Tag Archives: Addictions

When Motivational Memes Serve to Shame

In between the click bait of things “you won’t believe,” recipes for the “best brownies ever,” articles speculating on how Donald Trump isn’t even human (hmm, perhaps not just conjecture), and the usual shots of friend’s children and vacations, my Facebook feed (and Instagram) seems to offer a lot of advice on how I should live my life. I mean, a lot.

On any given day, I can scroll through 20 different memes of motivation that, quite frankly, don’t do much beyond exercise my eyeballs. I mean, I wish they would do more. I wish it was that easy. I also wish it was easy to ignore most of them. I know some people say they can, but I call bullshit. Unless you ignore social media altogether (and yes, there are people who can and do), you will be inundated with motivational memes. And some will catch your eye. But so what, right? They’re harmless, right? Well, yes and no. I think we know words can hurt, no matter the intention.

Take this one I recently spied on Instagram:

“If you want to be happy, you have to be happy on purpose. When you wake up, you can’t just wait to see what kind of day you’ll have. You have to be the one to decide what kind of day you’ll have.”

or this:

“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.”

Or this:

“Just do it. No more excuses. Just do.”

Fair enough. I’d like to have a great day, thank you. In fact, I’m a naturally happy person, I’ll just come out and assume I will have a great day. And if I’m sent challenges to my happiness, I’ll just put on my impenetrable cloak of joy, and I will repel the sad-making stuff. There. Done.

Not So Fair Enough

Get hit by a car on the way to work? Choose positivity! Loved one diagnosed with brain cancer? Think on the bright side! Lose your job? Your home? Your hope? Just go out and change your life! If this take sounds harsh to you, it’s because it is meant to be critical. I am skeptical about most inspirational memes. I want to question their premise. I want some critical thinking used on their validity. And the reason I want to do this is because I feel that often they are empty words. I know words can work as a placebo, and that is something, but I think many memes are a misdirection. And misdirection is a technique used by snake oil salesmen, sneaky politicians (not all mind you, not all), skilled statesmen, and dodgy preachers. Worse than that though, inspiration memes can be sticks and stones that do harm.

Sometimes Choices Aren’t Choices

I say this because sometimes choices aren’t choices. Sometimes they are illnesses that have nothing to do with free will. And sometimes those illnesses lead to other illnesses: addictions. Fighting occasional blue funks with memes that amount to inspirational porn is one thing. Believing that a person with a mental health issue, a clinical disorder, can be prodded into health with positive messages is another. It’s like saying good thoughts cure cancer or lung disease. (And if you believe they can, then I’ve got some swampland in Florida just waiting for you.) Good thoughts are important, but they aren’t the cure or an enduring or effective treatment, even when they are meant to encourage good practices. This is particularly true for addictions. One thing we know about addiction is that it anesthetizes pain. For people in pain—those suffering from undiagnosed and diagnosed mental health issues, addiction is a double burden. A judgey meme isn’t going to galvanize change. The “just do it” mentality serves mostly to remind people that they aren’t worthy. This opens wounds and personalizes blame. It makes things seem simple when they aren’t. It prefers to assign blame to irrational things; to ascribe great power to people who are in many ways powerless to their illnesses. All you need to do is get your act together, one minute or second at a time and all will end well… Simple words for a Sisyphean task.

Motivational Porn

Much like inspiration porn, where people with disabilities are called inspirational just because they live with a disability, this mental health and addiction motivational porn serves to make people who don’t have a mental health or addiction issue feel like they don’t have a responsibility, or part to play in turning things around (beyond posting encouragements). It largely forgets that mental illness is in some measure, structural and the treatment of it requires more than a few encouraging words. It requires money. Money for treatment and continuing care. Money for housing. Money for teams of professionals doing research into the medical, psychological, and social conditions that create and perpetuate mental illness and addictions. People don’t fail to “conquer” their mental health and addiction issues because they aren’t courageous, or clever, or fighting hard. Getting healthy does require great, and often repeated effort. But it isn’t just a personal thing. It has more to do with decent support systems and societal advantages than shaming people with “change your thoughts, change your life” memes.

A Year to Transform Margaret – A Success Story

rock bottomHow much time do you think it would take to get your life in order when it’s brought you to a place you never imagined you’d be?

This varies from person to person depending on their commitment to change and Margaret exhibited unmatched drive from the very beginning.

As aking-st_1-247x300 women’s Advocate within the YWCA Emergency Homeless Shelter, I also enjoy the privilege of being a Case Manager to women within our On-site Transitional Housing Program.  The On-site program enables women to stay within a wing of the Shelter for up to a year, affording them the gift of time to figure out what they want from life and how to get there. Not every On-site client stays a full year, but thankfully Margaret has, and her presence has awarded me the opportunity to witness her transformation.

When asked to showcase a success story for the YWCA blog, Margaret came to mind immediately and she happily agreed to share her story in hopes that others may understand that hitting your rock bottom doesn’t mean you need to stay there. Every person has a history that shapes their present, but Margaret never anticipated the spiraling events that brought her to the YWCA.

After losing his high-ranking position, Margaret’s partner’s alcoholism turned volatile. The relationship became toxic and she found herself the victim of frequent abuse, trapped within a dangerous cycle that she felt had no escape. The abuse escalated to the point where Margaret became the victim of attempted marital rape.  This was Margaret’s defining moment.  She had had enough, fought back with everything she had, and refused to stop there. Margaret found her courage and took her fight to the courts. A guilty verdict punctuated her fight with vindication, but her struggle had only begun as the memory of damage done could not be erased with the fall of a gavel.

One of Margaret's favorites
One of Margaret’s favorites also saved on her phone

In her attempts to find reprieve from her pain, Margaret found herself drinking to excess to cope with her life, a decision that quickly evolved into losing everything she held dear- of greatest importance, the trust of her family.

Her spiral continued as documented by a photo of a car crash she has saved on her phone that serves as a reminder of how bad things got before experiencing her breaking point.  Checking herself into the Women’s Detox Center in St. Catharines, she found personal security that had been stripped away by her ex.  Her insecurities had left her fearful of her surroundings, fearful to venture outdoors on her own, and fearful of being in the presence of men.  Detox granted her a sanctuary and sobriety, giving her time to  center herself and re-evaluate her life- where she was, how she got there, and most importantly how could she move on from there.

Leaving behind her old life meant starting fresh.  Without the trust of her family, Margaret bravely set out to navigate her own journey on the road toward independence.  Coming to the YWCA Women’s Shelter was no easy task, but moving on meant leaving a home that held too many memories of a lifestyle best left behind.  Margaret faced her fear of strangers as she joined the other guests at the Shelter, unsure if she could even trust the Women’s Advocates.

In a perpetual forward motion, Margaret followed through with referrals to resources that set her on a different path. Connecting with CASON (Community Addiction Support Services of Niagara) Margaret was given a treatment date for the Newport Treatment Centre (which also assists men)  in Port Colborne and for 18 days focused on nothing but herself and her addiction.  Again, this was another change that triggered great anxiety, but not enough to stop Margaret from doing what needed to get done.

However, another issue contributing to her anxiety, was not having a home to return to once treatment was complete.  After witnessing her strides in making it to the Shelter and actively participating in her recovery, I spoke with Margaret about the YWCA’s On-site Transitional Housing Program.  I explained the process and expressed how Margaret would be a perfect fit.  Elated to have “home” covered, Margaret proceeded to Newport and returned after completing the program with new knowledge in her tool belt.

Over the past year I have watched Margaret, in awe of her fortitude to prevail in times when others may have thrown their hands up and quit.  At no point did I ever hear Margaret express words of quitting.  Was she terrified?  Absolutely.  But not once would she accept anything less than looking forward, setting goals that she pursued with genuine fervor.  Every new challenge that nudged her outside her comfort zone was met with a level chin, though sometimes it trembled from anxious anticipation of the scary unknown.

“Forgive yourself, be patient in your healing, appreciate the help that is offered to you, know that you’re worth a new beginning, and share what you can.” – Words of advice from Margaret to those in need.

Margaret consistently attended the YW meetings, the Celebrate Recovery women’s group once a week, and  Alcoholics Anonymous meetings when she felt she needed the extra support. Eventually she was accepted into Design For a New Tomorrow to face the abuse issues that caused such pain in the first place. Margaret proved to be the definition of not only a success story, but a woman of inspiration.  She is who I think of when I consider how I would react if ever faced with hardships that challenged my every concept of existence.

Finding her way back to herself meant dealing with the shame and guilt of the damage she created against herself, as well as within her family, which included a brood of young grandchildren.  Fortunately, her family came full circle, supporting her throughout her journey and proud to see how far she has come. Having celebrated a year of sobriety on July 29, 2014, Margaret is transitioning out of the On-site program to move in with her loving family up north where she looks forward to enjoying being a grandma.

As bittersweet as it is to no longer be Margaret’s Case Worker, her success comes with its own fears. Leaving behind this stage of her life also means leaving the 24-hour On-site support received at the YWCA.  It also involves leaving behind peers that she bonded with while in the program, further illuminating fears of starting over in a new city with new resources, as well as, fears of being found by her ex.  However, her excitement refuses to be diminished.


One analogy Margaret told me she lives by is the transformation of the butterfly. As a caterpillar you are born in dirt, live in dirt, and have no concept of the beautiful and freeing future awaiting you. This analogy fits Margaret perfectly. If you ventured into her room, you’d see all sorts of pictures and décor of colourful butterflies, interspersed among pictures of her family, and copies of every Tree Card, Animal card, Spirit of the Wheel card, and Angel card she has pulled from the deck at any given meeting, each a reminder to take pause and evaluate her current path.

At the age of 53, Margaret took a chance and entrusted a year of her life to us to assist her with transforming her life.  My only hope is for Margaret to be happy and continue on with her journey as she has from the beginning- impassioned to live physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy,  engulfed within the love of her supportive family.  Margaret, I will truly miss you and the talks we’ve had over the past year, but have faith you will thrive.

“There comes a time in your life, when you walk away from all the drama and the people who create it. You surround yourself with the people who make you laugh. Forget the bad and focus on the good. Love the people who treat you right, pray for the ones you don’t. Life is too short to be anything but happy. Falling down is part of life, getting back up is living.” – José N. Harris
(Another of Margaret’s favorites)

Images courtesy of Google Images and YWCA Niagara Region.

Drugs- A Poem

I destroy homes, tear families apart, take your children, and that’s just the start.
I’m more costly than diamonds, more costly than gold; the sorrow I bring is a sight to behold.
And if you need me, remember I’m easily found; I live all around you, in schools and in town.
I live with the rich, I live with the poor; I live down the street, and maybe next door.
My power is awesome; try me — you’ll see; but if you do, you may never break free.
Just try me once and I might let you go, but try me twice, and I’ll own your soul.
When I possess you, you’ll steal and you’ll lie. You do what you have to just to get high.
The crimes you’ll commit, for my narcotic charms, will be worth the pleasure you’ll feel in your arms.
You’ll lie to your mother, you’ll steal from your dad; When you see their tears, you should feel sad.
But you’ll forget your morals and how you were raised, I’ll be your conscience, I’ll teach you my ways.
I take kids from parents, and parents from kids; I turn people from god, and separate from friends.
I’ll take everything from you, your looks and your pride; I’ll be with you always, right by your side.
You’ll give up everything, your family, your home, your friends, your money, then you’ll be alone.
I’ll take and take, till you have nothing more to give; When I’m finished with you, you’ll be lucky to live.
If you try me– be warned– this is no game; If given the chance, I’ll drive you insane.
I’ll ravish your body, I’ll control your mind; I’ll own you completely, your soul will be mine.
The nightmares I’ll give you while lying in bed, the voices you’ll hear from inside your head; the sweats, the shakes, the visions you’ll see– I want you to know, these are all gifts from me.
But then it’s too late, and you’ll know in your heart, that you are mine, and we shall not part.
You’ll regret that you tried me, they always do, but you came to me, not I to you.
You knew this would happen; Many times you were told– but you challenged my power, and chose to be bold.
You could have said no, and just walked away; If you could live that day over, now what would you say?
I’ll be your master; you will be my slave; I’ll even go with you, when you go to your grave.
Now that you have met me, what will you do? Will you try me or not? It’s all up to you.
I can bring you more misery than words can tell; Come take my hand, let me lead you to hell……

Author Unknown 

The YW provides addiction recovery services for those struggling with drug abuse and other addictions. With the help of the YW, many women have broken free from the hold of drugs, have regained control of their lives and are on a path of recovery. For more information visit the YW website: www.ywcaniagararegion.ca