How recovery meme accounts use humor to shed light on the darkest corners of addiction

Looking back on the darkest moments of your life isn’t something most people enjoy doing. For the folks behind recovery meme accounts, though, it’s the source of some of their funniest jokes — and the inspiration some people need to start getting clean. 

There are a number of ways to recover from the trauma of substance use disorder — including 12-step programs, medication, treatment centers and counseling. Rarely does one method work without the help of another, and of course, it’s never instant. With that in mind, humor also helps.

Recovery meme accounts — often Instagram, Facebook or Twitter pages — poke fun at the horrors of addiction and the cliches that come along with it. 

The power of ‘gallows humor’

Kat, who runs the Junkee Brewster account, told In The Know that she spends more time attending 12-step meetings and working within her community than she does making memes — and truthfully, she gets just as much joy from that hard work— but there’s something uniquely satisfying about being able to joke about the “addict lifestyle.”

“Humor allowed me to relate and feel a kinship to other people at a time when I thought I was the most uniquely flawed person on earth,” she said in an interview with In The Know. “I generally like to make memes that are inspired by the ridiculous thoughts and behaviors that I actually thought were reasonable when actively using, but highlight how outlandish and self-destructive they truly were.”

Kat also serves as an editor for Dank Recovery, one of the first recovery-centric meme pages to go viral. The account has more than 740,000 likes on Facebook and 90,000 followers on Instagram

The man who created Dank Recovery, Timothy, said that as he was working a 12-step program, he and his friends were trying hard to be good, spiritual people — but they shared the same “messed up sense of humor” and knew they could safely make “inappropriate” jokes together in light of their recovery.

“Addiction causes a lot of trauma for a lot of people, myself included,” he told In The Know. 

He said there are a number of topics that are stigmatized in the field of addiction recovery — using words like “junkie,” for instance. Sometimes, though, using politically incorrect terms and speaking frankly about the bleakness of addiction can actually help people face the stigma and shame of their current reality and move toward recovery.

“Some people say you shouldn’t make jokes about suboxone [a drug used to treat opiate addiction] because it’s a life-saving medication that shouldn’t be further stigmatized,” Timothy said. “I make 12-step memes to keep things fair and balanced. There are cliches in everything to make fun of.”

He told In The Know he recognizes that the so-called “gallows humor” of his page is not funny to everyone, but he doesn’t mind, because a lot of people relate to it. He recommended that people looking for more wholesome recovery content simply go to another page — or stay away altogether.

“It’s hard to keep a needle out of your arm. Talk to a doctor if a meme page is bothering you,” he said.

‘No one can hurt me with my own story anymore’

Creators like Timothy and Kat draw on their own experiences and the experiences of those close to them to inspire their memes. They say it helps.

“Looking at trauma through the lens of comedy, rather than tragedy and victimhood, is really empowering,” Kat told In The Know. “No one can hurt me with my own story anymore because I’m telling it myself, and it’s part of what makes me interesting and funny … Now, those are the very things that make me uniquely qualified to connect with those who feel similarly flawed. It’s truly liberating.”

Ryan, who runs a recovery meme account called Relapse Row, was addicted to opiates for 8 years and went to rehab 14 times by the time he got sober.

Credit: Instagram/RelapseRow

“The end of my using career was filled with overdoses, arrests, bouts with homelessness and many tears from my parents,” he told In The Know. “I thought sobriety was going to be boring and I certainly didn’t think I would be able to get free enough to be able to laugh at my pain.”

Through his account, he can do exactly that — laugh at the pain and embarrassment from his past. That’s how he reclaims the power his substance use had over him.

“I no longer feel like the guilt and shame of addiction ‘own me’ anymore,” he said. “Also it helps to feel less alone when you see others laughing because they relate.” 

Max, who runs a meme account called F****** Sober, shared a similar sentiment.

“A lot of sobriety (and life) is terrifying and hilarious and absurd. I can’t tell you how many times in the first year I, a large and somewhat scary-looking adult man, found myself crying in rooms full of strangers about the most trivial problems. I think a lot of people have this experience too,” he explained to In The Know.

He also said he was afraid that getting sober would make him “lose his edge.” Clearly, that’s not true — for him or for many of the other people in recovery he’s connected with through his page.

“[I thought] I’d become some boring person who no longer enjoys life — when in reality I had stopped enjoying life years earlier but I just couldn’t see it through the haze of drunkenness,” he said.

‘I’m not alone’

Recovery is a constant state that can be frighteningly isolating. That’s why having people you can reach out to and relate with, even when it comes to your darkest moments, is essential. Meme accounts, above all else, provide that sense of community.

Timothy told In The Know that what seems inappropriate and dark to some people is exactly what’s going through the minds of other people in recovery. 

“They feel so alone and isolated with it, but then they see [one of the account’s posts], and they are like, ‘No way! Not only is there a meme but there are thousands of likes and comments on it … I’m not alone.’”

All six people who serve as editors at Dank Recovery identify as recovering heroin addicts working a 12-step program, but that’s not all — they also all have experience working with people in recovery in their professional lives. Whenever they get a message asking for help, they can answer with more authority than just someone who has been through this before. This is what they do.

Timothy and his cohort bear a heavy burden, joking about bleak topics and responding to people who reach out looking for help — but to the editors of Dank Recovery, that’s par for the course.

“I try to just be there. I’ll send them my phone number. This is the s*** that I do, I take these calls in my normal life. Why wouldn’t I take them here,” he continued. “ I say, ‘Let’s help you, what do you need? What can I help you do to take care of this?’” 

‘No meme … got me sober’

Recovery meme accounts may provide a light in the darkness of substance use, provide a community to people feeling isolated, help creators cope with their past trauma and guide those in active addiction to the help they need — but that’s not recovery, creators say.

“I didn’t get sober because of what people posted online on proprietary social media platforms. No meme or uplifting recovery quote got me sober,” Max told In The Know. “I got sober in dingy rooms with bad coffee with people who wanted nothing more than for me to recover and share that recovery with the next sufferer.”

Each of the meme account editors In The Know spoke with — Kat, Timothy, Ryan and Max — encouraged anyone struggling with substance use disorder to reach out to other people in the online community for help.

“For this addict, memes helped me feel connected, but they were never going to keep me clean,” Kat told In The Know. “If someone reading this is serious about finding a way out, I’d suggest they be ready to do the deep, long-term, immensely gratifying work of a recovery program.”

Memes are not recovery, but they do help.

 If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorder, consider the following resources and organizations:

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