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I’ve spent a lot of time this week speaking to recovered and recovering addicts. It’s uplifting, it is reassuring and most of all it is inspiring. 

I spoke to a man who used to deal drugs to keep his own drug habit. In his words he “terrorised the town”. He sold drugs and threatened people and stole and was generally a “pain in the arse”. He finally got sent to prison where he got into treatment for his addiction. He described his journey and how he’d moved from terrorising people to becoming a peer mentor and volunteering to help others through their treatment journey. 

I was at an event on Friday and I heard many men and women telling their stories of addiction and their paths to recovery. There was a woman who had been gang raped at 16 and who had hidden her shame by drinking copious amounts of alcohol every day for the next 19 years. Losing everything and everyone that she’d ever loved in the process. There was the man who was so broken by drugs that he didn’t even know who he was. His mental health deteriorated so much that he completely lost his way. There was a lady who came from a broken home and had been rejected by everyone her entire life. Who had cut herself to pieces in the hope that it might make someone care. That maybe someone would stop her. The stories went on. Some were horrific, others mundane. Not everyone had a sad tale, others had just somehow, inexplicably really, found themselves in the midst of addiction, the wrong time, the wrong place. They struggled to explain how or why they had got there. It didn’t really matter in the end, the result was the same; days filled with the torture of wanting, no needing a substance to survive. And yet somehow all of these people were now substance free and giving back to others. 

There was a lady from NA, Narcotics Anonymous who spoke of how the 12 step model is based on mutual aid, one addict supporting another. She spoke of how going into the NA rooms saved her life, how she is now giving back to others in the rooms as a result. 

There was a question and answer session with these people at the end of the event, an event filled with addicts at differing stages of their journeys, plus their friends and families. During the question and answer session one family member asked the million dollar question; what  was it that changed for you to make you able to get well? And more to the point, what made you stay well? 
It being the million dollar question, everyone had a thought but not one person could state with absolute certainty what exact thing had changed them, what had made them able to completely let go of everything that they knew and move forward in the world they had hidden from for so long. But the one thing that each and everyone had in common was that now they had moved forward, they were helping others to move forward too. They were giving up their time to pass on strength and hope to those still locked in addiction. In the words of the terrorist drug dealer, it was time he helped rebuild the town he helped to destroy. 

All of these people had struggled in the world prior to taking drugs. Their addiction had isolated them further. To face the world that has rejected you once, twice because of who you are or who you feel yourself to be, takes strength. To do so after continual rejection and social isolation, and bearing the stigma of drug addict, alcoholic, drug dealer or thief while not using a substance to soothe the way is courageous. To then reach out, determined to help other people to follow them, commands a respect that I feel they are very rarely given.