The Stigma of Addiction
Looking over the audience it was clear that two things were at work. First, the Franklin-Elk Municipal Alliance, led by Deputy Mayor of Franklin Township, Dave Deegan, and aided by Steve and Sharon Clair, Lillian Carr and Dawn Gelsi Collins, did a phenomenal job or organizing and promoting this important event. The second is that people in our community are experiencing the heartbreak of addiction.
Whether it's overdose, theft of family heirlooms, loss of a family member through death by overdose or the soul-less life of the person they once were, tragedy has hit and the impact is a powerful gut-punch.
During the event several panel members talked about their efforts to be part of the solution. An ER physician, Chiefs from the Franklin Twp PD and Gloucester County EMS, along with a variety of citizens and agencies involved in the battle, highlighted the many dimensions of dealing with this current crisis.
Don, who lost a son through Opioid addiction, spoke of the upstanding life his son had lived prior to addiction. It was clear that addiction is no respecter of persons. It strikes the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, the good families and the troubled. Always the result is chaos for the whole family.
Tony Luke was the keynote speaker. During his talk he emphasized that recovery and sobriety are about more than just not using drugs. He stressed the mental health issues that are behind the drive to self-medicate. Unresolved, unaddressed mental health problems lead to a return to the seemingly endless cycle of relapse.
Tony also highlighted the need to remove the stigma attached to addiction. That doesn't mean that we call addiction good, but it does mean that people should not be too ashamed of their addiction to get the help they need. Neither should the family of one struggling with addiction feel that they are alone in the fight.
An article on the Addiction Center website included this statement, "Addicts do not have a choice in their addiction, but they always have the choice to get help."
Stigma is associated with shame, guilt and hopelessness empowered by isolation. People working on recovery don't need these paralyzing emotions piled on top of their pursuit of sobriety, health and mental well-being. There is plenty to do in restoring relationships and rebuilding bridges with family members and friends who have been hurt along the way.
As a pastor, the role of removing guilt and shame through ongoing, repetitive forgiveness is what we do. Churches need to truly be redemptive communities offering support and a hope that endures even when you fall down.
Let people debate whether addiction is a choice or disease. Meanwhile there are people with addiction who are in need of our help now. So why not join in the work of helping the recovering addict get healthy, the active addict get clean and the family experiencing collateral damage get sanity.
Join your Municipal Alliance or connect with churches to find out how to get involved. In the very least, extend the love of Christ rather than condemnation to those you meet.