“Recovery” is not a term reserved only for those who choose and maintain the path of complete abstinence.
Inside a theatre, a stark visual appears:
“Each year, only 1% of addicts are able to kick heroin and stay clean.”
This quickly cuts to images of my former self deliberately counting syringes at the needle exchange site. I see a shadow I recognize as myself in active addiction. I can barely discern my gender, my clothing keenly styled to blend into the streets that I called home. As the lights in the theatre go on, I shift uncomfortably in my seat.
“Is that true?” my friend asks, offering me the last bit of whatever candy has melted to the bottom of the box.
“Is what true?” My mind starts spinning with whatever embarrassing section of the film I will now have to explain in great detail.
He points at the screen where the credits are finally reaching an end point. “That statistic that only one percent of heroin users get and stay clean. Is that true?” He looks genuinely concerned for me. I shrug. I accept his hand up from my seat now that the crowd has dissipated. “I don’t actually know. I mean, I don’t think so.” I didn’t have the answer.
That “statistic” stuck with me. What does that say about my chances? Many times in my 20 years of recovery, I have heard “facts” that were later revealed to be fallacies. It was extremely disheartening; with only a little over a year under my belt, what were the actual chances that I would be in that one percent?
Before I became what some call “clean” and others call “sober,” I had never known a person who effectively quit opioids. This had, in many ways, made me think such a thing was completely impossible. If there were effective ways to quit, I would surely know someone who had stopped according to my logic. However, as the weeks turned into months and months turned into years, more had been revealed to me. It was not that people did not quit, I just never saw them. It made perfect sense that any rational person who was trying to stay off the drugs was wise to avoid me while I was in active addiction. My life revolved around acquiring and injecting drugs with little room for socialization. No hobbies, no real friends, no family, no desire for anything outside of what I could fit inside a syringe.
When I began to critically examine the myths that were thrown around as facts in the recovery community, I quickly started to noticed that this “one percent” idea did not ring true. With a quick glance, I saw that the community I lived in was filled with people who had survived years of active addiction only to return to normal lives. In the initial phases of recovery, I saw those former comrades of the traveling spoon in roles such as drug counselor, the service industry, and front desk positions at halfway houses. As the years progressed, I have witnessed using buddies in a variety of professions: three nurses, one therapist, one bus driver, one phlebotomist, an IT executive, a chef, a few case managers, and one director of services for ex-offenders. How is this possible, I asked myself. There is no way this is just “one percent” of us. What does this say about our peer group? Are we just the lucky ones or is something in this “statistic” entirely flawed?
Well? Could something be entirely wrong? Find out in the rest of the original article The Other One Percent: How Definitions of Recovery Skew Statistics at The Fix.