My name is Morgan and I am not an addict.
I prefer the term “formerly addicted.” Or “in recovery from heroin addiction.” Or even, “recovered,” as controversial as it may be.
When I was actively addicted I attended plenty of 12-step meetings, mostly Narcotics Anonymous. Throughout all of those meetings I could never get past the first step, where you must admit “powerlessness” over your addiction. I felt like I habitually made poor decisions but that I still had the power to correct my behavior.
The problem was more that I didn’t exactly want to be alive. My adolescent suicidal ideation had morphed into opioid use disorder by my early 20s. The goal was the same: oblivion. I needed mental health treatment and frequent sessions with a psychologist. Instead I got 12-step meetings, which was then as it is now culturally regarded as “treatment” for substance-use disorders, as if my use was the cause and not a symptom. First encouraged (read: shamed) into attendance by family and friends, then at a treatment center when I was 21 years old, and later court-mandated, 12-step meetings became a regular, albeit involuntary, facet of my life.
I couldn’t find comfort (or recovery) in those meetings and I was not alone. One of my best friends, Justin, shared my perspective. We had both attended our fair share of meetings through varying levels of compulsion and found them resoundingly unhelpful and off-putting. We felt no less inclined to use heroin nor did we feel inclined to return for the next meeting. From the first step admitting powerlessness to the various steps invoking God, the group prayers, and mandatory self-labeling as “addict” every time you wish to speak at a meeting, we never felt comfortable.
I didn’t like to reduce my identity down to a single dimension and proudly proclaim, “My name is Morgan and I’m an addict.” I had fought so hard to remain more than just my addiction, still holding down my job and even scraping together some college classes. It would have been a betrayal of all of my efforts at maintaining a semblance of normalcy if I referred to myself daily solely as “an addict.”
Justin, ever the intellectual, took issues with the requisite abdication of personal responsibility for his substance use and a recovery platform build on external, rather than internal, means. From the media to the courts to our drug counselors, everyone told us 12-steps were the answer. Time and time again…