The Face of the Addict

What does she look like?

The face of an addict.

The scent settles down into the back of my throat. The boiled day old eggs regurgitate, bringing to the surface a taste of desperation. Not my desperation but of the face of the addict, the woman sitting at my table.

The church sanctuary is full of well over a hundred cackling hens as I meander my way to my self-assigned seat. She sits quietly, cowering in the seat next to mine. She is surrounded by a brood of upper middle class grandmothers.

Her clothing is tattered. She is a battered woman finally escaping from her past. Life on streets, in the City of Angels, was her home. She crawled her way out of the gutter, the sewer, traveling across the country in search of rehabilitation.

The other women distance themselves from her. The years of abuse left her body malnourished; her hair dry and brittle; and her mousy dull eyes, void of life. She clearly isn’t ready to be thrust into this population of do-gooders. And the women do not know how to response to her presence. She is one lone rat stuck in the middle of a group of hens.

I take my seat next to hers, happy to be a barrier between her and the other ladies. Her and I exchange words. I share with her my memory of my first days in rehab. I was a frightened child. And it became apparent she isn’t the rat we think but a frightened woman desperate for change. But the fear of recovery keeps her from committing. She is off as quickly as she appeared. The church mouse scurries back into the darkness, to the sewer where the rat will emerge.

~ a dramatization based on real life events

Face to face with an addict.

The church I attend in Florida has a Woman’s Care Center located on the church campus. The care center houses and provides rehabilitation for women battling addictions to drug and alcohol. They welcome women from all walks of life, providing them hope. Three days a week I spend with these women sharing our stories. We are in recovery together. My church feels like a home and the women a sisterhood.

One morning at bible study I was in awe that God had placed a woman whom I met the previous evening at my table, conveniently right next to me. The day prior, less than 24 hours into rehabilitation, she was at our recovery meeting and appeared frightened. A memory that is very fresh for me. It takes tremendous courage to take the first step of recovery, not only admitting we need help but actually going through with it.

As we sat and chatted a couple of the other ladies from the table chimed in. The ladies spoke with intrigue, commenting on what a nice place the Woman’s Care Center is and questioned how I had already met with her. I commented we met at Celebrate Recovery the evening before. Further I had to explain to the ladies what Celebrate Recovery is and who it is for. CR is a weekly meeting I attend for those struggling with either a hurt, hang-up or habit. And then it happened again, a lady in the group said, “Karen it is so nice you volunteer your time and help these women.” What they should know and I did make them aware of is I am one of the recovering addicts. I may not fit their mold of an addict but I do have a story. A different story than the other addict but from the same play book.

They were sitting face to face with an addict, me, and didn’t even know it.

If you came face to face with an addict would you recognize her?

Prior to rehabilitation, during rehabilitation and following rehabilitation people always question if I was and am an addict. I did not meet their criteria so when I attempt to share my story with certain individuals they can not see past my outside façade and the addict that is still very much alive in me.

Last year at the same bible study and a different group of ladies I mustered up the courage to share my story. I told them the year prior I spent time in a holistic rehabilitation for alcohol abuse. They thanked me for working at a rehab and volunteering my time to help other women in need. I had to explain further… the rehab I attended is a place where recovering addicts help other addicts who are in the midst of their struggles. And I was there for help. Addicts help addicts.

Even my friends and acquaintances at home were shocked that I spent time in a rehab. One friend mentioned it was very surreal that such a well-spoken individual could rehabilitate among alcoholics and drug addicts. As if we slur our speech throughout the day. Another friend was very intrigued about my stay. Her portrayal wasn’t pretty and the idea that I spent time with these addicts flabbergasted her. What these friends didn’t realize is that the people I met at rehabilitation and meet during recovery look just like them. My friends at home have the face of an addict.

The addict wears the face of courage.

It takes courage to face our struggles head on. People recover from all types of problems, divorce, childhood trauma, and grieving the death of a loved one, not just alcohol and drugs. But those who battle addiction in their recovery are warriors.

These women are willing to forgo a life once lived for something much better. They choose to recover from a life that does not serve them. All it takes is a mustard seed of courage to make the first step.

Changing the Face of Addiction

The stigma associated with addiction can lead to feelings of guilt and shame, prompting people to hide their addiction and prevent them from receiving treatment.

As a society we need to remove the stigma attached to addiction. It is a detriment to portray an addict as a sewer rat.

To see the real face of the addict we need to look past the ugliness of the disease and into the beautiful face of the woman in recovery.

"Fear not; you will no longer live in shame. Don't be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you. You will no longer remember the shame of your youth and the sorrows of widowhood," ~ Isaiah 54:4 NLT.

As an imperfect human my growth has been spurred on by a life catastrophe, because I chose to ignore my struggles. Instead of choosing to look inward and identify the source of the problem, which was ME, I placed blame on the society around me. The end result was to numb my discomfort and quell my anxieties with that one glass of wine. By the grace of God I was able to seek forgiveness and unearth my flaws. Through sharing with others I was able to accept my flawed self and learn I did not need to suffer alone. The result peace, from a loving God, not the spirit in the bottle.

2 responses to “The Face of the Addict”

  1. So much hope here, Karen. I’m so thankful you’re sharing your story. This is one of the best ways of leading others to Christ–connecting with them through shared experience and letting them see the work of the Holy Spirit in you. I was addicted to alcohol before I started following Jesus. For me, it was a way to fill the God-shaped hole in my heart I refused to believe I had. I share my story now too because I never want anyone to think that being a Christian means being a perfect do gooder. It means being broken and letting God work through that brokenness so that He can be revealed through us.

    Great post!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: