More Empathy Could Pave Way for Progress

This is an excerpt from the monthly Advocacy Update. If you’d like to receive Hazelden Betty Ford Advocacy Update emails, subscribe today.

Broken. Grieving. Anxious. Lonely. Uncertain. Angry. Fearful. Isolated. Frustrated. Wanting more purpose and meaning.

Sounds like someone in the midst of addiction. But in 2021, just like 2020, it was everyone.

Screengrab from Google’s year-end video

Google says more people searched for “how to heal” in 2021 than ever before. During two years of the pandemic, much of the world has felt the emotional and spiritual struggle that is so often part of addiction. That common ground, perhaps, is a silver lining — especially as many now begin to also experience what it means to connect over struggle, accept the things we cannot change, reunite with loved ones, find our “why,” and come back stronger than before.

That, of course, sounds a lot like recovery because — for many of us — it is. Maybe now, others will be able to more readily see themselves in the struggle and renewal shared in our stories, and empathize. And maybe more empathy will lead to greater compassion, understanding, help-seeking, and systemic investments.

That’s our hope heading into 2022, and why we’ll be focused more than ever on lifting up and sharing stories of healing and hope. With that in mind, here are two we curated for this month.

Stories Stronger Than Stigma

Lars Leafblad

Eleven years ago everything changed for Lars Leafblad when he reached out for help to stop drinking … and someone answered. Ever since, the holidays have become a season of recovery advocacy for Leafblad, a Twin Cities civic leader and co-founder of St. Paul-based executive search-and-selection firm Ballinger|Leafblad. Many times now, he has experienced the powerful impact of simply sharing his recovery story with others — and never more so than on Dec. 31, 2017, when his 201-word recovery reflection on LinkedIn went viral, attracting well over 1 million views. Read our Q&A with Leafblad.

Nay Pacheco

Growing up in Miami, Nayibis Pacheco felt trapped within an extreme, cult-like religion that emphasized gender and other stereotypes that were at odds with her sensibilities from the start. She says her childhood was marked by conflict and the trauma of being condemned and cast aside repeatedly on moral grounds. Perhaps it is no surprise she became trapped within addiction, too. That wasn’t the end though because she eventually found the wherewithal to take a first step toward recovery, which unlike drugs — has enabled her to finally escape the trauma of her youth. Read our Q&A with Pacheco.

Jeremiah Gardner is the director of communications and public affairs at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. Please share questions, thoughts and ideas. Plus, follow us on Twitter for daily updates.




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As a force of healing & hope for those affected by addiction, we feature insights and views from leading voices on prevention, treatment & recovery.

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