After Governor Andrew Cuomo addressed legislation legalizing marijuana, Senator Harckman decided to go public with his own addiction struggles.
In the past, these explanations always came from a red-faced, ashamed and humiliated person who was being forced to step down after bad behavior. Senator Harckman's statement was different.
It was nonjudgmental and personal, and it was being used as an explanation as to why he was an apt person to make decisions about substance misuse.
“Stigma is still the largest challenge that we face,” Harckhamtold the Times. “It prevents people from coming into treatment. The moment was right. If we’re talking about ending stigma, people like myself have to speak up.”
This article filled me with hope. As a young person, I was a student in the DARE program, but I very quickly learned how useless it truly was.
I won a DARE essay contest with another student in my fifth-grade class who was truly exceptional. By the end of middle school, he had already dropped out of school due to drug addiction.
I quickly learned that drug and alcohol misuse is a disease, and that the ways that people with these concerns were being treated were as much of a problem for them as the substances itself.
I learned about codependency first hand, as I established codependent relationships in my young life with early partners and friends. Some of these partners developed substance abuse issues, and it scared me.
I would often treat them as if it was something they could control or a moral failing, rather than something that needed to be treated like any other chronic illness.
In my late 20s, I decided to seek the help of a therapist because I wanted to know how to establish healthier relationships. I learned about tools to overcome codependency and how to establish healthy relationships and boundaries.
I learned that it was unlike most of the relationships I'd experienced before, and how much our culture encourages unhealthy interactions, and how that does not help us overcome the very real challenges set before us as a society.
It helped me also learn how to be a good support person for people I care about, something that is an ongoing learning experience.
Without the honesty of my friends who experienced drug and alcohol addiction and the guidance of those navigating sobriety, I would not have known how I was contributing to a toxic cycle.
I'm very encouraged by Senator Harckman's disclosure. It's necessary and important for us to listen, hear from, and give attention to people who have the experiences we are trying to shape.
We must end stigma and shame toward addiction and other experiences that produce trauma, like all forms of violence, prejudice and abuse. We must create opportunities for us to learn how our system is experienced by those impacted by it and work to reshape it based on the real experience of it.
I'm looking forward to a new era, one where there is no stigma for the troubles we've faced, and that those who have experienced challenges are given a positive platform to share authentically, openly and honestly.