Rip a star off our United States flag. We have lost the population of an entire state to the ravages of the drug epidemic since 2000. It is as though the population of South Dakota has disappeared–from our lives, from labor statistics, from our collective future. The ticking sound you hear is that number, 830,000, climbing higher daily.
To discover what underlies these horrifying statistics, I ventured to over 23 states and interviewed hundreds of individuals suffering or recovering from drug addiction.
To learn more, continue reading…
My journey began in the Seattle area where a young woman said to me, “It was my fault, I first chose to use this drug, but then it began using me.” These words flipped a switch in my mind.
In my interviews, I was asking how people became addicted. “The “how” does not matter, a wise young adult cautioned me, “what matters is why.” From that moment on, my true understanding of addiction began.
It does not matter how someone became exposed to drugs—what door lead them into addiction–what is critical is why the drugs were able to sink their teeth in. And the answer almost universally is unresolved psychological trauma: bullying, social isolation, an injured sense of self, trauma, abuse (shockingly often sexual in nature), or neglect.
But why do some people who have suffered psychological abuse never develop problems with drugs, while others become wildly addicted? The answer awaited me in Boston where I met a beautiful young woman who, in solid recovery, has dedicated herself to helping others get sober: “We have superpowers,” she explained to me. “Most of us are highly sensitive persons. The hurts we suffer go deep and stay there, fueling our addiction. In a vicious cycle, the social stigma keep pushing us back into that dark place.”
Researchers believe that 20% of people are highly sensitive. Combine that with rampant abuse, neglect, and isolation…and we have a never-ending epidemic. The underlying hope is that we can begin paying as much attention to psychological safety as we do to protecting children from physical injuries. Also, shouldn’t we study the social and educational needs of highly sensitive children? The only way to end this scourge of drug addiction is prevention.
But what about the tens of millions of people currently suffering addiction? Relapse itself is epidemic. How does one fully recover? A wise director of a recovery program in Rapid City, South Dakota summed it up. She said that to recover, in addition to staying away from drugs, a person needs to do three things:
- Address those underlying psychological traumas,
- Establish strong, positive connections within their new community, and
- Have a sense of their better self—who they really want to be.
That is why my final installation in the Empty Fix Project art series is entitled:
Join me in fighting the stigma, allowing millions of our fellow Americans to imagine their better selves and to help them get there.