Michael Hickman, LICDC-CS
IOP Lead, Ross County
Integrated Services Behavioral Medicine
Much of the work that we carry out in the helping professions, especially in the field of substance use disorder treatment, is often frowned upon by society at large. “They’ll never change,” “Once an addict, always an addict,” and even words as harsh as “Just let them kill themselves off” are things that are uttered far too often by some individuals in society who view addiction as a moral failing, the result of poor parenting, or a personal choice. As a person in recovery who now works at ISBH as the Ross County IOP lead counselor to help those struggling with substance use disorders in our community, I can tell you that none of the above are true. I can also tell you that perspectives such as these perpetuate the negative stigmas surrounding those struggling with addiction, making it ever more challenging for them to seek help and explore their own personal pathway to recovery.
I grew up in a very poor household and experienced significant physical and emotional trauma as a child, living in a home riddled with untreated mental health disorders and substance use. I cannot recall the very first time that I drank or got high, but I do recall that the early days of my alcohol and substance use as a teenager allowed me to escape the worries of poverty and abuse that I experienced at home. When I got drunk or high, I finally felt like I belonged and that it didn’t matter that my mother didn’t care about me or that the lights may not be home when I returned. I was free.
Freedom shortly turned to slavery, as my substance use progressed from alcohol and marijuana use to experimenting with cocaine, ecstasy, and other substances to developing a physical and psychological dependence on opioid pain relievers, and eventually I.V. heroin. This path led me down a very dark road consisting of the committing of numerous crimes to support my habit, becoming homeless, unemployable, and emotionally bankrupt, losing my children, and eventually contemplating suicide almost daily. I eventually wound up in a court-ordered community-based correctional facility where I learned that addiction was not a moral failing but a brain disorder that set me apart from some of my friends who were able to drink and use drugs successfully without experiencing some of the negative consequences that I had. I learned that I could take control of my life again if I were willing to put in the work and explore for myself what recovery looked like to me. I learned that I was worth it and that all the things that I had been told about myself in my younger years couldn’t be farther from the truth.
When I returned home from treatment, I connected with a sober support group in my hometown and became actively involved in the recovery community. I obtained employment and eventually sought to continue my education in the field of substance use disorder treatment because I had learned the therapeutic value of one addict helping another, both while in treatment and once returning home to connect with a sober support system. I worked to rebuild the relationships with my children and repair the financial, physical, social, and emotional mess that I had made of my life while in active addiction. Most importantly, I found faith in a Power greater than myself, and I found hope in the fact that my brightest days were ahead of me if I were willing to continue working on myself and submit my will to the Universal Good on a daily basis. Today, I am free.
At ISBH, we recognize that everybody’s pathway to recovery is not going to look exactly like mine. Whether it’s abstinence-based, faith-based, medication-assisted, harm-reduction, or any of the likes, each person struggling with a substance use disorder must find the pathway that is going to work for them. Just like everyone’s story of addiction looks different, their story of recovery is going to look equally unique. There is no single cure-all for addiction, but I am grateful for the ability to work in a field and with an agency that allows me to explore with my clients in the substance abuse population what brand of recovery may work for them. People DO change and there is more than one road to the freedom experienced in recovery from addiction.