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Alicia Cook joins us on The SHAIR Podcast today. She writes on the other side of addiction. In other words, how addiction directly affects the family, and loved ones, of the addict. Her articles are read, and shared, by tens of thousands. She writes for the Huffington Post, and Gannett, on topic of addiction, and also regularly shares other people’s stories on how they were touched by addiction. Her website is TheAliciaCook.com where she discusses the other side of addiction.
The Other Side of Addiction shares stories of people who have experienced this disease. After losing her cousin to a heroin overdose, Alicia began using her words to help other families going through similar situations feel less alone. These are very personal accounts, written to shed light on this deadly epidemic and prove that anyone can be affected. Articles have appeared in the Huffington Post, Asbury Park Press, The Advertiser, Addiction Unscripted, on the national news, and hundreds of other addiction awareness sites.
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Omar: You’re not addicted to any substance. Your journey began, because you had a loved one that had an addiction. Tell us a little bit about that relationship.
Alicia Cook: Sure. My cousin was addicted to heroin. Ultimately, overdosed, and died, almost ten years ago, when we were nineteen.
Alicia Cook: She was my first cousin. We have a very small family, so everyone was very close. This was in 2006, when Jess died. She battled addiction for roughly eighteen months, they estimate. Jess was the opposite of the stereotypical drug addict. She had a 10:00 pm curfew, and always made it home on time. She grew up with her parents, and grandmother, and two siblings, living in the same home together. It was a true home, with holidays, and family parties, and lots of laughter. Jess had the loudest laugh of them all. She was truly a happy person.
When this happens, when our world was turned upside down, I couldn’t believe it. Yes, I have never used a drug myself. I have never been addicted. I don’t speak on what it is like to be addicted to substance. I do speak regularly, and loudly, what it is like to love someone who is battling addiction. To have someone in your family, or in your heart, and just watch them deteriorate every single day. I don’t really think it is codependency, or you don’t become addicted to loving them, because you love them from the beginning. It is more of, I speak on the helplessness, and stages of grief, the loved ones go through watching someone just deteriorate right in front of their eyes.
To Watch the Documentary Click on the Image Below!
Omar: Right. You were nineteen years old, at the time?
Alicia Cook: Yes. Jess, and I, were ten months apart. Eerily now, I am ten years older, but Jess battled addiction, and lost when she was nineteen. It was September, of 2006. We are right around the ten year mark, now.
Omar: I’m sure that you had to go through your own process of grieving, through losing your cousin. How long was it before you decided that you were going to become an advocate for family members, who have gone through what you’re going through right now?
Alicia Cook: It wasn’t immediate, because I know we are going to go back to it, but I had to grieve. I had to wrap my head around what had happened. I was very young when it happened. I had a lot of learning to do. I know a lot of people, right away, they want to put on their armor, and go to battle, but I really wanted to educate myself on addiction. Specifically, on heroin. I wanted to really engross myself in any knowledge I could get, before I went out there to fight the good fight. It took some time. I didn’t even write about my cousin, and I am a writer. I didn’t even write about my cousin for about six years after her death. It took me about six years to even put pen to paper, and write how I was feeling.
Omar: You know what? Let’s just jump into that, then. Because, that is a six year span of time. That is a significant amount of grieving. What is it exactly that you went through, that you can explain to the other listeners, to kind of prepare them for these types of challenges, and situations, that present themselves? Especially, when a loved one dies of an overdose?
Alicia Cook: When a loved one dies of an overdose, it is the call you always expect you’re going to get, but when you get it, you’re still just as shocked. Because, you know that they are killing themselves, ultimately. You know that what they’re doing every day is life, and death, when they use. When you get that call, your whole world stops. Even if you could see it coming. That six year span, it was a mixture. It was me growing up, since I was only nineteen at the time, and now I am thirty. It was me growing up. It was me going through college, still going through the motions. It was me grieving, and it was me learning. Educating myself on addiction.
In that time, I was able to really pull my voice, and find my voice. Once this heroin epidemic ignited again, I knew right away that I was going to try to be a voice for the families. Something that I learned early on in my life, is that it is very possible to grieve the living. I lost my cousin, Jessica, in September in 2006, but I lost her way before that. I lost her about eighteen months before that, to addiction. She wasn’t herself anymore. You grieve twice. You grieve for the loss of the person that you remember, that you spent your whole life with. Then, you grieve the actual body when they are gone, gone. I try to let families know that you will go through the stages of grief before, God forbid, they even succumb to their addiction. Then, you will go through it again.
Omar: Is there one specific message, that you would like to get out to our listeners?
Alicia Cook: That, whether they are battling addiction, in recovery, family members of people suffering from addiction, you’re not alone. Every voice matters. Because, like I said, you never know who needs to hear your story. Your story could save someone else’s. Jess didn’t make it, but me sharing her story, and in turn other experiences I have had, may have saved other people.
Alicia Cook: Speak up. Don’t be ashamed. There is no shame in addiction. There is no shame in loving an addict. It is all antiquated stereotypes, and I do feel a shift that the stigma is lessening. Because, so many people are affected. You cannot walk down the street, without bumping into someone who is directly affected by addiction. There is no shame. We are human. One choice shouldn’t dictate the rest of your life, but sometimes it does. You are human, and you’re not perfect. No one is.
Omar: What is the best way for our listeners to connect with you? What resources do you have, that you would like to share with our listeners?
Alicia Cook: The best way to connect with me, I still I haven’t taken it down, I don’t think I am going to. I still have my personal email address on my website, TheAliciaCook.com. I have a pretty decent following on Instagram, where I post other writing. Just covering the entire human condition, not just about addiction. Everything is TheAliciaCook.
My website is TheAliciaCook, Instagram is TheAliciaCook. Twitter is TheAliciaCook. It is easy to find me. It is easy to Google me, if you wanted to connect with me in some way. Resource wise, I am going to be posting updates about the documentary. I currently have a book out, in the style of a mix tape, called Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately. It is not about addiction, but it is dedicated to anyone who loves someone battling addiction. All proceeds go to the Willow Tree Center, in my home state of New Jersey, to help families.
Omar: What is the best suggestion you have ever received?
Alicia Cook: I used to like to plan my life. I thought I would be married by X age. This job by X age. My mother has this ability, no matter what is going on in her life, to slow down, and appreciate the here and now. Wind chimes playing in the wind, she finds peace in that. Looking at the ocean brings her comfort. The best suggestion, I guess, is from my mother, where she told me you cannot plan your life, so don’t try to. The here, and now.
Omar: I love it.
Alicia Cook: She always says, “You cannot plan your life.” As much as you love making your to do lists, and your pro and con lists, you cannot plan your life. If you think you can, you’re just going to end up being disappointed, because curve balls come at all times.
Omar: Man, that is absolutely beautiful. I love it. I want to thank your mother for that.
Alicia Cook: Yes. Hey, Gayle. She is going to be listening.
Omar: Thanks, Gayle. Shout out to Gayle.
Alicia Cook: Shout out to Gayle.
Omar: If you could give our newcomers only one suggestion, what would that be?
Alicia Cook: Do everything you can, to the best of your ability.
Omar: Beautiful. I love it. I love it.
SUGGESTIONS FOR THE NEWCOMER
“Do everything you can, to the best of your ability.”
WEBSITE AND SOCIAL MEDIA
Alicia’s Book: Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately
Here’s the Story: A Family Disease – This is the Documentary Alicia shot on NJTV Driving Jersey – Click Here to Watch!
Thanks again for your SHAIR, Alicia!
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Disclaimer – The opinions shared on this show reflect those of the individual speaker and not of any 12 step fellowship as a whole and though we discuss 12 step recovery and the impact it has had in our lives we do not promote or endorse any 12 step anonymous program.
Helping Families Helping Addicts and understanding the process of life and death in this all has me overwhelmed at times. Putting this all into perspective is hard to do. So many young lives taken too soon over a treatable disease. Just floors me. Police letting addicts detox in their jail cells, floors me even more. The police should not have to be put into this crisis in detoxing. The medical field has to be involved in the treatment, not the police. Getting them help and getting the families help is a daunting task. Reaching out sometimes is very difficult but doable. Learning and educating is not enough. Some of the most educated of them all are addicts. Trying to understand an addicts mindset is the only rational way to process this. They know they might/will die, they know they hate their lives and they know it is ripping their families apart with heartache that never heals. Yet they continue to use. Most can’t stop on their own, even if they want to. I am voting for more resources, more supports and more available help. I can’t heal myself with seeing all the stories and getting over my own grief, when I reach out, so many are so hopeless. If there were more supports and help and places where families and users could go, I think that would be the beginning of stopping us from burying our own children. Thank you for this podcast, it was one of the most useful pods I have seen in a while.
Addiction is so powerful! Once it has you in it’s clutches it literally can kill you. That is why being so vocal is so important. My hope is that the Podcast will help give more and more addicts the resources they need to find recovery!
All the best,