Name: Sabine Colleen Shannon
From: Phoenix, Arizona
The Pain Beneath
As someone who has struggled with addiction, I know from my personal experience that using substances is a way to escape some kind of pain and trauma that has been inflicted on an individual. I started smoking cigarettes when I was 15 years old when my mother and I moved states and I started at a new school. During the first few months of settling into this new environment my mother’s partner began drinking heavily and being verbally abusive to me and my mother. It resulted in him being physically abusive towards us both, which ended in his arrest and a subsequent restraining order. This was a lot for an introverted teenage girl to navigate on top of the social stresses of making new friends at a new school. I turned to smoking cigarettes as a comfort to soothe my anxieties that resulted from feeling unsafe in my own home. Smoking also served as a social tool for me as I made friends with other smokers who also happened to be the outcasts, artist-types like me.
As a result of the abuse, my mother slipped into a depression that lasted years. I remember spending the following years, up until I left the house at 17, essentially parenting myself. She didn’t have the resources or ability to seek help for herself, let alone me. This makes me empathize with other people who are struggling with addiction. I can see that it is not always an easy thing to combat as it usually has its roots in some deeper psychological trauma. Unless you can get the help and support to recognize and heal the pain, kicking the addiction is nearly impossible.
As a society, I think the issue of addiction in this country is largely an issue of social welfare. People are much more susceptible to developing addictions if they can not meet their basic needs, have a history of trauma and don’t have access to medical and psychological treatments to address such trauma, or lack the community or family ties that can support an individual through difficult life events and prevent them from turning to drugs or alcohol.
The consequences of addictions that spring from such deep psychological pain for an individual is often that they don’t heal the underlying issues. The longer they abuse substances, the thicker the mask over their underlying pain, and the farther from healing they have strayed. Furthermore, addiction doesn’t just negatively impact the life of the individual struggling with it. It impacts their family, their loved ones, their community, and the society at large. Though I firmly believe that that addiction is a symptom of larger societal issues more so than societal issues are because of addiction, I think we can not build a healthy, sustainable, and thriving society with individuals who are not living to their full potential. I believe that no one, so long as they are living, is ever too far gone to begin to make positive changes in their life and take steps towards addiction recovery. It is with every individual who makes the choice to heal that a better world can grow.
For an individual to recover from addiction, it requires first and foremost, a recognition that there is a problem, and an ability to envision a future that is different. For me, it took years to quit tobacco. I tried and failed many times. What helped me was that I developed a deep connection to my body and spirit. Whenever I engaged with tobacco, I observed how it made me feel bad and unhealthy. I also identified the deeper psychological drivers that caused me to turn to smoking for relief. I identified the underlying pain and, with the help of a counselor, was able to heal from those things. It brought me to a point where I no longer needed the tobacco to soothe me.
The remedy to the addiction crisis in this country requires that we build strong communities where individuals are offered support for their hardships so that they don’t have to turn to substances. It requires that we create space in our societies for people to heal by creating more access to health services such as counseling. On a large scale it requires that we fight inequality and the wealth gap in this country so that no one has to struggle to survive, which can likely lead to substance abuse.
Addiction is a multifaceted issue with causes being tied to both individual psychology and societal context. In light of this, we must address the issue from a diverse approach, bridging the gap between the individual and their community at large. My hopes are that communities recognize this and stand up for those struggling with addiction so we can collectively heal.