Today is International Overdose Awareness Day*. It’s not something we talk about in social circles on the playgrounds, or while waiting in line at the grocery store. It just isn’t. And yet, here is a day, dedicated to the awareness of this now epidemic. An overdose is defined by Merriam Webster Online as, “an excessive quantity or amount”. It doesn’t say anything about your color, your gender, your economic status or your level of education. The disease of addiction doesn’t discriminate and truly is an equal opportunity seeker. It will take anyone down, anytime. The more we keep it hidden, the more power it gets. You see, it thrives on shame, much like a bread yeast grows with warm water and sugar. So, in pretending it doesn’t exist, that it doesn’t affect our friends, family and loved ones, is only strengthening this beast. We talk about cancer, diabetes and heart disease, and ask for updates from those stricken with these awful diseases. Yet, when it comes to addiction, we turn the other way. It’s too uncomfortable. It’s a personal choice – they choose it.
I remember one of my jobs when I had a few years in recovery under my belt. I was in my early 20’s and would get up at 5:00 a.m., run 3 miles in the gym of my apartment, make a fresh pressed juice and sit down to read my daily meditations. I would come into work, refreshed and honestly, excited to start the day. I kind of thought this was how it was for everyone. I didn’t realize I was one of the lucky ones.
The office was in transition, and so new people were being trained. One day, a woman in her late 20’s, walked in as our new nursing assistant. She had bright blond hair, often a positive quip to share, and always had a smile on her face. She got started right away and seemed to get the hang of the operation with minimal effort. Then one day, she didn’t come in. She didn’t call, and no one had heard from her. By the third day or so, information started coming in. The young woman was an alcoholic, who was on her fifth or so attempt to gain long-term sobriety. She was at home in her apartment, had one too many drinks, tripped and fallen. She lived alone, so when she blacked out from the fall, no one knew, and no one could help. She wasn't better or worse than anyone else that struggles. This time was just too much. She lost her life to the disease of addiction.
I share this story not to be depressing or deliver any fear-based message. Actually, my intention is quite the opposite. We now have a day of awareness to the disease of addiction. We have an opportunity to shine the light on a disease that relishes the darkness and offer a helping hand to those that still suffer – often in silence. I have seen people go from rock bottom, filled with hopelessness and despair, and miraculously come out thriving on the other side. As with any illness, any obstacle in life - when we know we are not alone, when we are given compassion, (sometimes tough) love, honesty and kindness, miracles do happen. So, if you or someone you know are struggling, get help. There are so many people, organizations and programs available. If one doesn’t fit, keep going. It’s worth it. Don’t quit before the miracle happens.
*International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event held on the 31st of August each year and aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have died or had a permanent injury as a result of drug overdose.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information.