The Power of Women and Recovery
"I'm proud of you," she said while looking right into me. Her usually dull eyes momentarily filled with the warmth of a mother's love. I felt her love pouring out as the weight of her words sank into me. That's all I wanted to hear.
She was dying from cancer and there wasn't a thing I could do but accept it. I was nine months sober from my nearly four-year long battle with opioid addiction and just wanted to apologize for the hurt I caused during my use. Her words were exactly what I needed to hear before she left me. No matter what I had done, how far my disease had progressed, she loved me and was proud of who I was becoming in my recovery.
At 19 I said goodbye to my mother. I also said goodbye to active addiction. It was the hardest year of my life. There were times I felt doomed and I wanted to give up. If it were just me, I probably would have, but it wasn't. With the love of my mother backing me, I kept pushing forward toward a life of recovery.
Thankfully, I always seemed to find outstretched hands waiting to help me along my journey. I made it to treatment in a residential program with the most amazing female counselors who truly supported me. No matter how unhealthy my behaviors were at first or how many mistakes I made, they assured me I was capable of sustaining my recovery. I had a female probation officer who believed I could succeed and never defined me by the criminal charges I received during my active use. I had two women drug-treatment court coordinators who told me I was worth that second chance and to make the most of it. I had women all around me demonstrating recovery from addiction was possible. And all along the way, I had the unwavering support of my loving stepfather, grandmother, and aunt.
In 2015, substance use disorders affected 20.8 million Americans — nearly 8 percent of all adolescents and adults. That number is similar to the number of people who suffer from diabetes in the United States and more than 1.5 times those affected globally and annually by all cancers combined (14 million). Unfortunately, only about 10% of people struggling with addiction receive the specialty care they need. Although addiction affects so many, too many people still view it as a behavioral defect that should be punished and shamed. Health care systems struggle to accommodate the variety of needs that accompany substance use disorders, and there are often obstacles to getting access to treatment. Even when treatment is available, it doesn't always fit the individual needs of each person. Tragically, because of these issues, many people don't ever get to experience what a life in recovery can be.
I was lucky. In spite of my loss and pain, I was at an advantage. I was able to get the type of care I needed, when I needed it. I was shown acceptance and love from my family and peers. My needs were met well enough, and where there were gaps, there were supportive women around me filling them. I developed healthy relationships with other women on a similar journey as mine who showed me the undeniable, innate strength we possess as women. They taught me to look within, dig down deep, and find the self-worth I had been missing. They taught me the lessons I needed to learn and modeled pieces of the woman I wanted to become. The community we built afforded me the security and confidence I needed to persevere through my darkest moments. Although my mother was no longer able to be with me on my journey into recovery, I was never alone.
The power of those women and the community we built continues to transform me. My recovery process has given me countless blessings, but none more so than becoming a mother myself. With the memory of my mother, the support of those women, and my evolving sense of self all motivating me, I get to be an example to my babies and other young women. Today, I know my mother is proud of who I have grown into, and I am proud of that woman, too.
Recovery from addiction is real and happening all around us. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, there are services that can help and women in recovery you can connect with. If you are interested in supporting recovery efforts, visit organizations like Facing Addiction or a local recovery community initiative near you.
The statements and opinions in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health.