I took this class because I liked the teacher and had some friends who were also taking the class. I don’t like to make my previous history a defining characteristic of the life I have now. Why take a class on addiction when I spent so much time, money, and effort to get away from all that. I didn’t expect to make it to college, and I certainly didn’t expect to be taking a journalism class about covering addiction.
I came to Temple with a clean slate. No one here knew the person I was six years ago in New Jersey. As hard as I try to keep that part of my life out of my day to day conversations, somehow it always comes up eventually.
What this class helped me to realize, more than anything, is why I try to hide that part of my life, and why it’s okay to embrace it. I am 28, and it’s as obvious to me now as it was six years ago. I will never escape addiction, not really, not completely. And that is okay. It is a part of my life just as it is for many others. That period of my life helped inform who I am today, and I am grateful for it. And what this class helped me to understand, the most important thing I learned…is why I still feel so uncomfortable talking about that period of my life openly, especially considering I’m asking others to do the same.
It’s because, as a society, we’re just not there yet. The stigma around drug addiction still exists. I’m scared of being pre-judged. I refuse to search for my record online because I’m too scared of confirming what I already know. If someone has the time and interest, they can find a snapshot of me at the lowest point in my life and judge me before they have a chance to see where I am now.
Enrolling in a class focusing on addiction with a group of people I have tried to show only the present version of myself was antithetical to my philosophy. I don’t want my history with addiction to overshadow everything else I do.
There are already a lot of former drug users who make it their life’s work to give back and help people struggling with addiction or to inform the general public about addiction. And I applaud them. We need those people. Those people helped me get to where I am today. But I wanted to forge my own path independent of all that.
I consistently asked myself, what am I doing in this class? I already knew a good deal of the information about addiction, so why did I take it? And the answer is, I don’t know. Not really. But I do know this. I learned more about myself in this class than in any other I have ever taken.
I learned why I still feel the need to hide that part of my life from other people. I also learned that I shouldn’t have to. Why should someone be afraid of disclosing their medical condition? Unfortunately, today that information still has real-world consequences. You could still be written off as a junkie by CBS or denied a job or even welfare because of it.
I am not personally ashamed or regretful of that period to the point where I wouldn’t be able to share it with anyone who is interested. The reason I don’t share it as openly as others is because I am scared of the consequences. In my head, I believe that if I don’t talk about it I can avoid the stigma and judgment. And, in a sense that may be true. But, it comes at the cost of having to keep people from getting to know me more personally and being able to form full personal relationships more quickly. I have to wait and discern how a person will take the information before I feel comfortable divulging it. Sometimes that takes weeks, sometimes months.
I didn’t realize all this until taking this class. It wasn’t something specific that was said. It was a realization that came over a semester of sitting and listening carefully to others and then reflecting on my own experiences. Some classes have taught me a great deal about journalism, history, design, and statistics, but no class has taught me so much about myself. I’m sure that wasn’t a goal written in the syllabus, but that’s what I got. It was the information I needed. And it gave me the reason I was looking for to keep reporting on addiction. People shouldn’t have to be afraid to talk about their illness openly. It shouldn’t affect their opportunities ten years away from their period of active addiction. I don’t want me being open about it to affect my life negatively. That’s selfish. Especially considering that I can work to change that societal perception from the field I’m in. How can I expect people to talk openly with me as a reporter if I can’t even talk openly about myself?
We had so many great speakers. The tabling was even better because we had speakers on the street who spoke from the heart without something prepared. Sure, they may not have been as factually informed as the class speakers, but the raw feelings they conveyed— they were factually accurate. And feelings are really what help us best to identify with others who are in different situations with different lives. I don’t know what it’s like to be homeless, but I know what it’s like to be desperate and hopeless.
No matter how hard we try to educate people on the research of addiction, it always seems to fall short. But as soon as they have an emotional investment in the subject, suddenly the doors open up. Maybe emotion without research is a mistake, but maybe it is also a mistake to try to win people over with all research and no emotion.
I am really proud of the work everyone did as a class. While I think everyone did a great job individually, the work really feels more complete as a group project. Of course, I think I could have and should have done more.
I am just so happy and excited that people who are not directly affected by addiction are interested and getting involved. They are the hardest ones to get interested. We need more people like that. Seriously, I cannot begin to express how impressed I am by some of the stories here. They are further evidence that these peoples stories can be told without being exploitative. Even seemingly harmless stories can have long-lasting damaging effects, not because of the content of the stories themselves but because society at large is not ready to let go of the tired stigma of addicts as morally corrupt criminals.
Thanks to everyone in the class who helped me through the semester. Thanks to all the great speakers. Thanks to all the people who spoke with me for my reporting. And a special thanks to Jillian, without you none of this would have been possible. This is an essential Temple class for reporters.