For us, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day business of sunglasses and spreading awareness, and forget what we’re working for. Recently, I spent a brief but enlightening afternoon to help remind myself of the mission behind our glasses.
As you may know by now, BVG’s core mission is to help veterans who struggle with addiction. In our infancy, we have been focused on finding the most effective way to carry out this mission. To do so, BVG started with what we know, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, our founders’ alma mater. This quickly led us to the primary focus of our efforts, which has been to help eliminate the stigma that addiction carries.
We facilitate this mission every year by donating directly to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation who then uses the funds to run their Summer Institute for Medical Students (SIMS) program. The program, which is held at three different campuses across the country, provides an opportunity for fifteen medical students to spend a week learning about addiction medicine from both clinical staff and patients alike. Selected students come from all over the world to undergo what is repeatedly described as a “life-changing” experience.
Today, as BVG’s Executive Director, I was able to sit in on this year’s SIMS graduation luncheon at the Hazelden Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California. The main event at this luncheon is a round table discussion where the fifteen students share a little about themselves, what brought them to the SIMS program, and what they’ve learned over the week.
As they went around the room each story shared was deeply personal and incredibly moving. It is a testament to the nature of the program itself, as well as each and every person involved in the program that these budding health professionals were able to make themselves so vulnerable. In a room full of people that had been strangers a week ago (some just minutes ago) I heard fifteen stories about lives touched by addiction.
I heard one woman emotionally share her story of addiction that just minutes before she swore she wasn’t going to tell, one that she said she had never told to anyone outside her family.
I heard one young man who was able to reassess his own behaviors and coping mechanisms and admit that he needed to make some changes.
I heard several students that were astounded that the patients receiving treatment at Hazelden Betty Ford were regular people with real lives and actual accomplishments and not some stereotype or caricature of the “typical” addict. I heard students learning that addiction doesn’t discriminate.
Best of all I heard fifteen burgeoning medical professionals that vowed to not only share what they learned but integrate it into their medical practice. Some even decided to study addictionology in addition to their chosen specialty.
Obviously, these students have been hand selected based on their application which included a personal essay describing what addiction meant to them. So, it was no surprise that each of them had dealt with addiction in some form throughout their lives that led them to want to learn more about addiction medicine.
The thing is, these stories, while they are each unique in their details, aren’t rare. Addiction is not something that touches the few, the vulnerable. Addiction is something that touches nearly everyone regardless of race, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, education, and strength. It ravages families and destroys homes and lives. Yet, no one wants to talk about it. Addiction in our society is considered shameful and it must be hidden and locked away and not spoken about. Addicts are often expected to suffer in silence and fix any problem behaviors immediately, and by themselves. This only makes the problem worse by making the addict feel alone and like a failure when they aren’t able to control the addiction on their own.
As one student today mentioned, (and I’m paraphrasing):
You wouldn’t belittle a person with a broken leg for breaking their leg. You wouldn’t expect them to heal their broken leg on their own. Why do we belittle an addict for their addictive behaviors instead of helping them.
It is easy to become callous to the plight of an addict, especially as a victim of negative addictive behaviors; I know this intimately, many of us do. However, the stigma attached to addiction keeps so many people in the dark thinking that they are alone in their struggle. It creates shame that compounds the problem that led to the expression of the addiction to begin with.
In order to even begin to combat addiction, we have to start with our medical professionals. Addiction is a disease first and foremost and it is the responsibility of medical professionals to treat disease. The SIMS program is open to any medical specialty for a reason. Addiction affects every medical specialty in some way. Every visit with a medical professional should be an opportunity for entrance into some kind of treatment for an addict.
So BVG works, little by little, toward changing the medical field to eliminate the shame associated with addiction treatment in order to help not just veterans, but everyone that suffers with addiction.
We’re not all medical professionals, so what else can you do to help you ask? Easy, check out our sunglasses and we’ll continue to donate half our profits towards addiction and veteran causes (half of which goes directly to the SIMS program), or donate directly to Hazelden Betty Ford (https://www.hazeldenbettyford.org/donate).
Are you struggling with addiction or have a family member or friend with an addiction? Please know you are not alone and there is help. Please contact Hazelden Betty Ford at 1-877-895-2598 for help.