By Sarah Shaw
This week I have heard of three new deaths attributed to substance abuse and the opioid epidemic within our community. More than 64,000 individuals died in 2016 in the United States due to substance overdoses. More than 30,000 of those deaths attributed to opioid drugs, consisting of prescribed medications, with heroin being the lower of the two in terms of lethality. These numbers are staggering, especially when most of these deaths could have been preventable.
When hearing the statistics, many people place blame on things like over-prescribing and pharmaceutical companies because it helps us to recognize what’s wrong and what needs changing, but too often this can become the main focus, while the real issue sits on the back burner. We advocate so fiercely for change and we fight against what we believe to be a broken system for so long, that eventually all we can see is the fight, and we forget about what truly matters, and that is people. People and how we can better serve them, aid them in their life, in their recovery, lessen their collective burden, this is what matters most. When the system fails, and it seems like an uphill battle, where do we begin? How do we turn our focus to what truly matters most? We start by going within to see how we are contributing to the issue. We become aware of our own actions, behaviors and beliefs in order to gain a better understanding of how we relate to the issue at hand, and in this we gain insight into how we can change for ourselves and others. Without looking deeper within ourselves, and how we effect the world around us, true healing cannot happen.
Essentially, everyone has coping mechanisms for their stress and pain, but when that coping mechanism hurts us, when it causes us to hurt others, that is when it becomes truly dysfunctional. Additionally, when we start to rely too heavily on this dysfunctional behavior as an emotional release, that is when we are in danger of becoming addicted. These behaviors are exactly what we need to be aware of in order to make a lasting effect on individual selves and the issue as a whole.
Substance abuse, and addiction of any kind, is a symptom of a deeper issue; it is about the fact that we are in so much pain, under so much stress, and have suffered so much trauma, that we must look to the external world for any kind of release. By not seeking out positive and healthy coping skills for emotional distress we have created the perfect conditions for substance abuse and addiction to thrive under. While our current system remains lacking in its response to the opioid crisis facing our society, there is still much we can do individually. We are not powerless, and we can absolutely make impactful changes that can aid in healing the epidemic collectively. We could place blame all day, and we would be correct in stating that several things within our system are broken, but to truly make a positive impact on this issue, each one of us must look inward at ourselves in order to see how we effect our own mental health, and how we project that out into the world. How are we coping with pain, hurt, stress, trauma? What behaviors are manifesting due to this inward emotional landscape? Are we hurting ourselves more, in order to “feel better”? And what beliefs do we carry within ourselves that are maintaining this behavior?
Over the years I’ve had many friends and family taken to soon from substance abuse, and any age is too young to die because of drug dependency. So, after inward reflection, what steps can we take as a collective to change this, other than what we’ve already done? We can start by stopping the placing of blame, and, we stop shaming those addicted. Perhaps we can reach out to one another in a more organic way, talk to one another, ask how your neighbor is doing, offer help to those who may need it and even if they don’t want to accept it praise yourself for trying. That is more impactful than blaming and shaming, more impactful than lawsuits and political scapegoating. Yet while we do this for others, we must continue doing it for ourselves. Personal awareness and reflection are essential here, and they are necessary actions that can aid us all in coming up with healthier solutions to our emotional outlets on an individual level and a collective level as well.
We are all human, here to have a human experience; to learn, love and evolve, so why not reach out to one another? You will never know the life you could be changing just by simply being kind and taking an interest in someone else’s story. It seems now more than ever we are missing the bigger picture here, that people are what matter, not the politics, not the ego or being right, not the back and forth rhetoric, but actual people who are struggling, and how we can help lesson each other’s burdens.
As a collective, there remains much work to be done. We must come together and do more to heal this epidemic if we wish to see any positive changes, but first the work must start within. This is everyone’s issue, not just the recovery community. We need to come together absent of ego, shame or blaming to heal this epidemic and this has never been more imperative. In order for true positive transformation and healing to occur, it all starts with within. So take care of yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally, and spiritually so we can begin to change the world from the inside out.