The Stories

After a deep conversation diving into the storyholders' experiences, their recount was transformed into a concise and accurate story. The stories are written in first-person to allow you to truly step into the lives of people who have battled stigmatized issues. Each issue has an external statistic in addition to an excerpt from the story. This design highlights the importance of having a dual-lens of not just informative statistics, but also detailed stories. The images above each story are symbolic representations of the topic. SOSAS values our storyholders' privacy: Names are used for people who are open with their story and are redacted for people who prefer anonymity. 

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1 in 5 U.S. adults experience a mental illness. 

About 20% of Americans who have depression or an anxiety disorder also have a substance use disorder.

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But day by day that joy quickly faded, as did the color in life. For some reason, no matter what I did, it seemed impossible to substantially lift myself into a good mood, and I had no clue why. My parents were good, I was getting to play sports when I wanted to, my friends were good, but life still felt grey and sad.

MENTAL HEALTH

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Mental Health Story

Minnesota

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It was the summer of my freshman year. People were outside playing sports, vacationing, having fun with friends, rejoicing in the freedom of summer. The joy of school being let out and summer starting was enormous as I left my school at the beginning of June. But day by day that joy quickly faded, as did the color in life. For some reason, no matter what I did, it seemed impossible to substantially lift myself into a good mood, and I had no clue why. My parents were good, I was getting to play sports when I wanted to, my friends were good, but life still felt grey and sad. These thoughts were running through my mind as I was laying in my room while my “sad boy music” playlist sparked crushing feelings of overwhelming sadness, and then my stomach grumbled. Big time. I realized I hadn’t left my room all day and it was about to be 3 pm. I slowly trudged down the stairs of despair, the sun beamingly radiated positive energy in the warm summer day partaking outside. I was hopeful that at the end of the stairs, the living room would be flooded with that warming heat and light from the sun. However, the blinds had been pulled down, blocking any joy the sun would’ve given to me, leaving a dark and monotone living room. I wondered who had pulled the blinds down, both my parents were gone and my sister was at practice? My stomach once again snapped me out of this train of thought, and I redirected my focus to the cabinet.

 I knew I shouldn’t keep eating, I had already gained 10 pounds this summer. But the goldfish were calling my name, so I loaded up a bowl and trudged right back to my hole of a room. Right before I made it to the door, however, the garage door swung open. It was my mom; she had just come back home from work.

“Hey honey, come down it’s almost time for your phone call with the therapist!!”

Oh yeah if you couldn’t tell from the extremely joyous tone of my life, I have depression. Perfect I thought, what a great way to deal with my mental illness, talking to a total stranger over the phone! 

“Great mom, I’ll be there in a minute.” It was time to put my happy face on. I had been at this phone therapy for several months and even though I’ve been telling my therapist I’m slowly feeling better, I really haven’t. I just started saying that because I’ve seen the emotional toll it’s taken on my mom. Having to see her daughter so sad every day, it makes me feel guilty. But anyways, with a smile on my face, I called my therapist for the last time. It was time to tell her that I felt completely better so I wouldn’t have to talk to her again, and my mom could feel joy.

***

“Oh my god, your dress is absolutely stunninggg” 

“Oh, thank you!”

“Ready for our sophomore year homecoming dance?” 

“Oh yeah definitely,” I sleepily replied. The next few hours felt like an unengaged blur.

My goal had been accomplished I thought as I returned to my house at around midnight from the dance. Leading up to the dance there had been some drama going on with my date and everything so I never felt like I was there to have fun, I was mainly there to avoid any sort of drama. I went to dinner, had some laughs with friends, sang, and danced a bunch so I felt ok I guess. I stepped into my room and scrolled through my music to find some songs to play as I unwound and got ready for bed. I felt like I heard someone whisper “feel sad”, but instead of using my mouth to reply, my fingers responded by picking the saddest song I know to listen to. Quite weird I thought. But that feeling of weirdness quickly turned into sorrow as the sad melodies fused with the mistake of checking my text messages.

 Four new messages from three different people, all involved in the drama that shrouded homecoming, adding another item on my plate of overall gloom and sadness. I turned my phone off and threw it on the bed. Immediately, I felt the urge to pick it up again. I had to know what was going on. And so I opened all the chats, and immediately, tears started to flow down my face, as forcefully as a roaring waterfall. That night I digitally witnessed my best friend end her relationship with me and several other friends cut all ties with me, cursing me for being a bad person, as my eyes tearfully skimmed through words like “how could you do that to him” and “you’re soulless”. I laid in bed, feeling the weight of the world and universe push down on me, slowly suffocating my soul. I had opened up to my best friend about how I wasn’t feeling like myself at all, and instead of showing me kindness and compassion that I so desperately needed, she repeated the same evil sentiments that had already been circulating in my head for the past several months, “why are you so sad it’s annoying”. I couldn’t take it much longer, every day I already felt alone, every color was grey, and my default mood was sad. And now all my support systems crumbled down. I looked around and through the blur of my tears, I saw my razor staring at me, knowingly. Perched on top of my dressing table, I curiously looked at the instrument. I had felt the accidental cut of the razor before when I shaved, I wondered if it the cut would be as deep if purposeful. I started to move towards it, seeing it as the escape from these feelings. I made my way to it step by st-

“Honeyyyy, come down you didn’t tell me how homecoming was!!”

Wow, I forgot all about my mother’s sweet voice. Suddenly, I realized what I was doing and snapped out of it. Right before I left my room I stared back at the razor and thought about the events that had just transpired. I realized that I wasn’t alright and that I needed help again, my mom deserved the truth. The scary, stigmatized truth that I still had depression. 

***

“DING! Lobby level” said the robotic elevator voice lady. I’m getting kind of close with her as over the past few weeks I’ve taken the elevator up to the eighth floor probably around 4 times to meet with my therapist. Guess what? It’s actually in person now, and let me tell you, that makes such a big difference, to actually be able to see the genuine facial expression of someone saying “I’m going to support you through this,” instead of hearing it through a crackly phone, is great. Today was one of the most amazing and groundbreaking sessions I’ve ever had. I had been slowly progressing through my therapy journey, but it felt as if all the progress I achieved started and ended in the room. I hadn’t really found anything that improved my life when I wasn’t with my therapist. That is until today. My therapist revealed to me how my mental illness of depression should cognitively be approached. She said that depression isn’t something that consumes you or defines you. Instead, living with depression is more like living with another person. Sure it might have the power to make you sad, but it is a completely different entity that’s separate from who you truly are as a human being. So instead, try to harness your true self, don’t listen to the monster.” That day completely changed my outlook and journey through depression. The stigma surrounding mental illnesses made it extremely difficult for me to admit I have a problem. However, opening up and staying strong through the stigma has allowed me to see the vibrant colors in life once again!

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CHILDREN OF INCARCERATED PARENTS

More than 2.7 million children in the U.S. have an incarcerated parent. That is 1 in 28 children. 1 in 9 African -American children

This swirling undercurrent of stigma was so confusing to me and it led me to start feeling like I was

WORSE

WORSE

than everyone else, because I came from

"that family"

"that family"

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D.B.'s Story

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            “And with that ladies and gentlemen, we will conclude our panel on Children of Incarcerated Parents and How to Build Better Support Systems! Let’s get a round of applause as it looks like there are no more questi-“

            “Wait!” I exclaimed; the word left my mouth before I had even processed what I was saying. The stage lights shone intensely, semi-blinding me as I sat in the supportive chair on the panel stage. The audience was engulfed by the blinding light, yet, amidst the glare a tiny hand perched out in the back stood out to me. It’s as if I could see it on a level deeper than just my sense of sight.

            “I think that young lady in the back has a question.” I told the panel mediator.

            The girl looked extremely surprised to be called on, as if she was used to not being seen by the seas of people that pass by. It took her some time to gather her words and composure, but she was able to get her question out.

            “Uh hi, my name is Ruth* and I’m 13. I had a question for well, you actually. Um you talked about how you were a child of an incarcerated parent and well I am too. What would you tell someone like me about my situation?”

            This time my brain fired off way before words came out.

            Suddenly, I was transported to my little town in central Minnesota. I was warmed by the poofy blanket surrounding me and by another good day full of joy. Me and my friends at school made matching friendship bracelets for each other and we learned a lot about simple addition in math today. I thought it was going to be scary transitioning from kindergarten to actually having numbers for our grade names, but 1st grade had been fun so far. The memories of the day and the warm blanket made my eyes heavier and heavier as they soon glided to a shut. 

            I woke up abruptly from what sounded like a huge ruckus downstairs. The sound of doors slamming, booming footsteps, and thundering yells shot the warm feelings out of my head and replaced it with panic and a sweltering heart rate. Tears flew down my eyes as I knew something terrible was going on, but I had no clue what to do. I instinctively attempted to find my mom. However, as soon as this thought of finding refuge in her embrace popped into my head, she appeared in the doorframe, but not alone. She was being held by a police officer. I was stunned to see the blue uniform in my house. 

            In the shakiest voice ever I squeaked, “where’s Daddy?”

            “Daddy’s in his room, now go to bed honey” replied my mom in a coercing voice.

            I had to get to the bottom of what was going on and that meant going downstairs, but how?

            “Um mom I’m thirsty though”

            “Oh ok, I’ll get you water from the bathroom up here.”

            That wasn’t gonna cut it, I had to go downstairs, “No I want kitchen water.”

            After some arguing I was able to wiggle my way past and boy, I was absolutely shocked by what I saw. Immediately as the ceiling ended and the kitchen opened up from the staircase, a pulsating flash of red and blue flooded my vision. As I stepped into the kitchen, I saw him: my father, handcuffed to the kitchen chair, head bowed, five officers surrounding him, pistols cocked. I pinched myself to make sure this wasn’t a nightmare. But sadly, it was something I was not able to wake up from, ever.  Little did I know how much of an impact that moment of my father getting carried away in a squad car would have. I got my kitchen water, walked up the stairs in shock, and went to bed.

            I was still extremely confused by what had happened the night before, so I went to my friends at school to tell them and ask if that’s ever happened to them. However, it seemed like they didn’t want to be there with me as they noticeably started scooting away. I asked what’s going on and was shocked by their response. They said that their mommy said they can’t play with me. That my daddy is a drug dealer. I was heartbroken and confused. Why didn’t they want to be friends with me though, I hadn’t done anything bad? As they walked away, a tear obscured my vision causing me to miss the trash can as I hurled my friendship bracelet away. I tried shaking off that terrible memory and continued on with life, but all of a sudden people started to limit their conversations and stay away from me. As if there was an invisible forcefield of shame preventing people from really getting to know me. I wondered why, why, why. And then I realized…. it’s all because of that night. 

 Everywhere I went, every person I met, every scene I was in, I was not there by myself, oh no. I was inescapably accompanied by everyone knowing that my dad was in jail for possession of drugs. From that day on as soon as someone heard my name I was associated to be from “that family oh with the drug dealer dad oh no…”. This swirling undercurrent of stigma was so confusing to me and it led me to start feeling like I really was worse than everyone else, because I came from “that” family. I quit trying in school. My confidence and feelings of self-worth dwindled more and more at each snide comment, with each passive aggressive tone, at each reeling person.  

            “Um hello, are you ok?”

            The voice of that young girl transported me back to reality, back to the panel, back to the blinding lights. I was ready to answer this question and hopefully leave a mark. 

            “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are not as good as others. That you can’t be successful, that you’re just gonna end up in prison. I faced all of those comments but look where I am now. I am an advocate at the state level for children of incarcerated parents and have a beautiful family.” I realized that this is much bigger than just a moment for her and me.

            “And this goes for all of us, each and every one of us sitting in the audience and on the panel. It’s up to us to truly get rid of the mindset that children of incarcerated parents are just throw away kids. They deserve care, attention, and compassion as the stigma they face doesn’t originate from anything they’ve done. As I navigated life in the wake of my father’s arrest, the subtle friction of stigma and lack of compassion that I felt was almost insurmountable. Luckily, I had a couple people show me compassion, give me faith, and push me to unlock my full potential. That compassion and kindness was beautiful. It was simple, easy to do. Someone saying, “I believe in you” and meaning it. And you, Ruth, guess what, “ I truly believe in you.”

            The lights dimmed down, and Ruth’s face morphed from being distorted by the ignorant glare, to a glowing, empowered girl. As we all left the hall, I was warmed to have the sounds of applause and cheer ring throughout the walls…

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LGBTQ+

25.2 percent of LGBT respondents have experienced discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the past year.

When I was twelve, my entire life was turned upside down after my supposed friend outed me as gay to my entire school; I was plunged into a world filled with inner conflict, societal and familial pressures, and a constant barrage of homosexual slurs.

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D.W.'s Story

 Minnesota

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      Kindness. Why can’t my classmates, people who were taught about the importance of kindness and compassion as kindergartners, just like me, find it in their hearts to accept and be kind to me? If my teachers have always taught us and imprinted ideas of compassion as being core to our being, why are they being condescending to me now? Why has God made me this way?! These are a few of the questions that have been constantly swirling in my mind for the past four years. The wind howled as it slammed itself against my window, paradoxically dying to be free from eternal confinement. The bursting Sun’s glow was blocked by the blue blinds of my room. I didn’t want to wake up, but the blistering sound of my alarm clock jarred my system.

      Every morning right at 6:30 it’s up and at em’ and time to go to school. I’m a normal kid, just like everyone else. I’m tired in the morning, I love getting involved in my school, and shouting the lyrics of my favorite songs with my friends. One thing, I’m also gay. Even though I’m only a sophomore in high school, life has already had its many, many shares of downs.

      Embark on this journey with me, starting at the beginning of sixth grade. When I saw him jog into school, hair flowing and the biggest of smiles on his face. That was something I’d always loved about him, he was always extremely optimistic. We had been friends our whole life, but for some reason when I looked at him that day, he made me feel different, all tingly inside. Little did I know that I was developing my first crush. I was oblivious to the life-changing repercussions and obstacles this tingle and subsequent feelings would bring me. However, the winding path of prejudice wouldn’t be forced onto me until later in my life, so sixth grade actually turned out to be filled with formative experiences and positive youthful self-discovery.

Enthused by one of the best years of my life, I was eager to take my first step toward maturity in the form of seventh grade. The roar of the yellow school buses drowned out the sound of the cheerful greetings of my friends, but I was still glad to see them. I quickly ran up to them as we scattered up the steps of the school. The first month of school was relatively uneventful; nothing compared to the excitement and optimism of sixth grade. Gradually, the monotony of the days started to reveal itself. Alarm, brush teeth, go on the bus, sleepily walk into school, learn, and then go home. Rinse and repeat. 

      Philosophically, it’s interesting to think what one comment, one seemingly harmless secret, can do to your life. However, the reality of this idea is much less thought-provoking and instead life-shattering. I faced this reality at the tender age of twelve. At twelve, kids should be playing with their friends, learning about tectonic plates, and a guy named Benjamin Franklin. When I was twelve, my entire life was turned upside down after my supposed friend outed me as gay to my entire school; I was plunged into a world filled with inner conflict, societal and familial pressures, and a constant barrage of homosexual slurs. The monotonous routine now glowed like a haven in my hazy memories. Gone were the days of being able to comfortably learn in a safe environment. Even after three months, echoes of the word “faggot” still stung and made me feel inferior. 

 

      Feelings of angst and lostness were only present at school, initially. At home I had always been able, for the most part, to be myself. Everything changed as soon as my brother found out about my true self from one of his friends. To this day, I  am deeply saddened by his unwarranted feelings of betrayal, disgust, and sadness incited by my sexual orientation. News quickly spread to my family and church as I saw the structure and support systems of my life crumble. I found myself totally and completely alone.

      In between sixth and seventh grade, I escaped the bigotry of my closed-minded community and found an oasis of acceptance at my aunt and uncle’s house. The yellow house was unsettling in appearance, but it was the people on the inside that made it unbelievably warm. There, with no self-restriction or feelings of guilt, I was able to truly be myself as I poured out the dark thoughts and conflict that had been storming through my mind for the past year. My aunt and I clasped hands as she listened; her heart was open with unfathomable compassion and kindness. I felt heard, I felt important, I felt human again. The empowerment I felt from that acceptance is unmatched by any experience yet. 

      Giddy from the cathartic summer, I was ready to face my school with a new attitude. I woke up that morning on the first day of school, put on my new pair of glasses, and stormed up the school bus with a spring in my step. Vital to my personal well-being at school was a compassionate and accepting friend group, which made eighth grade turn out ok. However, the next chapter of my life awaited:

      High school. So far, it’s been nothing like “High School Musical”, but I’ve been able to find my place here. School has become a place of comfort for me now, as my church and home life have recently taken a turn for the worse. One of my teachers overheard the buzz about me being gay. Unfortunately, she goes to my church. Instead of finding compassion in her soul, she decided to tell my pastor.

      The news quickly spread to my parents. The day they found out about it, was one of my worst ones ever. I left the living room with a renewal of that inner-conflict that had plagued my 7th-grade year. I know that they might be able to eventually find a place in their heart for me, but for now, I must stifle who I truly am at home in order to maintain our relationship. 

      I know my story is one that can appear distressing and hopeless at first, but optimism is key in the face of adversity. I know that after high school, new doors and opportunities will open if I stay true to who I am, so I am keeping my head low, listening to my allies, and running this marathon of high school. 

      Not one person in life can survive without help from others. I realized that bottling up my emotions was detrimental to my mental and spiritual health as I tried to deal with my emotions. Within my high school, finding refuge in student government rescued me. From my own thoughts, from the prejudice of my church, and the tensions at home. 

      Gone from home, gone from church, and laughing with my friends at school perfectly encapsulates a quote that has proven to be very powerful to me: “I survived because the fire inside burns brighter than the fire outside”. I want to leave whoever is struggling, whether it be struggles with your sexual orientation or something else, a simple sentiment from my story of stigma and strength: take the first letter of the first word of each of the paragraphs of my story. Wait for your time, depend on others, and life will pick up if you KEEP FIGHTING. 

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*indicates name change

 
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LEARNING DISABILITIES

2.3 million students are diagnosed with specific learning disabilities and receive services under IDEA. 

As I engrained the last letter into the board, I saw my classmate’s grins begin to swell. Well, once again it was time to be

 My classmates erupted with laughter at the image of me gloomily standing next to the letters ‘thouht.'

HUMILIATED.

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Joe's Story

Rochester, MN

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“Alright 2nd graders, for this demonstration we are going to need one helper, who wants to help?”

No hands went up and there is no way my hand is going up either.

“Well since no one is going to raise their hand I’ll pick someone. Hmm why don’t you come on up here and help”

Ms. Bonnigan* pointed to me. Out of EVERYONE in this classroom, it had to be me. Let’s see what she wants me to do, this can’t be good.

“Ok, so the sentence we are going to change from present to past is, “My parents think”. How would you spell ‘think’ to indicate that it happened in the past?”

“Thought.”

I got that, but please oh please do not make me write it on the board.

“Perfect write that on the board please.”

Wow.

My heart started pounding in my chest and I fumbled with the chalk as my hands became slippery from sweat. My voice cracked as I said:

  “Uhh, I already told you it, can I sit down now?”

  “Just write it on the board please so we can move on with the demonstration.”

I could tell there was no escaping this one. I just had to get it over with. As I etched the word “thought” letter by letter into the squeaking chalkboard, I looked back to see if my classmates were laughing. This is how I could tell if I was spelling it wrong. Four letters in and surprisingly there was no uproarious laughter.  I felt like there was something missing in the fifth letter place, but my mind kept coming up blank because of the stress of the situation. As I engrained the last letter into the board, I saw my classmate’s grins begin to swell. Well, once again it was time to be humiliated. My classmates erupted with laughter at the image of me gloomily standing next to the letters ‘thouht.” Looking at the board I was kicking myself for forgetting the ‘g’ in the word, but I thought that I had written ‘th’ correctly? The laughing died down as Ms. Bonnigan shushed the kids, but the damage was already done.

The rest of the class hour was a blur as I sat back in my desk completely disengaged, in a humiliated trance. I kept trying in school, but I couldn’t seem to improve. All I was left with were piercing memories of feeling unworthy and inferior. As I burst through the door of my home, the humiliation quickly turned to anger. Anger about going to school in the first place. I hated it. I wanted to escape the embarrassment by escaping school altogether. I walked up to my dad who was sitting on the couch and directly asked him on the spot if I could quit school. He knew that I was good at sports, and I had a feeling he would push me into that instead of school, something I would be thrilled to do. Right before words of affirmation supporting my proposal left his mouth, the ceiling rattled. Suddenly, my mom came booming down the stairs, in a rage.

“HENRY what are you telling this boy!”

“All I’m saying is that school isn’t his strong suit, maybe he should just do what he’s good at. He could make a hell of a linebacker.”

  “No no no I will not have it, he must go to school, education is an absolute necessity.” Her words with dad had been exchanged, now it was my turn to explain.

“Sweety, what’s going on at school?”

  I poured out all my recounts of struggling through readings, teachers half-heartedly encouraging me, constantly misspelling in front of the whole class. How it filled me with humiliation and embarrassment. How I believed I was an oddball and that I didn’t belong. My mom paused for a while, contemplating the cocktail of emotions and situations I presented her. She asked me, “do you feel like you are trying, or at least at some point were trying hard to learn the lessons?”

I cloudily replied, “Yeah I think up until a month ago I was always trying in class. But I realized no matter how hard I worked, the lessons just didn’t make sense to me and the way the teacher taught it didn’t either.”

  It seemed as if something clicked in my mom’s mind. She looked through the surface emotions and realized that this was deeper than just not being good at school. My mom’s realization about my situation changed my life.

My mom enrolled me in at the Rochester Reading Center with teachers designed to help kids with learning disabilities. Reflecting back, the intimate and secure teaching environment, without the fear of being judged by other students, was exactly what I needed and enabled me to thrive. But in the beginning, I dreaded going there. I thought more school after school?! That’s ridiculous. I wanted to quit so bad, but my mom would not budge on this and man do I have to thank her. By not giving up, struggling in a healthy way, and utilizing my full potential, I developed the work ethic and perseverance needed to be successful. I worked my way through high school, got my diploma, and immediately dove into the business world. Now, I am the owner of several businesses and involved with initiatives all over Rochester.

I owe the strength of my story to dyslexia, but I sadly owe the stigma as well. Not every kid has motivated, loving, and determined parents who push them to get a good education. Not many kids have the financial means to afford supplementary tutors or academic activities like I could. So instead, we need to eradicate the humiliation that causes many kids with learning disabilities to give up in the first place. We need to become more understanding of kids who are struggling in school and realize that there are complex factors that go on behind the scenes. What they need is support, not judgment and prejudice. For the adults reading this, make sure you implement compassion for struggling coworkers as some of them may have a learning disability. But for those of you who have kids, it is vital that you ensure they receive this message. Whenever they have the impulse to laugh at a kid who is struggling to read or spell or whatever it may be in class, assure that they instead give words of encouragement and offer support. Even having one kid in class who I knew was supporting me when I was struggling would’ve meant the world to me.

*indicates name change

 
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ADDICTION

Addictions are one of the most stigmatized issues in our society today as many of the corresponding behaviors are seen as socially unacceptable. Almost 21 million Americans have at least one addiction. 

 “He said he had this new type of drug that’s supposed to be 100x more fun and trippy. I wasn’t feeling it so I just let my three friends take it in front of me. Almost immediately, they dropped one by one by one. People started running to try to help them, ripping their clothes off to do CPR, calling the cops. Within minutes, the dissonance of flashing lights and wailing sirens convoluted the scene. But in the midst of the chaos, all I felt was an urge to have my pills.” 

 
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Khadar's Story of Addiction

Minneapolis, MN

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2016: SLAM! The sound of my brother’s car door slamming to a shut is almost as jarring as him leaving. For the past fifteen years of my life, he has always been there supporting us and giving me companionship. He said he’ll come back and visit us periodically, but he never mentioned when. I don’t know why after 18 years of spending his life with his family, he is abruptly leaving. I don’t think I could ever do that to mom…

2017: Less than a year after my eldest brother left, my two remaining brothers followed in his footsteps, blinded by the thirst for newfound adult adventure. They left the house just as quickly as they had matured. As I trudged back inside our chilly home, I realized how time has flown by; and now, the house has never looked bigger. The absence of the hustling and bustling of my mom trying to raise three little boys was a bit unsettling and put a sad smile on my face. However, there’s no point in reminiscing. I am sixteen now and once I turn 18, I am out of the house too...

***

January 2019: Today is my long-awaited 18th birthday, and I feel completely transformed. Looking just a couple of years back, I can see how naive my actions and thinking were. Now I am a grownup; not just because my age says so, but because I feel like one too. Almost subconsciously, I hover towards the door of my house, eager to begin my new life. My mother is washing vegetables under the sink, there seem to be some tears in her eyes. She quickly becomes aware of my presence in the living room, dries off her face, and comes to hug me. Her maternal instincts kick in, as she senses my forthcoming uncharted life journey before I even tell her. As I leave my driveway, I look at my mom and wish her a soft and sincere goodbye, promising to visit during Ramadan. Yet as the words leave my mouth, a twang of uncertainty envelopes them.

March 2019: Been a while since I’ve jotted down my situation in one of these huh. Wow, last time I wrote was only two months go? Damn, feels like a whole year has gone by. Life is gooood now. Found me a couple of homies on the streets, partying all night. I might’ve just met them, but I already feel so connected to them and I know they’re always gonna be there for me. The best thing about them? They. Know. How. To. Party. Each night a different drug, each night a new experience. This is the adult life I’ve been missing out on for 18 years. No responsibilities, no problems, just fun.

May 2019: Last night the strangest thing happened to me. My friends and I were out late, walking around town, and having a good time. For some reason, images of mama-whom I hadn’t spoken to since I left-flashed into my head,  prompting me to recollect my old life back at home. Instead of cherishing those memories as I thought I would’ve done, it seemed as if my body instinctually fought against the light of the memories. I asked my friends to give me a couple of the pills we’d been doing for the past months to seemingly cope with those burning memories. Much to my fury, he told me he didn’t bring them. He said he had this new type of drug that’s supposed to be 100x more fun and trippy. I wasn’t feeling it, so I just let my three friends take it in front of me. Almost immediately, they dropped one by one by one. People started running to try to help them, ripping their clothes off to do CPR, calling the cops. Within minutes, the dissonance of flashing lights and wailing sirens convoluted the scene. But amid the chaos, all I felt was an urge to have my pills...

 Kinda strange I guess. I’ve been catching more and more legal cases too, so I’ve been ordered to addiction treatment instead of jail time. I guess I'll get ‘treatment’ for the show, but best believe in three months, we gonna be back partying. I picked this one called Alliance Health Center because it’s specifically tailored for Somali people like me, so I bet I can finesse outta there no problem…

August 2019: Four months and my life is completely changed forever; for the better. I left off talking about finessing out of treatment. Little did I know how tough it was going to be. As I look back in hindsight, I can see how I was initially hindered by my poor attitude, denial of my problem, and my withdrawals. I was slowly progressing bit by bit, but I didn’t have my big epiphany until two months in. I was sitting down with my counselor in his office and he wanted to get to know my story again. He listened for a while as I  recounted the late nights, the partying, and super memorable moments with my pills and friends. And then he asked the beautifully simple question “And where did it lead you?”.

I had no answer except for some awesome highs but ultimately, I realized it led me to jail.

“And where did that lead you”

“I guess more estranged from my family and I became another man lost in the detention system.’

“And where did that lead you”.....

That afternoon produced some of the most euphoric, clarifying, and empowering emotions I have ever felt. He told me now that I’m here, not just physically but emotionally too, I could truly make progress. Boy was he right. Now, I am a licensed employee of the Alliance Health Center, acting as a counselor and a listening ear for new patients. However, I’ve found the most profound effect to be when they find out I was just like them some mere months ago. Their eyes seem to light up, full of hope, when I share with them my story of stigma and strength.

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