, a virtual assistant company that provides online administrative support and social media management to addiction specialists and social service organizations. I specialize in working with this undervalued and overworked field to help them deal with the time consuming process of running an organization.

Connect with me on LinkedInGoogle+TwitterPinterest, or my website

I’ve heard the word gratitude mentioned a lot this week. I’ve seen it mentioned in several articles that I read online, as well as being the topic of one of my weekly Twitter chats; I think someone is trying to tell me something…

In today’s world, gratitude is greatly undervalued. We often compare ourselves to others and what they have and this can seriously affect our mindset. It’s hard to achieve a mindset of gratitude when everything around you seems to be saying that who you are and what you have is not enough. When you add addiction to the mix: whether you are the person with the problem or you are dealing with a family member with addiction, it is virtually impossible.

What is there to feel grateful about when you’re dealing with active addiction? All I can remember feeling at the time my family members were using was fear, a lot of anger, guilt, confusion, sadness, helplessness, and the list goes on. I guess I could say I was grateful for making it through each day without getting “the call” until one day I did telling me that my brother was gone. How do you feel grateful after that?

Gratitude after a loss

I can tell you that for a very long time I didn’t; I felt sadness and a loss that I wouldn’t experience again until my father passed away in 2013. But that was different, my dad was 80 years old when he died; my brother didn’t even see 50, it wasn’t right. While I still haven’t properly grieved for my brother, what I am so grateful for is that I had the best brother in the world!

He was the oldest of five and the only brother; he was so outgoing and had a great personality, everyone who met my brother liked him and he could make you laugh about anything. I was the shy one of the family and my brother did whatever he could to bring me out of my shell and make me feel special. He taught me all about sports and is the reason I am such a sports fanatic to this day *smile*. He loved music and was a great dancer, great listener and I swear just like my mom, he could and would talk to anybody! I’m grateful and thankful that I had the time I had with him and oddly enough, when he died I was grateful that he was finally at peace and not suffering anymore because he was in horrible physical pain. Even in loss, it is possible to be grateful.

Gratitude shows healing and growth and helps keep things in perspective. There is always a reason to be grateful, even if it’s just waking up for the day because someone didn’t. I know from personal experience that when you are going through difficult times, it’s hard to see anything but darkness but there is hope and you will make it through; for that you should be grateful.

My favorite quote on gratitude is from Oprah Winfrey; she said: “be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” Whenever I start to feel a little envious or unappreciative, I think of this quote; it really helps me to keep my priorities straight and see that I have many things to be grateful for. I also think of the people who don’t have what I have and imagine how they must feel and that helps me to be grateful as well.

When it comes to gratitude, mindfulness helps because you have to be aware of the moment and catch yourself when thoughts of not being enough, not having enough, or going through difficult times start to weigh on you. Remind yourself of how lucky you are to have what you have no matter what and let that fill your life with gratitude, happiness and love.

Nadine Herring is the owner of Virtually Nadine, a virtual assistant company that provides online administrative support and social media management to addiction specialists and social service organizations. I specialize in working with this undervalued and overworked field to help them deal with the time consuming process of running an organization.

Connect with me on LinkedInGoogle+TwitterPinterest, or my website

I recently had the pleasure of co-hosting my third Twitter chat with the Coalition against Drug Abuse (#CADAChat) and the topic that I came up with was how relationships change after recovery. I chose this topic because I’ve been struggling with the still-strained relationship I have with my sister and I know this is something that many families struggle with after recovery as well. It was a great discussion and I got a lot of insight.

Let me give you a little back story to add some context: my sister is a former crack addict who now has 10 years of sobriety and my family is extremely proud of her. My sister is the baby of the family and a very social person; everyone who meets my sister likes her right away because she has such a great personality and a big heart. My sister and I are 15 months apart in age and as the youngest of five children, we were very close until she started using drugs…

My sister started with marijuana and progressed very rapidly to crack cocaine. When she started using crack, she turned into someone we didn’t recognize: the funny, sweet, big hearted person we knew turned into a manipulative, lying, stealing, evil monster that only cared about getting her next high. She had been in and out of jail, rehab and various treatment programs and it had gotten so bad that as a family the thought of recovery never entered our minds; we thought for sure she would die. So when she finally achieved recovery after YEARS of drug abuse, we were all so very happy, grateful and proud!

I also think there was a sense that now that my sister achieved recovery, everything would go back to how it was and for most of my family that is exactly what happened. My parents, who watched their youngest child struggle for her life battling her addition and doing everything they could to help her, were so happy that she was alive and starting to do well that all was forgiven with them immediately. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, my parents are amazing and I think all parents of addicted children who support their child through recovery are the strongest people on earth! My brother, who was battling his own addiction to alcohol, and my older sisters, were a little slower to forgive my sister, but all was well with them fairly quickly. Me; well that’s a whole different story and 10 years later I’m still struggling with our relationship.

Our relationship is better now because we actually talk (for years we didn’t), but worse because it will never be as close as it once was. I think it’s a lot harder for siblings to move on than parents, at least in my case it is; I forgave a lot with my sister but some of it, I swear I just can’t let go and I’ve tried. I think the reason our relationship can never fully be repaired is because the damage done was so great; I could forgive but I can’t forget…it’s just too hard. I struggle with this because I feel guilty that I still feel this way after all this time; we were so close and it hurts to know we will never be that way again. I’m happy for her and proud of her, so I feel bad that I can’t completely let go of the anger and hurt.

I will say that while there is still some lingering resentment on my part, my sister is setting an example for me by not having any at all. She knows the damage she did to our relationship by her actions when she was in active addiction and she does her best to live in the moment and focus on where we are now, not how we used to be. There is something to be said for that, and as I’ve written about before, I am working on being more mindful and I can look to her to show me the way.

Regardless of whether or not our relationship ever goes back to what it once was I celebrate the fact that my sister achieved long-term recovery because in all honesty, she shouldn’t even be here; she truly has nine lives. I know how much she’s gone through to get to and stay in recovery; it’s not easy! I’ve told my sister that I love her, I’m proud of her and she knows that no matter what I will always be here for her and that is the best I can do.

Nadine Herring is the owner of Virtually Nadine, a virtual assistant company that provides online administrative support to addiction specialists and social service organizations. I specialize in working with this undervalued and overworked field to help them deal with the time consuming process of running an organization.

Connect with me here on LinkedInGoogle+TwitterPinterest, or my website

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