It was one of the earliest lessons from the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s, especially for those of us who were affected by the disease: we had to break our silence. At first, the shame associated with this mostly sexually transmitted illness had been so overwhelming, a silence had settled in. But as we watched our friends and neighbors die by the dozens, and then hundreds, that silence itself became shameful.
In the days of epidemic, we quickly learned Silence = Death.
No less is true today with the epidemic of crystal meth addiction. In 2010, it was estimated that more than 350,000 people in the United States used crystal methamphetamine. Worldwide, the estimate came in at a cool twenty-five million.
If we have a moment of clarity, we see it is not just “those people” in the inner city skid rows who are addicted to crystal meth, nor merely the partying youth of the gay culture. We see beyond those well-meaning public ad campaigns that depict the average meth addict as some street-person derelict with a sunken, scabbed face and rotted teeth. The reality is, this is only a fraction of the meth-using population.
Yes, it is where many of us will eventually end up once the drug takes its final toll, but that may be years away, if ever. In the meantime, meth use is the quiet little secret of housewives across middle America who have to raise the kids while holding down two jobs, or the overstressed college student who is pushed to stay up night after night studying, or the white-collar father who must work 60 plus hours a week to support his family.
Who’s addicted? 25 million of our neighbors, cousins, aunts and uncles, sons and daughters.
And if you don’t think crystal meth addiction is stigmatized on the level that AIDS was in the late 1980s, you haven’t been paying attention. The medical community considers methamphetamine addiction to be a “chronic disease,” just the same as high blood pressure or asthma. The difference between meth addiction and these other diseases is the location of the malfunction.
With addiction, the malfunction is in the brain—so the illness affects feelings and behaviors. Because of this, those who don’t know any better still view addiction as a moral issue, a matter of willpower or character. They are wrong.
According to evidence-based science, the truth is: addiction is a biological process in a brain that is malfunctioning.
We don’t blame someone with high blood pressure or asthma for the physical malfunction happening in their bodies. And we certainly don’t shame them for seeking treatment.
Why is it different for the meth addict? It shouldn’t be.
From the likes of tennis star Andre Agassi, singer Amy Winehouse, and super church evangelical pastor Ted Haggard, crystal meth addiction has proven itself to be epidemic across all social, economic, racial, gender and national boundaries. On the planet Earth in 2013, Europe, Asia, even Afghanistan, are being overwhelmed by growing numbers of new meth addicts. Indeed, crystal meth use is not only epidemic, but pandemic.
A crucial step toward combating this great tragedy in today’s culture is to come out of the closet, especially those of us who have fought the addiction and lived to survive.
We may call ourselves former, or recovered, or recovering crystal meth addicts — or, perhaps, we don’t like the term “addict” and refuse to define our entire lives by a few years of drug abuse. As with most addictions, recovery begins with an admission that we’ve had a serious problem with crystal methamphetamine.
We are your neighbors, friends, family, and coworkers. It’s time to speak the truth. When you hear from us, try not to rush to judgment and condemnation. Instead, try to open your mind and heart to the courage it must take for your friend, family member, or neighbor to admit to you that he or she has a problem with meth.
Recovery is an ongoing lifelong journey back to one’s authentic self. It’s never an easy road, but the alternative of silence is simply not sustainable in today’s world.
In the days of epidemic, silence still equals death.