If pre-conceptions could kill…
Society takes a mostly dim view of addiction. Breaking free of the stigmas associated with addiction and recovery can be a tough call.
In the second of our new series, No Left Turn, Blythe confronts us with some pretty weighty realities.
How do we deal with these stigmas? How to we work together to break free of them?
I’m so grateful to Blythe for sharing our thoughts with us.
Addiction: Breaking The Stigma
It’s something that anyone suffering from addiction, or entering the world of recovery, becomes all too familiar with. In the Merriam/Webster dictionary, the word “stigma” is defined as “a mark of shame or discredit.”
As addicts and alcoholics, we deal with enough shame while we’re in the midst of our addiction. In fact, it often serves as the fuel we need to take the next drink, the next pill, or whatever we may be using.
We become our own worst enemies in the midst of continuously putting our minds, bodies, and souls through hell.
So, what does one do when they finally hit the turning point and decide enough is enough? How do we navigate through, not only our own shame, but the shame that society continues to place on a disease that is killing people every day?
Getting sober is hard enough without all that.
How do we deal with the stigma attached to addiction and, how do we all work towards breaking it?
I’ll often find myself in conversations with people about addiction somehow and, most of the time, the conversation begins without the other person knowing that I have some time in recovery. I usually leave this detail about myself out in the beginning because I’m always curious about what someone’s perspective is on addiction before they know they’re talking to a recovered addict.
One day, I found myself in a conversation with someone about the pharmaceutical industry, and the discussion of Narcan came up. For those who are unfamiliar with it, it’s a life-saving drug that can immediately reverse that effects of opioids and save someone from dying of a drug overdose. With the current opioid epidemic that the we have been dealing with here in the U.S., it’s become a drug that many facilities and organisations will hand out for free on the streets in areas where heroin use is prevalent.
“It’s ridiculous,” my acquaintance said about the topic of Narcan. “I have to spend hundreds of dollars on my own drugs, and these junkies just get that stuff for free. They’re the ones deciding to kill themselves. Let them die.”
At this point in the conversation, I usually begin to show the person the other side of the situation and try to explain addiction to them. I will eventually reveal to that person that I too used to struggle with an opioid addiction that nearly took my life, and that I’ve been sober for quite some time.
Their jaw usually drops. For one because, they’re probably a little embarrassed about what they’ve said, and two because I don’t “look” like someone that used to be one of those “junkies” they were talking about.
Look, to some degree we all have to understand the other side of it.
Many of us in the throes of addiction have put our family, friends, and other members of society through hell. We all have to come to an agreement that we can see why people see us the way they do. That’s where the “moral” aspect of this thing comes in. It’s why people see what’s wrong with us as a “moral issue,” when instead it’s a spiritual one.
However, if we’re ever going to continue to get people well, we have to work on breaking a stigma that is keeping so many people from getting help. It’s contributing to so many more problems than it is solutions.
For example: If I go into the emergency room and tell the doctor that I think I’m having a heart attack, an immediate work-up will be done, with a follow-up by another doctor once I’m discharged. If I walk into an emergency room and tell them that I’m addicted to opioids and need to come off of them, most hospitals will tell you they’re not equipped to detox people and give you the name/number of a treatment centre that I probably can’t afford.
Many of them will act like you’re a waste of their time and getting in the way of “real” patients that they need to see. Trust me. I’ve experienced this exact situation several times.
The idea is that, “well you got yourself into this, you can get yourself out.” Except why does the person who has a terrible diet and chain smokes with a heart condition not get treated this way? What about the person with diabetes that doesn’t follow their doctor’s instructions? Didn’t they “do this to themselves?”
Why are addicts treated so differently?
How do we break the stigma?
I can’t speak for the recovery population as a whole, but for me, the path to breaking the stigma of addiction involves showing people exactly what recovery looks like.
Because if we’re really doing the work and becoming better people, recovery looks pretty badass.
After people get to know me a little, I almost always reveal that I’m sober.
Why? Because I want people to see that the woman that they just got to know and is reasonably happy and put together, used to be a complete and total train wreck. I want people to know that my mother, who looks forward to my phone calls now, used to feel her heart drop when she saw it was me calling. I want them to know that she never knew what was next with me and that some nights she would come into my bedroom to check on me and see if I was still breathing. When people meet me today, they always have the same response.
“I could never see you doing any of those things,” they’ll say.
I think that by showing what awesome people we are in recovery, we can help society understand the control that the drink/drug really has over us when we’re in addiction.
We can help them understand that, somewhere along the way, taking that drink and drug stopped being a choice. At some point, our addiction takes over the driver’s seat, and it generally takes a spiritual wakeup call for us to get some willingness to change our lives.
By showing society what it means to be recovered, we can help them see that addiction isn’t a moral issue.
By continuing to share our stories, we can show people that we didn’t just wake up one day and decide that we wanted to be an alcoholic. We can show them that we didn’t talk about being a drug addict on Career Day in kindergarten.
Just like any other illness, there were things along the way that got us to our lowest.
The good news? There’s a way out. I intend to continue showing people that.
I hope you will too.
About our author, Blythe.
Blythe is a writer and blogger from Tennessee, USA and has enjoyed the gifts of sobriety since 12/7/2010. She writes to bring hope to those still suffering from the disease of addiction and hopes to use her voice to break the stigma attached to it.