Some of the most recent opioid numbers reveal approximately 72,000 yearly drug overdose deaths in the U.S. (2017)—around 30,000 of those directly related to opioids. Depending on the study, and particularly, the state, the average (for opioid deaths) comes out to somewhere between 80–115 deaths per day—currently—around the country.
For perspective, 72,000 people is about the average seating capacity of an NFL stadium—every single year. Attached to each and every one of those 72,000 lives is a family, a mother, a brother, sisters, grandparents, children, aunts, uncles, friends, husbands, wives, co-workers, and inevitably, the long and twisted journey that is addiction—from first use to final moments.
And very rarely, if ever, is it a journey that only exhausts the life of the user. It may snuff that single life out, but there are many other lives, and piles of debris, lying in its wake. I only have to think of my own brother to see it all laid out in my mind—the entire narrative arc of his more than 20 years addicted to drugs—most of those years on some type of opioid—though all roads led to heroin, as they often do. When I think of the enormity of his mess, and the mess it made for my mother, for our family, my mind drifts to that number, and how it’s even possible that such a mess can be happening similarly to 72,000 other families every single year around the country.
But we already know it’s horrible—it’s a national epidemic, after all. We only need to look within our own circles to see it. It’s everywhere—everyone has someone within reach, addicted to something. Which leads me to a point I touched on recently during a speech for a group looking to get involved and help out in some way.
I brought up the notion of being on the “recovery team.” And with that—I actually mean Team Recovery—i.e., signing up to be in recovery with your loved one as they fight their way back to some type of normalcy—and hopefully productivity.
It’s actually pretty simple—though it’s also pretty amazing how many people screw it up. Of that 72,000 each year, I imagine there are quite a few screw ups. But here’s the thing: if your loved one is fresh into recovery and you let them use your car to go “check in on some friends,” you’re not on Team Recovery. If you’re watching a game with your loved one, and you have a few drinks while they only have one (plus, they’re the designated driver for assurance), you’re not on Team Recovery. If you watch them fall into familiar habits with familiar people, without much resistance, you’re not on Team Recovery.
If you and your friends or family are out celebrating your loved one’s year or two or ten of sobriety—and that loved one absentmindedly goes up to the bar to get a round of drinks for the table—even though he/she is only drinking water … you’re not on Team Recovery.
I can do this all day. I’ve done it in my head quite a bit over the years since my brother passed—realizing how many times I wasn’t on his team … no matter how innocent or simple the situation seemed.
It’s another layer to the epidemic that often gets lost in translation—because we associate so much of the “mess” with the addict’s decisions. Which is what makes the decisions we can control so utterly important in the long run—and so equally vital to our loved one’s recovery.