Recovery happens and we must step out of the shadows and not be ashamed to speak of our journeys.

My name is John Burns and I am a person in long-term recovery.  For me, this means I have spent the last 22 years without using my drug of choice.  In that time I have learned to live again.  I have had the opportunity to complete an undergraduate degree in Business as well as my Master’s Degree in Business Administration.  My journey has given me the opportunity to go to school and work myself from entry-level low paying jobs to a career in sales management.  I have also been given the gift of two amazing and wonderful daughters and my greatest accomplishment has been the chance to see them live their lives.

As a person and a father in long-term recovery, I have been subjected to the stigma and shame during my own journey but have also dealt with it as a father.  One of my children has struggled through substance use disorder and has thankfully, now found her own recovery.  My own journey as well as being a part of her difficult journey has given me the gift of being able to learn tolerance, compassion, and given me so many amazing and compassionate friends from within the recovery community.

Sadly, throughout my journey with my own recovery and my daughters I have seen and heard so many judgments and stigmas attached to it.  I have learned to make it my mission to educate people whenever and wherever possible as it is the only way we can turn the tide of the opiate and heroin crisis in this nation.  Last year my recovery and the involvement in my daughters allowed me to found a family support group to help family members and loved ones cope with this crisis.  I have found parents, loved ones, as well as those suffering cast into shadows of shame and fear because of how society will treat them.  I have met amazing people who have lost their loved ones and continue to struggle but fight with every ounce to make changes and find greater resources.

The reality is we do recover, often when we least expect it, and this health problem crosses all socioeconomic boundaries.  It does not care whether you are wealthy or poor, it disregards the color of skin or your religious affiliation.  Sadly, no one is immune and it is lingering in every community in this country as we speak.  We must learn not to judge it as a weakness or moral failing, but have compassion and understand that no one decides they want to be in active addiction.

I came from an upper-middle class family in a small town in NH.  As a teenager, I was angry at the world for a variety of personal reasons and tragedies.  I felt I didn’t fit in and there was something wrong with me.  My pain was not obvious to those who knew me, but it was unbearable inside.  I didn’t decide one day to be an addict, but through a steady progression of trying to numb that pain I became one.  At the age of seventeen, I was living on the streets of Washington DC after randomly hitchhiking there one day with a friend.  I was eating out of a dumpster or having to get my meals at a soup kitchen while squatting in a condemned apartment building.  No one ever predicted I would be THAT kid on the streets but I was.

I became exhausted of being sick and tired and made a decision to make changes and one day committed to it.  At that time certainly no one could’ve ever expected that 29 years after leaving the streets I would end up owning a home, have an MBA and would have built a family and raised two daughters.

I wouldn’t trade this journey of life for anything.

I remember people from my high school who had seen me at my worst. They would bump into me with strange looks on their face and say “you’re John Burns right?”  They were in complete awe that I was alive let alone functioning within their community still years later.  As my daughter has battled her addiction and found recovery I have been questioned whether I was too strict, too soft, and judged as a father as if somehow I may have caused her illness.  I have been given advice and shamed by family, friends, and people with no professional knowledge of substance misuse disorder during both of these journeys of recovery.  So many became experts on the subject despite no background and felt compelled to pass judgments or shy away completely and walk the other way.

I wouldn’t trade this journey of life for anything.  I have met and become the closest of friends with so many amazing people.  The most loyal, the most caring, the most giving people are those who have struggled and found recovery.  The compassion and the drive and inspiration I have found in this community could never be matched.  I have been able to provide hope and warmth to the homeless on the streets of Boston.  I have been able to jump into the frigid Atlantic Ocean on New Years Day as a tribute to my close friends who lost their beloved children to this illness.  I have found health and happiness and have found a drive like I’ve never had, to see change through within our society.  I have become like a locomotive train that will not be stopped from fighting until this crisis is stopped.  Giving back every bit for the miracle of my life, which was given to me from so many who cared along the way, is what drives me.

Recovery happens and we must step out of the shadows and not be ashamed to speak of our journeys.  So many battling demons right now need to hear our stories and be given the hope.  Our policy makers and society must see that we live in the light of day, we pay taxes as people in long term recovery and we contribute on a daily basis to make the world a better place.  We must not be ashamed, we must be willing to speak and be heard and we must do so loudly and commit to demanding change.