I am a person in long-term recovery. I am a brother, a son, and a friend. I am a person with hopes, dreams, aspirations, and a desire for connection and love. The things I needed while I struggled years ago are the same things I need to support my recovery today:

  1. a safe and stable place to live;
  2. relationships that provide friendship, support, hope and love;
  3. a community that encourages healing and shows compassion rather than judgment and stigmatization; and
  4. a community that promotes good mental and emotional health.

I believe that, by addressing these four ideals, we can create an environment in our communities that promotes resiliency for all before they struggle down a dark path.

As an adolescent, I had a hard time navigating many of the challenges of growing up, and I used drugs to escape. I felt enormous athletic and academic pressure, my home had too much stress, and I didn’t feel like I fit in among my peers. I began to hate my life, and opiates became my solution. They took away my pain and allowed me, I thought, to be the person I always wanted to be.

But, physical, emotional, social and legal consequences quickly piled up, and, even though I wanted to stop, I found I could not. I was no longer in control.

I entered recovery. The federal government defines recovery as a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential. At first, it was terrifying. All the things I ran from came flooding back.

But this process helped me successfully stop using drugs, and I began to gain the necessary resiliency that I was missing growing up. I started to heal. Through my healing, I recognized the importance of those four foundations of support.

Home has to feel like home. Over the years, I’ve lived in various homes with various people. Sometimes personalities clashed. Sometimes one of us brought in too much stress from the outside. Sometimes it just didn’t feel like home.

By making your home a safe and stable place, it will be good for you and for all with whom you live. What is home like for you?

Connection goes a long way. I have a small but strong network of family and friends who show me support, love and hope. Many other people in the community offer me this, too. It is just as important for us to offer these things to others, as it is to receive them. I feel connected to my community. Do you?

As I struggled to find myself growing up, I needed people to acknowledge what mattered to me. However, I often felt the people around me had other plans for my life.

I desperately wished people would say, “You know, Matt, that’s an excellent idea. Let me help you get there.” Please don’t be afraid to let others around you (especially youth) explore their ideas just because you see it a different way.

Showing that you’re listening and allowing them to try will mean the world to them. Empowerment is important for everyone. Today, my hopes, dreams and aspirations are more than just ideas. With empowerment from others, they are becoming a reality.

Please help me end the stigma.

People who misuse substances are not bad people; they’re struggling people, trying to find a better way to live. True, criminal action can accompany substance misuse. Establishing accountability is one thing, but blame and punishment is another. Believe it or not, it was a detective and an attorney who helped me find my way into recovery.

A substance use disorder is a disease. Yet, society often doesn’t treat it as such. Too many people feel shame inside and don’t think they’re worth saving. They suffer in silence, and we let them. Unfortunately, some overdose and die, never attempting to get help.

Like any other disease, a substance use disorder requires medical and societal interventions that promote healing and remission. Stigmatization and punishment do not promote healing. Let’s guide people into recovery, not ostracize them. Recovery is a powerful tool. Compassion is powerful, too.

We all have struggles. It’s a natural part of being human. It’s OK to talk about them and to feel our emotions. By confronting our struggles head on, we learn how to navigate them, and, in turn, we learn resiliency.

Running from problems or masking them with drugs will only cause more harm. If you notice someone struggling, let him or her know you’re there and you care. Please don’t look the other way because you don’t understand or think it’s someone else’s responsibility. Please don’t be afraid that you’ll say the wrong thing. Being present and speaking with compassion are what matter the most.

If someone needs clinical help for a mental health condition, seeking help should be encouraged, too, not frowned upon.

As individuals and communities, let’s promote a stable home, connection, and good mental and emotional health. Let’s also give encouragement and compassion to our neighbors. Together, we can ensure that we all reach our full potential.

For anyone out there struggling, you matter. It doesn’t make you a failure, and you’re not alone.

Please don’t underestimate your ability to make a positive impact in someone’s life. Through that connection, your life will be transformed too.

Matthew Braun leads the Biddeford chapter of Young People in Recovery and serves on the Prevention/Harm Reduction Task Force of the Maine Opiate Collaborative.

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