Facing addiction

By Ashourina Slewo

On March 24, Peter’s Angels hosted an event central to educating members of the community about addiction and the various resources available to them. Speakers at this event included Summer Elise Eager, a certified alcohol and drug counselor, and Dr. Joseph Amir George, an addiction specialist. In addition, former drug addicts provided a different perspective as they discussed their past and present experiences in dealing with addiction.

Speaking on his journey in overcoming his addictions and alcoholism was Chris Shallal of California.

“I never thought in a million years that I would be standing here in front of my friends and family and share what I’ve done and what I’ve gone through because it’s seen as a shame,” he said. “It’s especially shameful when you come from a Chaldean family and a Catholic home.”

Shallal’s journey started with fear, most of which revolved around not living up to the standards of the overly materialistic world around him; a fear of not being good enough. It was this fear that pushed him further away from his truth.

“Nice clothes and cars don’t mean anything,” he said.

Recovery came after Shallal moved in with his uncle in California. “He shows me love, compassion, and tells me he’s proud of me every day,” said Shallal.

Since becoming sober, Shallal spreads his message and his journey at any and all meetings that he is able to attend. “I can’t give you sobriety, but I can tell you my story,” he explained. “This disease, you might think you don’t have it, but it could be lying in wait.”

Seven months sober, Shallal does not shy away from his past, but rather uses it to continue his propulsion farther into the sober future that awaits him. “Looking back, I know where I don’t want to be,” he said.

Exercising extreme patience, Shallal takes his sobriety one step at a time.

Keeping the community in mind, Peter’s Angels, a non profit organization, is geared towards educating the Chaldean community and beyond about drug addiction while moving past the prevalent shame and stigma. In addition, the organization works to equip people with the resources needed to identify and deal with addiction or drug use.

Hosting events like this one on a regular basis to engage audiences in conversation about the topic are just one of the methods employed by the organization to spread this pertinent information.

Starting the conversation was Eager who began by telling the those in attendance of a former patient of hers who passed away at the age of 19 due to a drug overdose. Before passing, Mario had been in treatment a couple of times. The last time she saw Mario, said Eager, he was in treatment again and optimistic that he would overcome his addiction and go on to help others like him.

“He died a few weeks after that,” she said. “This is a vicious disease and it is a disease of isolation that tells you not to tell anybody, to keep it under wraps, hide it because it’s shameful.”

As a recovering addict and alcoholic herself, Eager spoke to her experiences in struggling with addiction. “I always remember the last time I used because if I forget, I’ll use again,” she explained of her overdose more than five years ago.

Understanding that addiction is a disease is the first step in being able to help an addict. “Our addiction will lie to us, it will tell us that we are not addicts, that we’re not sick,” said Eager.

Raising an addiction free child, says Eager, starts with education. “Just like we make sure they have their daily needs; we need to also work on their mental health.”

Speaking last was Dr. George who, like the other speakers stressed the importance of education. As an addiction specialist, Dr. George himself is a resource for those in the community who may be suffering from addiction or know someone who is suffering from addiction.

As an addiction specialist for more than 15 years, Dr. George says the best treatment is in fact prevention.

“The best treatment for addiction is prevention,” he explained. “Just don’t do it.”

Ultimately, though, treatment for addicts starts with the patient, says Dr. George. “If the patient is motivated, that’s a very good thing. If a patient is not ready, treatments fail no matter what you do. If you are ready for help, we can help.”