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Ending the Stigma of Addiction

 

When I first realized I had a problem with alcohol, I didn’t tell a soul. In fact, I suffered alone for many years, terrified that someone might notice my problem. I hid my addiction from everyone in my life, including those closest to me. I played the part of the happy, helpful mom/wife/coworker, but inside I was slowly dying.

While I knew that I wanted to stop the vicious cycle, the idea of anyone finding out my “dirty little secret” kept me from reaching out and getting help for much longer than I would’ve liked. When I finally did enter the world of recovery, I thought that might change. I was ready to shout my sobriety from the rooftops, but I quickly found myself more ashamed than ever!

I always dreaded when people would ask for my drink order, worried that people would notice my lack of alcohol and realize what I was.

I would make up elaborate lies to explain why I wasn’t drinking at social functions, instead of just simply saying, “No thanks” or “I don’t drink.” I always dreaded when people would ask for my drink order, worried that people would notice my lack of alcohol and realize what I was.

My experience isn’t unique, I’ve talked with many others in recovery who describe the same thing. But why? Why is a condition that’s been characterized by the American Medical Association as a disease since 1956 something we are scared to talk about? The answer … stigma.

The stigma of addiction is something that affects not only those of us in recovery, but our friends and families as well. When your neighbor’s daughter gets the flu, you might drop off some soup. When your aunt is diagnosed with cancer, you take over a casserole or offer to run errands for her. But when someone you love is dealing with addiction, even if they are getting help, it’s hard to know what to do! And a lot of this stems from the stigma.

When people get sick with other illnesses, it’s thought of as something that has happened to them. It’s sad and it’s unfortunate, but we don’t blame them. With addiction (and many other mental health issues) the blame is often placed squarely on the person suffering. Instead of compassion and assistance, addicts in recovery may have to face treatment in secret, in order not to scandalize themselves or those they love. The myth that addiction is a choice, something a person can fight if they are strong enough or have a good amount of willpower is extremely prevalent, and perpetuates the problem.

The people I’ve met on my recovery journey are some of the kindest, smartest, most creative people I’ve ever known. They are doctors and lawyers and artists and teachers and engineers and scientists and musicians … they are your neighbors and friends.

This idea is deadly for addicts. While there are many, many roads to recovery, almost all of them address the idea of shame and guilt, which can plague recovering addicts. For someone who is active in their addiction, they may already feel immensely ashamed of the things they’ve done while under the influence. I know I believed if I was just a better person, a better mother, a better wife, I would be able to control my issues with alcohol. But no matter how good I was, it never got better until I got help.

The people I’ve met on my recovery journey are some of the kindest, smartest, most creative people I’ve ever known. They are doctors and lawyers and artists and teachers and engineers and scientists and musicians … they are your neighbors and friends. Statistics tell us there are over 23 million people in recovery in the United States. And while there is still stigma, I feel like its hold on us is slowly diminishing. More and more people are becoming open about recovery, and the affect addiction has had on their lives. Those of us in long-term recovery are speaking out, unashamed! And why shouldn’t we be? We have overcome huge obstacles and done an incredible amount of hard work to get where we are!

It took me two years in recovery to open up to those in my life about what I was going through. TWO YEARS! And the saddest part is that in those two years I grew, learned and changed more than any other, but I wasn’t able to verbalize WHY, because I was afraid. It took me two years of group therapy, counseling, and help to figure out I was not ashamed to be a person in recovery. In fact, I am wildly proud of it! The journey through recovery has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I’m so grateful I’ve made it this far. I think recovery should be celebrated, not ostracized.

I can’t wait to see what happens in the recovery movement in the future. Just this past March, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 was passed in the U.S. Senate and is now headed to the House of Representatives for consideration. This bill will authorize the Attorney General to award grants to address the national epidemics of prescription opioid abuse and heroin use. This is HUGE. While there is still a stigma we all feel, it’s becoming more and more commonplace to talk openly about addiction as a significant health problem.

It took me two years in recovery to open up to those in my life about what I was going through. TWO YEARS!… It took me two years of group therapy, counseling, and help to figure out I was not ashamed to be a person in recovery. In fact, I am wildly proud of it!

When it comes to the issue of stigma, I feel like it’s only going to get better! When I “came out” publicly about my recovery and my struggles, I was almost exclusively met with support and love. Friends and family reached out to me to tell me how proud they were of what I had done. People I hadn’t spoken to in years sent notes of support. I was met with emails from people who I had no idea were in recovery simply saying “me too.” And the best part? The number of notes and messages I received from people who were still struggling. They were full of fear, but knowing there was someone else out there who understood made all the difference to them. Many reached out to me for support and to ask about resources to help them get sober.

That’s what it’s all about for me, and that’s why we have to stand up against the stigma of addiction. There are people out there suffering, alone, and afraid. I want them to be able to look up, see a friendly face, and know that there is a future for them. And it’s so bright, they are going to need sunglasses!


megan-petersMegan Peters is a blogger and photographer based in Kansas City, where she lives with her two kids, husband and recovery puppy. Megan is passionate about breaking the stigma of people with addiction, and writes about her experience as a young mom in long term recovery. You can read more about Megan on her website, www.crazybananas.com or contact her at megan@crazybananas.com.

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