Addiction advocacy and the inspiration paradox: A reflection at 6 years sober

Today I am 6 years sober from addiction. During those six years I have learnt many lessons, but in this reflection I would like to consider something that has played on my mind for the past three years of my advocacy work.

Inspiration.

While not overtly a bad thing, it is often misused to infantilise and minimise the achievements of disabled people while hiding behind a mask of feigned respect. This phenomenon is known as “inspiration porn”.

A good (hypothetical) example of such a thing would be a video of a disabled person doing something completely mundane, like dancing, but they would be dancing with a non-disabled person. The video would centre the non-disabled as some kind of saviour to the disabled person for doing something as basic as treating them like a human being. The implication of the video, albeit in subtext, would be “Look at the amazing things that disabled people can achieve when an abled person rescues them from their shameful existence”.

It’s dehumanising and wrong.

So, addiction advocacy.

As a recovering addict in the public eye, I do what I do because I want to help others overcome similar challenges to my own, and help reduce their suffering. This does in fact require inspiring people. If it weren’t for the sober addict who showed me kindness during my first stretch on a psychiatric ward, I might not have chosen recovery.

The fact that they had turned their life around, and become someone I wanted to look up to was inspiring, and that isn’t a bad thing.

What would be bad would be if people like myself are allowed to become another source of inspiration porn. It’s a difficult line to walk. I want people to have what I have found, not get off on the tragedies that have formed who I am.

Contrary to popular belief, addicts are people. We are not burdens, we don’t deserve our suffering. Regardless of whether or not we are in recovery, we deserve food, housing, health care, support, and kindness.

This is what I want to inspire in people.

So please, don’t look at me and think it’s a miracle that I recovered. My recovery shouldn’t be the inspiration. I was privileged to have a loving and supportive set of family and friends. I had good key workers (although the services they came from were woefully ill-equipped). I was in a place where I was ready to enter recovery.

What I want to inspire in you is the idea that all addicts deserve recovery. I want to inspire you to challenge the systems that keep people like me trapped in a world of suffering.

I want you to know that those with less privilege than myself need us to get in the trenches and help them fight this war.

If that is what I inspire in people, then I am happy with what I am doing. If, however, you look at me and see a walking miracle, then I have not gone far enough.

The tragedies and traumas of my life should not be celebrated. They should be wielded as weapons to dismantle the masters house, and rebuild it into something where we can all coexist and thrive.

Published by David Gray-Hammond

David Gray-Hammond is an autistic mental health and addiction advocate living in the South East of England. He is in recovery from addiction and psychosis, as well as other complex mental health conditions. He was diagnosed as autistic seven months after achieving sobriety, and is resolved to share his experiences with the world in the hopes of being the person that he needed when he was younger.

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