Addiction is everywhere. We see it in the news, in movies, even in our own lives and the lives of those we love. But how do we treat those who are suffering with this brain disease? How do our views towards celebrities and Hollywood differ from that of the lonely 20-something year old living in suburbia? Do we cast blame where we shouldn’t? Are we numb to what’s happening because of someone else’s fame? Why don’t we treat everyone suffering with a brain disease the same?
The answer is simple – connection.
It’s 2018. Advances in social media give the illusion that everyone is our “friend” and we “know” how other people are living their lives. Never before have we been able to relate more closely with famous people. From what they are eating, to where they went last night, we have access to it all. That’s what makes it easy for us to watch celebrities like Demi Lovato, someone who has been completely open and honest about her history with substance use, and who has come out about her relapse. When the news hit that she was hospitalized after an overdose, fans all around the world took to social media – me included. I was pleased by the amount of people who shared news stories with positive messages about how she shouldn’t give up. However, let’s take a look at how “ordinary” people are treated.
I took to my laptop and searched “Rochester, NY overdoses” to see what the local news had to say about this pandemic. In doing so, I noticed something very different than what I observed just weeks before with Lovato’s news. There were countless messages and comments degrading those who overdosed. “Junkies should just die” was the common theme throughout my research. This blatant stigma is the anthem of the same people praising Lovato’s bravery and courage. So why is there such a stark contrast between two people suffering from the same illness? I said it before – connection.
Unlike Jim, a 28-year old from middle-class America, a college graduate who was prescribed pain killers for an injury in high school, thus contributing to his current heroin addiction, we feel more connected to celebrities. Jim isn’t posting on Instagram about a soy latte he just drank. Jim isn’t the one playing sold out show across the country and documenting each experience to his fans. Jim isn’t the one posting pics from his multi-million-dollar mansion. Millions of people don’t idolize Jim or even knows he exists. Jim is perceived as just “a low life.” Jim isn’t praised for wanting to turn his life around – he is expected to do so without society’s support.
All of this got me thinking about how we, as a society, are failing people like Jim. Recently we lost Mac Miller to this disease. His death hit me and many other people really hard. I think it’s easier for us to mourn and wrap our mind around losing somebody famous than it is for us to accept that people within our own communities are suffering too. Connection is a huge missing piece of the puzzle. Maybe it’s time we stop following celebrities so closely and open our eyes to the injustice and dehumanizing actions we’ve been taking toward people in our towns and cities. It’s about time we start treating EVERYONE with substance use disorder the same – with compassion, understanding, respect, and encouragement.
Celebrity or not, we are all human beings. We are all capable of giving and receiving love. It’s time we start acting like it. My challenge for those who feel compelled to take action, is to say one nice thing to someone today. It can be a person with substance use disorder, someone with depression, or someone who is just having a tough day. Speak a kind word and see what happens. The world needs more of that and I guarantee you won’t regret it.
Take care friends.