Friday, July 17, 2009

Under the Influence:
Overcoming Addiction with Hope

by Barbara Nicholson-Brown

There is nothing unusual or special about my story—it happens every day. Women, men, children, young adults and teens all over the world struggle from the same disease I have: addiction. Not only does this disease destroy families, relationships and careers, it also claims thousands of lives through overdoses, illness, auto fatalities and violence.

Addiction affects 23 million people of all ages in the United States alone. Two-thirds of Americans have friends or family who struggle with addiction. It’s estimated that 5.3 million women in the U.S. drink in a way that threatens their health, safety and general well-being. Alcohol and drugs are incredibly destructive; long term chronic drinking or drug use ravages the body, mind and soul.

In a few more days, I’ll have been clean and sober for 19 years. One of my purposes in this recovered life is to let others know it is possible to live without being chained to a bottle, glass or pill—there is a special freedom that comes from not being under the influence.

Addiction dragged me into the shadows of darkness, hopelessness and isolation. While I was filled with embarrassment and shame for years, asking for help and having to admit to this “problem” seemed unbearable. What would everyone think? Then, one remarkable day after years of hangovers and blackouts, I surrendered. It took time, but I slowly began to understand, feel and believe that I was not alone.

Today, recovery from addiction is more openly talked about. Celebrities and the media have begun making a concerted effort to raise awareness, and little by little, inch by inch, the stigma associated with addiction is slowly lifting—but we have a long way to go. Many people still feel that they must hide their addiction out of fear or shame. I believe that part of my responsibility is to offer the message that hope exists by extending myself to others who have felt the struggle and putting a face to this disease.

Five years ago, in my quest to be part of the larger solution, my husband and I created the Art of Recovery Expo. We envisioned a day when we would have the opportunity to open the doors of the Phoenix Convention Center to the general public. Here, anyone and everyone would have the chance to meet the leading treatment providers, counselors, therapists and professionals in the field of mental health and addiction at no cost.

We would bring in highly recognized speakers and offer workshops, resources, education and—most of all—hope. Today, the Expo has grown to be one of the largest recovery events in September as the nation celebrates National Recovery Month.

As members of our community, we need to speak up about the successes that occur and talk about the realities of this disease. We need to make a difference by removing the stigma addiction still carries. I know for a fact that miracles are abundant for those who make the choice to change. It’s not an easy task, but it is possible. It happened for me in my worst moment of despair; I was offered something as simple as a glimmer of hope. I invite you to join us at the Expo this year and see the smiles that recovery brings. Today, my life is under a new kind of influence: hope.

Barbara Nicholson-Brown is Founder of the Art of Recovery Expo and Publisher of Arizona Together, a monthly publication with a focus on addiction recovery.

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Visit the 5th Annual Art of Recovery Expo
This year’s presenting speaker at the Art of Recovery Expo will be Christopher Kennedy Lawford, the first-born child of President John F. Kennedy’s sister, Patricia, and famous Rat Pack actor, Peter Lawford. Lawford is an actor and bestselling author who struggled with addiction for many years. Sober now for 22 years, he shares his personal story with others in his memoir, Symptoms of Withdrawal, Moments of Clarity and Healing Hepatitis C, in hopes of making a difference.

5th Annual Art of Recovery Expo
Saturday, Sept. 19, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Phoenix Convention Center, Hall G

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