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I’m not a mental health professional, expert, or guru by any stretch of the imagination but I don’t need to be in order to see the interdependent relationship between mental health and addiction issues.

Recently a friend who hosts a mental health wellness show on Blab (yet another social media platform!) asked me to guest co-host a show called “How to Be a Mental Health Advocate when you’re Not a Mental Health Pro.” Her show speaks about mental health issues and wellness, so at first I wasn’t sure why she wanted me to co-host since I’m an addiction advocate, but when I thought about it and we spoke leading up to the show, I saw the connection very clearly and decided to go on. Addiction and mental health go hand in hand with each other and in a lot of instances; one feeds the other, so in terms of advocacy there really is no difference to me.

My addiction advocacy started for selfish reasons, as I think most advocacy does if we’re being honest. I started having dreams about my brother who I had lost to alcoholism 8 years ago and was becoming very agitated, restless, couldn’t sleep and acting out of character. I spoke to my husband, who is in long term recovery, and he suggested that I talk to someone, so I tried Al-Anon again after trying and not liking it 14 years earlier. In the process of going to meetings and doing research, I found that while there was a lot of information and resources for people with addiction issues, there wasn’t much available for families.

Bothered by this, I started connecting with the groups I could find online, and Twitter has been an excellent resource for this, and started writing about and speaking out about the need for support for families suffering from addiction. In the process of doing the research and increasing my understanding on addiction, I was surprised at how much mental health issues play a part in addiction and how closely the two are tied together. Co-occurrence happens a lot in addiction: people use to deal with their mental health issues or their addiction can lead to mental health issues.

 

Selfishness Ends Up Benefiting Others

The interesting thing about advocacy is that while it may start from a selfish place, it ends up benefiting so many others. I think a lot of people start advocating for a specific issue or cause because it is something they have personally experienced and want to see change for the better. But in the course of doing that work, they end up helping so many more along the way and help to educate and break stigma; this is vital when it comes to issues as polarizing as addiction and mental health.

There are many people who may want to get involved or give back, but because they don’t personally have an addiction or mental health issue feel they can’t or don’t know how. To those people I would say that even if you haven’t been touched personally by these issues, you know someone who has. Just as they say everyone knows someone who has been touched by cancer, the same is true with addiction and mental health. Whether it’s a friend or a co-worker; a business associate or a relative down the line…everyone knows someone who has been touched by these issues.

The thing about addiction and mental health is that you could be living, working or be friends with a person who has these issues and you may never know because of the stigma surrounding them. This is particularly true in communities of color where these issues are just not talked about openly or they try to “pray away” the issue and that person or family is further shamed and prevented from getting the help they desperately need.

But let’s say you are one of the rare people in the world who doesn’t know anyone who has any issues with addiction or mental health, what if one day you were to come across someone who needed help? Just having even a basic understanding of addiction and mental health issues that comes with advocacy, you’ll be able to help a friend, a co-worker, or family member who may not know where to turn or what to do. You can be that lifeline for them and also let them know that it’s okay and direct them to the help they need and that they are not alone.

If you feel the desire to help strongly enough, please do not let the fact that it hasn’t touched you personally stop you from getting involved because addiction and mental health issues are everywhere and you never know when it could happen to you or someone you know.

Nadine Herring is a blogger that specializes in writing about addiction from the family perspective and community building & organizing. She is a Heroes in Recovery Lead Advocate, community activist, runner, new cyclist, and owner of a small animal kingdom consisting of 2 dogs and 3 cats (all rescues).

Connect with me on LinkedInGoogle+TwitterPinterest, or my website

With all the negative talk in the media lately about the heroin crisis, it’s easy to develop the mindset that things are hopeless and that there can’t possibly be a positive outcome when it comes to dealing with addiction. Even those familiar with addiction: professionals, advocates and people in recovery have been overwhelmed with how pervasive this epidemic has become, and it’s easy to see why when all you see and hear is death and devastation.

But I want to talk about something that is not being talked about enough and that is hope. Right now we are being bombarded with images and stories practically every day about people dying, families being destroyed, communities struggling to figure out how to get a handle on the crisis…it’s enough to make you want to throw your hands up and say what’s the point? I understand this; I know what’s it’s like to feel like things are never going to get better and that there’s nothing you can do. I’ve been there, my family has been there; millions of families have been there and we are here to tell you that things can and do get better!

While I appreciate the media bringing attention to a crisis that is causing so much pain and loss, what I wish they would also do is show those who have successfully beat their addiction and how their lives have changed for the better now that they have made it to and stayed in recovery.

Why don’t they do more of this? Is it because it makes for a better headline to talk about death and destruction? Does misery draw more viewers; does sadness gain more readers or listeners? I ask these questions because to not talk about those who have successfully found recovery is to do them, their families, and their communities a disservice.

 

Seeing is believing

Unless you have personally gone through or watched a loved one battle addiction, you can never fully appreciate how difficult this can be, so to know there are millions of people who have successfully made it through the battle is something to be celebrated. The impact of seeing someone make it through something that you may be struggling with and know that the only options are not death or jail, is powerful and can literally save lives!

People who are struggling with addiction need to know, see, and hear that there is life after addiction and that recovery is possible. Think about a situation you may have been in; where you thought there was no hope and things would never get better. Now imagine seeing or hearing a story where someone in that same situation made it through; how did it make you feel? I’m sure you felt like most people would: that there was a possibility that you would make it through too…that there was hope.

That is what can be achieved on a much larger scale if the media would start to talk about these types of stories; they would be giving millions of people and their families who are suffering from addiction hope. Just the idea that things could get better is all the incentive a person needs sometimes to keep trying, to keep fighting; to believe that they are worth recovery.

Hope is in short supply these days, what with the climate in this country leaning towards exclusion, fear, and hate. Now add to that the added burden of dealing with an addiction and all the stigma that goes with it, and you can imagine how crushing it can be to just be fed stories of sadness, death and misery…

What I want everyone to know is that as long as the person with the addiction is alive, there is ALWAYS hope; there is ALWAYS the opportunity for things to get better. But just like with most things, you have to see it to believe it; it is something that you can put in your mind and draw upon when you need that extra strength to make it through.

I know personally how happy it makes me when I hear stories about recovery. I love to see people who had given up on themselves or had been written off find their inner strength and self-love and realize that they are worth recovery. They deserve to have happiness and love in their lives and recovery makes all that possible.

Stories like this not only give hope to the people and families struggling with addiction the inspiration to keep fighting, but it also helps to build compassion, empathy, and understanding in the community because you never know when you might need it yourself.

Nadine Herring is a blogger that specializes in writing about addiction from the family perspective and community building & organizing. She is a Heroes in Recovery Lead Advocate, community activist, runner, new cyclist, and owner of a small animal kingdom consisting of 2 dogs and 3 cats (all rescues).

Connect with me on LinkedInGoogle+TwitterPinterest, or my website

The heroin epidemic that has gripped most of the south, Midwest, and parts of New England like Maine and Vermont has now hit my home state of Connecticut with a vengeance and it is making up for lost time.

Over the past month or so, the southeastern corner and northern central parts of Connecticut have been flooded with the drug, resulting in over 20 plus heroin overdoses resulting in 3 deaths. What makes this even more terrifying is that these overdoses were caused by a tainted batch of heroin laced with Fentanyl, which is becoming an increasing factor in Connecticut overdose deaths.

While our neighbors to the north and south have been dealing with the heroin epidemic for a few years now, the way in which it has seemingly slammed Connecticut like a tidal wave in the last two years has left the state reeling and extremely unprepared. Heroin related deaths in Connecticut have tripled since 2014 and show no signs of slowing down; in 2015 there were 273 fatal overdoses from heroin.

You would think with that many people dying from heroin that the state would have sprung into action and put some type of plan in place right? Perhaps declare a public health emergency like they did in October 2014 when they suspected nine people of having the Ebola virus? But no, nothing was done.

 

Ebola Matters, but Addiction Doesn’t

Let’s go back to the suspected Ebola virus incident for a moment. When Governor Dan Malloy declared the public health emergency, this gave the state Department of Public Health commissioner the authority to quarantine and isolate people whom the commissioner reasonably believed had been exposed to the Ebola virus. Keep in mind that this wasn’t in response to a specific case, the governor just wanted to make sure that the state was prepared. With the declaration of emergency, it allowed local health officials to have a more coordinated response in the event that someone tested positive for Ebola or was at risk for developing it.

Now I’m not advocating for heroin users to be quarantined, but if the state went to all that trouble for a suspected nine people, why wouldn’t it do something similar for known heroin overdose deaths? In other words, the governor thought there might be a chance that nine people, NINE, might have a deadly disease so he declared a public health emergency, but when presented with the facts that 273 people did in fact die from the deadly disease of heroin addiction, NOTHING WAS DONE. How could this be?!

I’ll tell you why…stigma. You see, even though more people have generally come to accept that addiction is a disease, a lot of people still think of it as a choice or a moral failing. As a result, many government officials, feeling beholden to their constituents, adopt that same attitude and are slow to commit funding or change public policy to accurately reflect and treat addiction as a disease.

I can guarantee you that if 273 people had died from Ebola last year we would have all types of public health emergencies being declared, state and federal funding; as well as top health experts from around the world here to help get the situation under control. But because those deaths were caused from addiction, the community and government effectively turned their backs on the problem and went on with their lives.

 

Advocates Make Some Noise

That was, until about a month ago, when you couldn’t turn on the news or read a paper here without seeing a story or headline about another overdose or death. And you know who started “banging the drum” and making the most noise so that people paid attention and didn’t turn their backs like they did last time? The addiction advocates.

These amazing people contacted local news channels and papers, held vigils outside of police stations, and held multiple forums until the local government could not ignore them anymore. They got everyone from the governor, local police departments in the areas hardest hit, to senators in Washington to sit down and try and come up with a plan to do something!

I am proud to say that these people, who lost loved ones to the disease of addiction or were fortunate enough to see them get to and stay in recovery, took the lead in making the community and its leaders pay attention. They refused to sit quietly by and watch more people die because they know the pain and struggle involved; they demanded that something be done and now something is being done.

Unfortunately we are still experiencing deaths from the disease, but we are also seeing an unprecedented amount of media coverage being paid as well and as a result more people are coming out of the shadows, sharing their stories and asking for help. Because of the passion and dedication of these advocates, of which I am one, I am proud to say that we are spreading the word about addiction here in Connecticut and working as hard as we can to ensure that as many people as possible get the help that they and their families so desperately need.

Sometime in the near future, I want to be able to say that my state no longer has a heroin or addiction epidemic and work with other states around the country to help them say the same.

Nadine Herring is a virtual assistant and owner of Virtually Nadine, an online administrative support company. She is also a blogger that specializes in writing about addiction from the family perspective and community building & organizing. She is a family addiction advocate, community activist, Boston Celtics fan, runner, and owner of a small animal kingdom consisting of 2 dogs and 3 cats (all rescues).

Connect with me on LinkedInGoogle+TwitterPinterest, or my website

With the heroin epidemic gripping the nation, addiction is getting an unprecedented amount of coverage in the media lately but there’s something about the coverage that’s starting to bother me and others have noticed it as well.

What I can’t help but notice is that until the heroin crisis started to affect young, white upper- and middle-class kids in the suburbs no one really paid attention or cared. Please understand that I am not discounting the affect that heroin has had on these kids and their families; in many cases lives have been lost and families have been devastated and I wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone. I know about losing a loved one to addiction having lost my brother to alcoholism several years ago, and it’s a pain I still deal with to this day.

But what can’t be denied is that people of color and low income white people having been dealing with addiction and death from heroin and a host of other substances for many years. The most attention they’ve received is from the police, judges and lawyers as they are ushered in and out of courts and the prison system. If they are fortunate enough to get to and stay in recovery, they now have a felony on their record that makes it damn near impossible for them to find a decent job or a place to live.

 

Acknowledge the Differences

When I see coverage of the heroin epidemic, whether it’s local or national, overwhelmingly the people featured in the stories are white, come from “good” homes, and are presented in a very positive and sympathetic way. Contrast that with people of color who, if their stories are even told, are presented as coming from “broken” or “dysfunctional” homes and usually have some prior contact with the criminal justice system so we shouldn’t be surprised that this is happening to them. While there is some truth to both scenarios, it is the generalization that both scenarios are completely true which causes my concern. Once again this is where I believe stigma and to some degree an evidence of bias come into play, and that can be a very dangerous thing.

As we all know, the stigma surrounding addiction keeps millions of people from seeking the help they and their families so desperately need. So when people are brave enough to come forward and share their stories; whether it be the person with the addiction talking about how they made it to recovery, or a family talking about how the loss of their loved one motivates them to help others, it can be a huge help. But when all the stories you see feature people who don’t look like you, or haven’t had to deal with the circumstances you have it makes it more difficult to not only relate, but to get the message across. There are cultural and class differences that make it very difficult for certain communities to deal with addiction. Their stories should be told in a way that acknowledges those differences, but does not demonize them in order to present a more balanced view of addiction.

Addiction affects so many different people and we just want to see that fairly represented in the media coverage. There are so many more people dealing with and being devastated by the heroin epidemic in this country other than young white kids in the suburbs, so why not acknowledge that and show it? 

Nadine Herring is the owner of Virtually Nadine, a virtual assistant company that provides online administrative support and social media management to small businesses and social entrepreneurs. I specialize in working with these businesses to help them deal with the time consuming administrative process of running an organization.

Connect with me on LinkedInGoogle+TwitterPinterest, or my website

I am a Netflix fan; actually I’m more like a super fan. I watch Netflix more than I watch regular TV and because of that I’ve discovered some amazing shows. One of my most recent discoveries was a show called Nurse Jackie, and it originally aired on the paid cable network Showtime from June 2009 to June 2015.

I heard a lot about how good Nurse Jackie was, but since I didn’t have Showtime I could never watch the show. As soon as I heard it was on Netflix however, I binge (no pun intended) watched all 7 seasons of the show over the course of a week!

Nurse Jackie was a comedy-drama starring Edie Falco (of The Sopranos), as Jackie Peyton, an emergency room nurse at fictional All Saint’s Hospital in New York City. Jackie is a very high functioning drug addicted nurse struggling to find the balance between the demands of her hectic job and a range of personal dramas. Jackie has a penchant for taking Vicodin, Percocet, and Xanax or any other opiate she can get her hand on to get through the day. She starts out hiding her addiction well from both her family and coworkers, but over the course of time as with most people with substance abuse issues, her world slowly starts to fall apart and spiral completely out of control.

In my opinion, Nurse Jackie is the most honest, realistic depiction of addiction and how it affects the family, friends, and basically anyone in the person with the addiction’s path I have ever seen on television. How real you may ask? So real that my husband, who has 15 years of recovery and was watching the show with me, had to stop watching. So real that during several episodes, I alternated between being extremely angry and literally crying at how bad Jackie was treating her family. So real that I had to stop watching one episode and come back to it the next day because I was so upset at how easily Jackie was able to manipulate her friends, and how willing they seemed to be to believe her even though they knew something was not right!

What Makes This Show So Real

For both my husband and me, Nurse Jackie brought up a lot of emotions and an eerie sense of déjà vu. While the substance of choice for my husband was not pills, Jackie would break open the pills and snort them and for him that was a very vivid reminder of his past cocaine use. There were a few episodes where he had to get up and leave the room while they were showing her using because it was a little too real for him. There was another episode where Jackie’s daughter talks about how her drug use affected her, and that was a tough episode for him to watch as well because it reminded him of the letter that our daughter wrote to him years ago asking if his addiction was her fault.

For me, I could relate on a very deep level to Jackie’s family and friends and the range of emotions was almost too much to bear. As I said before I went back and forth between being angry, sad, frustrated and absolutely amazed at how easy it was for Jackie to lie, blame others, manipulate, and have no regard for anyone or anything other than getting high. She was pathological in her desire to use no matter what, and it brought back some very painful memories for me. As the seasons went on and Jackie spiraled more and more out of control with her addiction, I remember actually yelling at the screen for her to just stop and think about her family, why was she doing this, why can’t she just stop…like I said this show is extremely realistic!

While Nurse Jackie was difficult to watch at times, it was also very therapeutic. It was actually beneficial for me to cry during certain episodes because I could very much relate to what her family and friends were going through and I could release that pain through tears, or even yelling at the screen. I could talk to my husband about what I was feeling during a certain scene; he could explain to me Jackie's thought process from the mind of a person with addiction, and we could process our feelings right then and there.

I can’t express enough how powerful and important Nurse Jackie was for me to watch. Seeing Jackie slowly and deliberately tear down everything and everyone she loved and not care was a reminder of how insidious addiction can be and how it can completely take over the mind, body and soul. It changes the person you know and love into a complete monster and someone you don’t even recognize anymore. What I loved about this show is that it showed this in all its agonizing detail; it didn’t try to glamorize it or sugarcoat it. You stepped into the life of a person with addiction and you rode the rollercoaster to hell with her and her family and friends.

Nurse Jackie provided a raw, unflinching look at addiction and is must-see television for those who want to get a glimpse of what millions of us deal with every day and are fighting so hard to get under control.

Nadine Herring is a virtual assistant and owner of Virtually Nadine, an online administrative support company. She is also a blogger that specializes in writing about addiction from the family perspective and community building & organizing. She is a family addiction advocate, community activist, Boston Celtics fan, runner, and owner of a small animal kingdom consisting of 2 dogs and 3 cats (all rescues).

Connect with me on LinkedInGoogle+TwitterPinterest, or my website

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