They're sometimes cruel, often unusual and can even be punishing. But do recovery memes help the addict battle addiction? You be the judge.
Laughing at Addiction
There's nothing funny about addiction. Never has been. Never will be. Not funny ha-ha. An not funny peculiar either. With over 21 million Americans struggling with addiction, how can it be a laughing matter, let alone an oddity?
Yet addiction persists. So does recovery. And sometimes it takes a sort of gallows humor for an addict to successfully transition from one to the other.
Enter Dank Recovery Memes
Dank Recovery Memes was put into play by Timothy Kavanagh, a former heroin addict who now boasts seven years of sobriety. To many, the Instagram initiative is utterly offensive. To the addict and alcoholic however, Kavanagh's black comedy recovery memes hit home in a big way.
"I personally had to realize there is a huge difference between being a piece of shit and making jokes about a dark subject," Kavanagh told Buzzfeed News. "I think one thing recovery has taught me is to accept that I have an off-color sense of humor."
Off-color is right. But that's just the point. To be as off-color as possible. If only to add some levity to a very heavy subject. Sure an average reader might consider recovery memes to be offensive, insensitive, or even kind of horrifying. But for those who've been there this niche genre of internet humor can be downright cathartic. It can also be one of the funniest things going.
Just ask Kavanagh's 47,000+ followers. They'll tell you the account gets it. Gets them. And that it provides a safe place to laugh and share about the darkness of addiction without having to worry about "normies" who can’t relate.
Kavanagh saw his first recovery meme soon after he got sober. He doesn’t think recovery memes would have helped him get clean, but he does believe they would have helped him realize he wasn’t alone. They've been helping him ever since.
"Through social media I found other people that were sober," he said. "People who had good recovery, as well as the same kind of sense of humor."
Do Recovery Memes Help or Hurt?
Dr. Lipi Roy, board certified in addiction medicine and a clinical assistant professor at NYU, told BuzzFeed News she was hesitant to fully endorse Kavanagh’s Dank Recovery Memes. She did however acknowledge the power of community to bring addicts out of solitude.
"The opposite of addiction isn't sobriety," said Roy. "It’s connection. Right? So many people with substance disorders feel profound isolation, grief, shame... And that just needs to stop."
Roy said jokes about stealing, prostitution, overdoses, and sexual acts are where she thinks it gets a bit tricky. Yet she also admitted that it is a bit easier for those who are sober to look back, laugh, and be grateful they aren’t there anymore.
Then again, "what about the people that are still actively doing this?" she asked.
Indeed. What about them? Will recovery memes help the active addict battle addiction? Or will the jokes seemingly lessen the severity and keep them mired where they are? And what about an addict's actions? Is it even okay to joke about doing bad things to good people? Or is joking about doing bad things the only way an addict can forgive his or herself? Those are hard questions alright. And hard questions generally have no easy answers.
The Bottom Line
Whether someone considers recovery memes to be healthy or harmful (or a little bit of both), everyone can agree on one thing: there needs to be more discussion and resources for those struggling with addiction. Period. That's Dr. Roy's position. And it's also Recovery Boot Camp's position. After all, SAMHSA says only 1 in 10 of those suffering from addiction seek help. And two out of 20 million is totally unacceptable.
"My overall view is that we need more resources," said Dr. Roy, "whether it be social media, in person, whatever, to connect people to each other."
"That said," she added, "there’s good connection and not good connection. I just want to make sure that the messages that people are hearing are positive and evidence-based."
Kavanagh has the same idea. His initial intention was to just make people laugh. That hasn’t changed. But he does try to be more careful about what he posts. He’s had his account deleted in the past. He's also often reported for making jokes about such a sensitive topic. Nevertheless, Kavanagh said he frequently gets messages about how much the page has helped people.
"Sometimes people reach out to me first [when seeking help]," he said. "They tell me I made them laugh at the hell they were living in. So it’s hard to really say I’m doing something so bad."