National Women Touched by Addiction Day was born from a very real place. I began working at Mending Hearts in November of 2020. I have over 15 years’ experience working for several large nonprofits, and I accepted my position with Mending Hearts knowing that I wanted to be part of their mission, but this role was different. You see, I was raised by a mother and father who were severely addicted to alcohol. So much so, that their addiction caused an unstable life with traumas, homelessness, and incarceration for my father. This role was different because my career would have me address my past and the stigma I carried.
This is my first time working in a treatment setting. It was not surprising to me to see how difficult the road to recovery is for our clients and their families. The surprise to me was the stigma and shame that stayed with the women and prevented them from seeing how truly amazing they were. I would often contact alumni of Mending Hearts and ask them to speak to others about their journey and request that they give encouraging testimony on how far they had come. Many of these women had accomplished incredible feats that they never thought possible. Some women had gone back to school and obtained a college degree, or bought their first home, even gaining careers in law or medicine. To me, these women should have been proud at overcoming such a defeating disease. I realized through conversations that no matter how beautiful or successful their lives were now; they could not let go of the guilt of their addiction. It then registered that I had been doing the same thing.
Addiction does not just affect the woman struggling it also affects those that love her; the mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends. As the daughter of two people with alcoholism I did not share with others how I moved forward, I never discussed my past or what I had learned from those trying times. I too felt shame and embarrassment at the life addiction had handed me.
Why were all these women, including myself, shying away from rejoicing and helping others with their messages of resilience? The answer - society has still not accepted addiction for what it is. The majority of our culture has not fully embraced the truth which defines addiction as a disease of the brain. The sadness of addiction is that there is not empathy or understanding to properly support those struggling. I do not want one more woman who goes through our program leaving with a life sentence of shame on her shoulders.
Women Touched by Addiction was started not just as a day but as a much-needed movement. The only way to combat ignorance is through education. We have partnered with Vanderbilt Center for Addiction Research to utilize their ground-breaking discoveries of how substance abuse disorder changes the brain, the differences that addiction presents in men and women, and real solutions to help with this disease. Conversational videos were recorded with our Founding CEO Trina Frierson, Piper Kerman Creator of Orange is the New Black, Representative Tara Simmons, Danny Winder PhD., and Erin Calipari PhD. These videos address the affects of addiction for women, stigma, incarceration, and re-entry, and so much more. Additionally, a Women Touched by Addiction website will offer education and resources.
A social media campaign was created to provide empowerment and a call to action. On, and leading up to, July 23rd women shared a photo on social media where they lift just one finger and share their testimony, or simply to show their support for a community of women who have felt the effects of addiction. We hope this will encourage women to seek help, know they are no alone, and break down the stigma. We ask that the hashtags #wtbaday and #liftafinger be used.
On July 23rd we hosted a free event on John Seigenthaler Bridge in Nashville from 7 – 8:30 pm. We had incredible speakers including Judge Rachel Bell, and former Mayor Megan Barry among others. There will be food, music, and a few surprises as well.
I will no longer let the shame of my past prevent me from being part of the change that is needed. I will encourage women to lift each other up knowing that their past does not define them. In fact, at Mending Hearts as a whole, we want the women to see the beauty in the healing, the peace in the redemption, and the blessing of recovery that brings a new appreciation for life. There will be no change in society’s perception until we as women work to change it.
April is the Chief Development Officer for Mending Hearts. She is the creator behind this new national awareness day - Women Touched By Addiction.