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Death of Michael K. Williams spotlights addiction as a problem anyone can have

Michael K. Williams
Posted at 8:04 PM, Sep 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 08:11:32-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — He played one of the most iconic characters on the hit HBO show, "The Wire," but now the loss of Michael K. Williams is bringing attention to how addiction can impact us all.

Williams suffered an overdose early this week, after struggling with substance abuse for years. He had just begun therapy and was vocal about the challenges of no longer using.

These are challenges Mitzi Dawn knows well but says it’s rare to see a high-profile entertainer such as Williams speak up about.

“A lot of times you wonder what’s going on with them? They have everything. Why would they be in pain,” Dawn said.

That’s just it, Dawn says addiction knows no boundaries. So why should we assume anyone is immune? When Dawn came to grips with the idea of being an addict, it didn’t seem real at first.

Addicts were the homeless people in need of a fix or the rich celebrities who join lavish rehab facilities. Dawn partied three nights a week but figured she was doing no more harm to her body than any of her friends.

“The first year was just fun. I felt connected. I felt like I was a part of something,” Dawn said.

Dawn is quick to tell you that her first drug of choice was perfection. As a musician, she chased it as much as possible. There were few highs and many lows, which she knows anyone can relate to. At least with entertainers, they experience it all under the spotlight. Dawn says for every hit she writes, there are thousands in the catalog that won’t see the light of day.

She used alcohol and cocaine to numb the pains of “thousands of no’s and not good enough.” In three years, Dawn found the bottom you often hear of. She willed herself to therapy after losing it all and that’s when reality sunk in. It was never about the vices.

“When you take away the drugs and alcohol, that’s what I was using as a solution to handle the hurt and pain I was in,” Dawn said.

Brian Sullivan is a recovery advocate who says the loss of Williams to overdose is evidence of how addiction is an ongoing battle every day.

“People think that because people are celebrities that they’re immune to these issues. They’re not,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan calls addiction the “silent killer” because families are often left in the dark about the struggles of a loved one. For how often we hear of people dying from an overdose, Sullivan says there’s still too much silence and shame.

“If it’s a war on drugs, we’re losing or we’ve lost and we need to treat this as a health crisis,” Sullivan said.

After nearly 14 years in recovery, Dawn is now helping others find their way. She volunteers as a sponsor and walks people through some of the difficulties of taking that first step into recovery.

“We deserve to feel what it feels like to be alive,” Dawn said.

This year Dawn has lost 7 close friends to overdose and hopes this message reaches enough people in time. Addiction nearly took her, so to this day she calls it a disease. Instead of shaming people before they have a chance to get help, she says we should focus on getting them the treatment they need.

Experts believe the number of overdose deaths in Metro Nashville has increased from the 2nd quarter total of 360 to more than 390 so far in 2021.

If you or anyone you know could use help with addiction services, please contact Tennessee REDLINE at 1-800-889-9789. The 24/7 hotline connects you with state-funded, addiction treatment and recovery services.

You can also find details on the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & other Addiction Services web page. The non-profit lists several services available for addiction and other mental health concerns.

SAMHSA or Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers several links of their own through their web page. One link, in particular, will help you track down a treatment facility within your zip code.