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Beyond the stigma of addiction and mental health struggles: The goldmine of human potential

Updated: Apr 8

Although we have come a long way, there is still a great stigma with regard to addiction and mental health struggles. People are seen as defective, lesser, broken, diseased, untrustworthy… so many negative things, which we all know too well. While it is true there is often great harm caused by those trapped in the cycle of active addiction, it is important to also highlight the other part of the picture that exists beyond the chaos and suffering. The greater picture of the human being at the center of it all- their gifts and their potential.

Even before I went into treatment for the first time in 1986- as a young man struggling with my own addiction to cocaine and heroin and not yet fully developed mentally or emotionally- I have always been stuck by this. I remember times back when I was using, I would go into shooting galleries in South Central and spend time around other people actively using and living in very extreme environments. They were self-destructing and destroying others at the same time. I would frequent these places and I would get to know the people and I would always think to myself… you know, underneath all of this chaos and stuff that’s going on on the outside here, there’s this human in there that’s just really, really beautiful.

I guess it actually goes back even further, I remember as a kid I always saw potential and possibility- I saw improvements that could be made, and problems that could be solved. And I always felt stymied, like I didn’t have the resources or the support to manifest the potential I saw, or to help others in that way. I realized very early on in life that a huge factor in my ability to actually be the best person possible would be to have the kind of platform- the foundation, that would support fulfilling my potential.

What began as a childlike way of looking at the world through a lens of hope and wonder, later became a curious observation at a time when I was myself lost, strengthened into a view of tremendous hope and whole-hearted belief that inspired me to re-align the path of my own journey to work in recovery and to create this foundational platform for others. This has led me to where I am now, decades into my own recovery and co-founder of Red Door Life detox and recovery treatment center in Los Angeles, CA.

The sad truth is that often those with the most gifts and potential turn to substance abuse and struggle with mental health issues. We can see this everywhere and in so many beloved and brilliant public figures of our time and past generations. Having special gifts, rare callings, and profound unique energy often leads to feeling isolated and not knowing how to plug into society or even how to manage the complex feelings that arise within- it can all be so dysregulating. As there is insufficient support in our society to foster genius and understand its difficult sides, often one is left to turn to substance abuse as they try to navigate the complexities of mental health issues and isolation. Trauma also bears mentioning here- we can discuss trauma through many lenses. But the purpose of this post is to point out that ultimately if one can find the right support to come out of their traumatized state, they are left with tremendous wisdom, gifts, purpose, and abilities that they might not have developed had life left them undisturbed. That is not to be uncompassionate or say that trauma is a good thing, only to point out the person struggling has gifts and potential that can be uncovered and harnessed for good, through the right support.

Starting in the 1980s, each time I went into treatment over the span of several years, I was struck by the same profound view that existed beyond the surface- the goldmine of human potential. The incredible value that existed within this population of people that are often overlooked- stigmatized and outcast by society. I felt a growing inspiration to create the platform and the conditions to help unlock this potential. This view and belief in the beauty and gifts each human inherently possesses is a great part of what has led me to dedicate my life to serving the recovery community through creating Red Door Life continually innovating and improving methodologies, and using entrepreneurship as a means of fostering recovery.

Alex Shohet is the co-founder of Red Door Life, a Los Angeles, CA substance abuse treatment, recovery, detox, addiction & trauma healing center also featuring companion services, entrepreneurship empowerment, community & education.


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