Stigma and Addiction

I wrote this on a day when I was struggling. I was hurting for a friend who was slowly dying because they were refusing to reach out for help for fear of what their family and friends might think if they admitted they were addicted. My heart was breaking and I was sad. When I am sad, I write. Writing helps me so much in my recovery.

Vulnerability is beautiful. It’s a closed mind that can cause silent pain and suffering.

Today was a bad day. I couldn’t escape active addiction. I tried, but it was everywhere. I am not talking about my own. By the grace of God I haven’t picked up in years, but when you actively participate in your recovery and are involved in service work in the community, you bear witness to the horrors of addiction every single day.

When I talk about my recovery, I usually talk about the positive things that have happened in my life since I took my last drink or the things that have inspired me to want to help others. I often share about my rock bottom and talk about what I did to pull myself up. I talk about how grateful I am for the women in my life, the ones who held me up when I couldn’t stand on my own.

But there is something else you should know. Recovery is still hard work, no matter how much distance comes between who we were and who we are today. We don’t just put down the substance and suddenly our lives are perfect. We still face adversity, we still have financial hardships and relationship troubles. We are not immune to crises. Tragedy still strikes us unexpectedly, and sometimes it’s enough to knock a recovering person off of their feet. While we are learning to navigate life on life’s terms, the one thing that is impossible to ignore, is the fact that addicts are dying every single day.

Most people my age are going to more concerts than funerals. Most people my age are receiving wedding invitations, not cutting obituaries out of newspapers.

I’m so tired of losing people to this disease. I am so tired of the stigma. I am so tired of people losing a battle that could have been won had they just had the proper resources made available to them. I am tired of seeing young people sent to prison before even being introduced to recovery. I am tired of insurance companies denying treatment. I am tired of politicians making promises they don’t intend to keep. I am tired of listening to ordinary people crack jokes about addiction or shame those who suffer from it in every day conversations.

“My kid would never do that.”  — I hope you are right.

“They are just a bunch of junkies. Who cares?”  –– I care.

“They should have known better!” — That’s debatable.

I want to scream at them, “Well you know what? So should you. Society should know better!”

I am exhausted and I have an emotional hangover. And yes, that is a thing. Maybe I am hungry, or lonely, or maybe I am just overwhelmed because I read more articles about people dying from addiction, than recovering: and I want to change that. I want to scream from the tallest building, “Look at me. I made it! I am doing it and so can you, because you are worth it! You, yes you! I know your despair, because I lived there too. Come, take a walk with me. Tell me your fears. And I will do whatever is in my power to introduce you to this new way of life.”

In reality, I understand that I cannot save another addict, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t still want to.

It’s easy to sit behind a computer and rattle off heartless comments, but I have to imagine that the people spewing insensitivities would have a difficult time saying those words to the face of an inconsolable parent or a now parentless child. I have to believe that even the most narrow minded person would have to have just a shred of compassion when met with the overwhelming loss one persons life can have on an entire community. I have to believe that, or I would be no different  than those people tapping away at their keyboards.

In recovery, I have been faced with death more often than I care to admit. I don’t talk about it often. Maybe it’s because it hurts too much, maybe it’s because I recognize that I only have a daily reprieve and that terrifies me. Or maybe, it’s because I feel a sting of guilt run through my body every time I read about another addict or alcoholic who died from their disease. Why them and not me? Why was I given another chance, when I know so many people who wanted it just as badly as I did?

Whether I was close to the person who passed away or not, I mourn their loss just as I would a close friend. Because no matter what the circumstances are, it is tragic. Another child lost too soon, another empty chair in the rooms, another child left without a parent and countless broken hearts.

I don’t avoid the funerals. Recovery has taught me to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I gather with the women in my life and we show up. We show up, because that is what we do in recovery. We show the family members, that even though we cannot even begin to comprehend their pain, we still feel their child’s absence. We grieve with them, we remember with them and we remind them their child was loved, that their life mattered and they will not be forgotten. I can sometimes feel their pain radiating off of them and burning into my skin. It’s enough to break a person’s heart in half. I could give one half of my heart to the person who was taken from us, and the other half to the parents who now have to face the unimaginable reality of losing a child.

I have found that my reaction to death is no longer what one might consider “normal”. When I first came into recovery, every time I heard of a death in the community I couldn’t stop the tears. Today, it seems, that I have returned to that numb feeling of hopelessness. The tears rarely come…even when I wish that they would. I get frustrated and ask myself, “Isn’t anyone finding recovering anymore?!?”

No, I no longer have a normal reaction to death.

Believe me, I understand how the disease of addiction looks from the outside. We look perfectly normal, until we start to self-destruct. I feel like the people who refuse to acknowledge addiction as a disease have never experienced the pain of watching someone they love throw away everything that makes them who they are. Maybe they have. Maybe they are heartbroken, or maybe they are incredibly angry thinking that their loved one just isn’t strong enough, not realizing it has nothing to do with willpower.

Addiction might not look like a disease, but neither does heart disease or diabetes.

I understand that there are those who will never believe addiction is a disease. And that is OK! My purpose in life is not to change the minds of those who disagree with me, or those who disagree with medical diagnosis for that matter, but I am a sensitive person by nature. Just because I understand it, doesn’t mean that I have built some impenetrable wall around me where the words of others don’t still hurt like hell sometimes. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still find myself reading insulting comments on the internet and feeling that they are somehow directed towards me. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t moments,  however brief, that I don’t still question my own decisions as a moral failing. And then I get angry at those people for making me feel this way – for making me question everything I have worked so hard to overcome.

When I start to feel this way, I’ve learned to tell on myself. I tell on myself all of the time to other recovering people, because just as the disease of addiction doesn’t make sense, neither does recovery. It doesn’t make sense to me that doctors tried to help me for years, but the only cure I found was the conversations I had with other recovering women. Women who showed me mercy, instead of condemnation. Men and women who knew that there wasn’t a single pill in this entire world that could fix me.

I used to read so many books about the disease of addiction. I thought if I could just dissect the disease and understand all of the ins and outs of my addict brain, I would never relapse again. I was trying to intellectualize a disease that hardly makes sense to a medical professional, let alone a person who is in it’s grip. I had such an ego. I really thought I was smarter than my illness, as if knowledge would deter my addiction from destroying my life.

If I have learned one thing throughout my recovery journey, it’s that all of the knowledge in the world cannot save a person from that first drink or drug.

I knew exactly what I was doing to my body, but it got to a point where I didn’t care anymore. Today I know that as I sit here writing this, there has undoubtedly been another addict who has lost their battle to this disease. Someone who had a bright future once with life full of love and laughter. At this moment, another family is left to pick up the pieces and a community shaken by the “silent epidemic” caused by….you guessed it! Stigma!

I refuse to let anyone stifle my voice today, because  I worked so hard to regain it. I am proud of my recovery and of the woman I have become. I worked hard to rebuild my life, and I continue to do so every single day. My struggle, and my courage, are what make me who I am.

I am compassionate, honest and fierce. I am a woman who has fought the battle of a lifetime and persevered. I am a woman who is still in the process of healing, and a woman who understands that a person can be both heartbroken and grateful at the same time.

Sometimes I am a woman who just  needs to vent, and I know that’s ok today, because I feel so much better now…




9 thoughts on “Stigma and Addiction

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  1. A truth too is that when one chooses to share their experience, strength, and hope in life, one is going to rub shoulders more and be directly engaged with the individuals actively practicing their addictions. Were one to choose sitting behind a computer screen and taking potshots at the world, one could live in an ignorance is bliss world. Congratulations for choosing the former and not the latter.

    Coincidental to your post, yesterday I got a copy of A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives by Thupten Jinpa who is the chief translator for The Dalai Lama. The book is a text that will be used in an 8-week cultivating compassion course I have enrolled in. Part of what attracted me to this course offering is that a component focuses on compassion toward self.

    Like in addiction recovery, innovative programs have taken root here in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina where those who worked for years in that recovery effort found that they became compassioned out, as it were, until they also included a strong dose of self compassion in the equation.

    Peace to you,


  2. Yeah, I’m perfectly fine with the stigma. I earned every bit with my actions and I’m thankful I got what I got and not what I deserved.

    You’ll get over your anger in time. You’ll come to find it does you know good playing Don Quixote to the stigma. Don’t sweat it, sister. Let the whirling dervishes whirl… and don’t be one.


    1. I agree I did my part in breaking down relationships, but I also found that I didn’t ask for help for a long time because of the stigma.

      Most days, it doesn’t bother me. I can brush it off. I can take responsibility for my actions today, but there was a time when I couldn’t. I wrote this on a day where I was hurting for a friend who refused to get help because of fear of what their family and friends would think. It’s heartbreaking watching someone die when all they need to do is reach out for help.

      I love what you said, ” Let the whirling dervishes whirl… and don’t be one.” I am saving that one! 🙂

      Thanks for reading and for commenting! You are the best!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for speaking out. I’m in recovery – clean for over thirty years so I guess that’s what it’s called. I cannot begin to understand anyone else’s bottom that led them to stop. I sure can understand the withdrawal stage and the stigmatization that attaches. I hid everything possible so I was a chicken and did not help others as you do. Thank you for being brave, not holding back and stepping forward.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing! Congratulations on 30 years of recovery! You may not help people in a service work type of way, but I am sure by not using drugs and alcohol all of these years you have helped many recognize that drugs and alcohol are not a necessary component of living a good life. I am proud of you. I can only hope to be able to say I have 30 years of recovery someday. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Recovery from addiction is a daily battle. Isolating from recovery and being lazy in my program is a major issue for me. Having an open and a beginners mind and to be accountable helps stay sober in my addictions. My recent relapse has occurred as I chose to isolate away from my recovery. I am grateful and blessed if any members get help and inspiration from my advice and shares. Thank you for sharing V. Look after yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

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