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I am here to talk about the struggling individual from both a personal and professional perspective. Which has been shaped by not only working in this field for over 10 years, but also by the 13 years that I have spent as a grateful and empowered woman in recovery.

I am certified in alcohol and drug counseling and reiki energy healing. I am also a coach, mentor, sponsor, and spiritual advisor. I am an avid recovery advocate who has lost too many people to addiction. While also being a proud member of the LGBTQ community. I helped pioneer collegiate recovery in this state. The help that I received from collegiate academia in North Carolina provided me with a stable foundation, upon which I have built my life. I am currently working as the RSS Outreach Coordinator for WNC with Addiction Professionals of North Carolina.

I have witnessed as a member of our community that we treat people struggling with addiction as if they are less than human. Collectively, we cause so much resentment and pain (over time) and indirectly push people further away from help. We can’t continue to stick our head’s in the sand. Pretending that a problem does not exist does not eliminate the problem, it exacerbates it. Ignorance is not bliss- ignorance is deadly.

We have many people that feel so much guilt and shame over their struggles with addiction. This is partially due to the lack of appropriate education available to them and their families. With lack of education and understanding, families feel shame and seek to hide the problem. Once again, this leads to the same result – unaddressed addiction only gets worse over time, never better.

Because as a direct result of all of this- the way we treat people, the funding is not seen as a priority and so many people are dying. For those of us that work tirelessly to get everyone to wake up to what it really looks like to help our communities in North Carolina- we are among the people being treated poorly.

The state says a person struggling with substance addiction should be okay within 30 days. Let me break it down for you – most addictions stem from some type of trauma, inability or difficulty in processing emotions, or some form of mental/physical/emotional/religious/spiritual mistreatment. Whether through such issues, genetic makeup, or both – people struggling with addiction are hardwired to want to escape. This craving to escape usually continues for many, many years. And yet, we believe that 30 days of help will “fix” that? It makes no sense. We need to treat people as if we understand and empathize with all they’ve been through. Putting a band-aid on the problem and refusing to provide long-term support is one of the greatest disservices we can do for individuals open to receiving help and care. It is about them and their being deserving of healing and help BECAUSE THEY ARE HUMAN and we all deserve this.

I would ask that you bring more people to the table that are working on this. Instead of having a bunch of people able to make decisions that have no clue what is truly going on or want to turn one heck of a blind eye. People who need help aren’t standing for it, so best believe our platform is about to get real LOUD about this has not, has never been and will never be okay.

People WANT to talk about this. Every time I have shared my recovery with someone else, I have been met with positive feedback. It put me in a position to help someone else and/or it allowed me to make connections and have opportunities I would have never had if it weren’t for my willingness to be vulnerable. I have learned through my experience that everyone knows someone that has faced some kind of dilemma with addiction. Therefore we are all connected through it. As a society, this is a huge problem. It is clearly not seen as something worth investing in. And that, my friends, is a very, very sad and degrading truth. If we start viewing this as the health crisis it truly is, like anything else, new precedents would be set.

Research shows that using the word “abuse” is not only abrasive/harmful language, but that the very thought of this term causes people and their energy to shut down. If we change the language surrounding issues with substances, then we can help to reduce stigma. This, in turn, will lead people to feeling safer to talk about it – and we know that if we are talking about these topics, individuals will feel more open to getting help. Therefore, policy and funding will need to shift in order to be more in alignment with where we are at as a community.

Once we all start doing this, it will raise the collective awareness into an understanding that we are not alone – we are all in this together. This applies even to harm reduction. If we can assist people in understanding that there are people out there who care and there are resources available. If we have these resources available and people willing to help, why the heck would we not offer those services and provide funding for it openly? This should be welcomed and fully embraced and not shunned or shamed.

If how we treat people struggling with mental health and addiction wasn’t such a problem- we wouldn’t be trying to hide it or make the needed help so overly complicated that it takes an act of God to get through it.

I would like to close by asking people in our state to come forth with your testimony and words. How have you seen us be unsupported? Where would you like to see change? If we share, we can no longer be ignored.

Just wait…we are only getting started.

Hillary Belk, CADC

We are grateful to Hillary for sharing her story with us. Please JOIN IN and share your stories and thoughts with us by following THIS LINK.