Name: Haley Schattschneider
From: Nashville, TN
Our Call to Awareness
Imagine it’s you in the waiting room. In that poorly lit hospital, filled with unfamiliar faces, confusing charts and cold coffee. You sit down and realize the moment you’ve prayed to never come, is facing you head on. Your father, who has been a smoker for over fifteen years, has lung cancer. It is stage four cancer. There are treatments and programs to help your father, and the journey will be hard, but you must try to fight off what is in store for him. After all, this is a disease, and although you are not a doctor, you will pray for the best and get the best treatment program for your father. You go home after realizing what is becoming your reality, you check your social media and the regular twitter arguments are rolling around. Democratic debates are taking place, a celebrity is endorsing stainless steel straws and you continue to read. However, today is different for you. Something catches your eye. You read a tweet from a man named Chris. He has decided he needs to share his two cents on cancer. His tweet says, “Lung cancer isn’t a real disease if you get it from smoking. That’s simply a choice.” You’re infuriated so you turn off your phone.
Although this scenario seems quite illogical or even slightly unreasonable, this anger and confusion stemmed from the ignorance of those around us, is felt everyday from people who are dealing with addiction in their everyday life. Of course, lung cancer is a disease, and although this disease is directly related to one’s addiction, it does not discredit the idea that this life threatening and fatal disease is purely a choice of an individual to have. Therefore, if we so easily classify lung cancer that has been brought on by years of smoking, why can we not view alcoholism through the same lens?
This is the leading contributor to America’s addiction crisis, specifically America’s addiction crisis in regards to alcoholism. The reason this crisis exists, is because of the false portrayal of what addiction really is, and the lack of awareness and knowledge of the seriousness of it. We are not taught the depths and dangers of drugs and alcohol, and do not understand the consequences of misusing them. But more importantly, we are not taught to take them seriously. There is more debate whether addiction is a disease or a choice, than there is general talk about what addiction is. Without proper knowledge of what addiction is, the deep understanding of the realness of the disease will never be unveiled. This is how the never ending cycle begins. If you don’t know how to swim, would you jump in a lake? Most likely, you would not. But if you always believed the water would only go up to your ankles, you would not fear jumping in.
So how do we fix the problem? We must talk. People who have overcome, or who are currently struggling with addiction, or their loved ones, must be the leading force in explaining the first hand effects that addiction has on humans. Without human connection and the telling of personal testimonies, the realness of this crisis, will never become personal to those who have not directly experienced it. We have to be able to spread the realness of the crisis, in order for people to take it seriously. Because if we are not taught to take it seriously, the number of people with addictions will only rise.
The lack of understanding is what makes this disease an overly emotional journey for those experiencing it, and those watching someone they love experience it. The “invalidity” of this disease makes it hard for those who don’t experience it firsthand to understand how serious it is. You do not have to have cancer, or watch someone die of cancer, to understand how serious the disease is. However, it almost seems as if the only ones understanding the depths of this disease are the ones experiencing it firsthand, because it is not viewed as a real illness. You wouldn’t make jokes or casual comments about other terminal illnesses because we have all agreed they are serious. However, the insensitivity encompassing alcoholism is an unbearable pain to those who have experienced it. To you, alcoholism may just be a word on your screen, but to some, it has been the central turning point in their lives. To me, alcoholism is a disease that has turned my life one-hundred and eighty degrees. Because the reason that I understand the depths of this disease, is because at sixteen years old I lost my father to it.