My name is Michele. I live in Jackson, New Jersey. And I’m proud to rise up against addiction in honor of my brother Michael.
To say that Michael has suffered and struggled over the past 15 years with substance use disorder is an understatement. Sometimes I’d wonder what was worse, the illness or the way he was treated by others.
I met Michael’s new daughter, my niece, Liliana, about ten days ago. She took my breath away. I know many people can relate to this. I expected to feel a thousand emotions: elated our family has grown; anxious to get to know her; mystified at the miracle of birth. But I suppose those feelings are expected. I also had some less typical thoughts that day.
In my brother’s recovery, he has not only fathered my beautiful niece Liliana, but he actually delivered her in the car himself on the way to the hospital. (And he is not a physician.). I was in awe that while he focuses on his recovery every single day, at that second he showed his love, strength, and focus even more so. I don’t know many people that could actually do what he did and alone, safely delivering his beautiful baby girl.
Imagine that! Her tiny life in his loving hands. It’s a mental image I think about frequently. I am so grateful that he is here with us and so excited about his future in recovery. Today my brother is celebrating 90 days! I am so proud of his journey.
There is one other thought that went through my mind in the earliest minutes of our time together. Liliana, I know that so many things will change in our lives and in our world as you grow, but the one thing I keep coming back to is this: she will be fortunate not to know the stigma of addiction like our family has. She will not look down upon someone with substance use disorder; she will never belittle, judge, embarrass or cast away someone who suffers with an SUD. Liliana will grow up within a society that finally grasps and accepts that addiction is not a choice; it’s not a weakness of character, and it’s not shameful. Just as I first learned what cancer was at the young age of 12, she will find out that someone close to her is affected by a substance use disorder (after all, we are 1 in 3). And her reaction to that will be like mine about my grandmother and her cancer diagnosis.
Her eyes will fill with concern, of course, but also compassion—not confusion or judgment which is what happens far too often now and in recent years. And she will have faith in treatment and recovery because there will be no more stigma. It will be replaced with science and evidence-based treatments and protocols—just like with cancer.
All of us here today have the ability to ensure that Liliana’s generation knows addiction in a different light. We certainly dream of a world free of this disease, but while we work on that, we need to ensure that compassionate, proven treatments are available, that sustainable recovery options exist, and that those stricken by substance use disorder do not suffer doubly by people’s ignorance to the disease.
I am a part of the Shatterproof community indefinitely. It will take many, working together, but we will end the devastation addiction causes families. It is amazing how much has already been accomplished by Shatterproof and I’m excited about the future. For my brother Michael’s recovery, Liliana, and all of us!
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