Guest Column: To those fighting addiction — you’re not alone
Guest Column by Colleen Harrison
Five years ago, I spent about a month and a half interviewing people who were battling addiction — as well as their loved ones and the professionals who worked with them to help in recovery — to coincide with September being National Recovery Month. It’s an incredibly important subject, and one that has always been personal to me due to my own loved ones struggling with addiction.
I wanted to make sure I did the recovery series right, so before meeting the individuals who were brave enough to share their stories publicly with a complete stranger, I asked my cousin Kelly for advice.
Kelly had degrees in both psychology and social work, and had made a career out of helping those going through chemical dependency treatment, as well as working in emergency psychiatry and with those recovering from trauma, among other aspects of mental health. She had also battled addiction herself.
As she had always been with me, Kelly was gracious, honest and open about what she had been through, and with what she thought was the right way to approach the topic with others. The most important parts of what she told me were to be kind, gentle and patient, and to let the people I was interviewing take the conversation wherever they felt it should go; to let them tell their own stories.
After the series ran and I shared it with Kelly, she sent me a note in response, part of which said, “Thank you for so beautifully capturing and sharing the true battle and bliss of both addiction and recovery. Both are such misunderstood beasts that many people have no idea are so powerful.”
That was five years ago, and unfortunately and heartbreakingly, Kelly lost her battle with addiction earlier this week.
In her absence she leaves an adoring husband, three beautiful children, two selfless parents, and a loving brother and two nephews, along with a long list of extended family and friends, to mourn her. Losing Kelly has been felt immediately throughout our entire family this week, as we have reached out to each other in grief and to remind each other how important it is to tell the ones you love how much they mean to you. Nothing is ever promised when it comes to how much time we have here together.
I don’t know the full depths of what Kelly was going through, and I’ll always regret not reaching out more this past year. I’ll work to take solace in the fact that at the very least she no longer has to fight the demons that followed her for so long. I’ll hang on to the memories I have of her, all of which are filled with nothing but love — her sitting quietly with me and holding my hand after my dad’s funeral service, how beautiful and happy she was on her wedding day and whenever she was with her children, and how kind and thoughtful she was whenever someone needed kindness the most.
To those of you fighting your own battle — whether it’s with substance addiction, mental health or anything and everything else — please know you are not alone. You matter, and I promise you there are people who love you and want you to be happy and healthy, and who would be devastated if you were gone tomorrow or any other day. There are resources available to help you, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, among many others.
To those of you who love someone struggling with their own demons, hang in there and make sure to take care of yourself, especially your own mental and emotional health. There are resources for you as well, such as Al-Anon and Alateen, to name a few.
For everyone else, take care of yourselves and each other. Make sure your people know you love them, and be kind like Kelly.
Colleen Harrison is the photo editor for the Albert Lea Tribune.