Overcoming addiction is a challenge in itself. Battling the stigma of addiction is an entirely separate—and potentially rough—battle. How can a recovering addict get through their day-to-day life without letting the stigma get the better of them?
It’s an Illness Not a Character Issue
If a person had surgery on their hip, they wouldn’t have a problem telling those in their life about the procedure. No one would whisper, “So and so is going to get their hip fixed (gasp).” So, why is there a stigma when we talk about getting treatment for addiction?
According to Dr. Richard Juman, a renowned psychologist and healthcare consultant, the answer is: health professionals don’t recognize addiction as a disease. By not labeling the obsessive patterns of addiction as an illness, the healthcare industry inadvertently created a public opinion that substance abuse is a matter of choice.
Today, the medical industry’s understanding of addiction and addiction-related conditions is based on neurology and physiology. But that doesn’t mean the social stigma has gone away.
Where Have You Been? To Speak or Not To Speak
One of the most difficult things you might have to do in your recovery process is telling your friends, family, and co-workers about your addiction. How do you go about doing that? This step can be particularly challenging because the behavior you demonstrated while under the influence likely upset or caused pain among the people you’re telling. “Disease versus character issue” doesn’t matter to someone holding a grudge over years of hurt.
Nonetheless, sharing your addiction story and—sometimes more importantly—your desire to seek help can be the first step in the healing process for you and the people you’ve hurt. It may even translate to support because they feel now you are both on the same team: one that wants you to get and/or stay clean and sober.
If you’re worried about your anonymity throughout the process, you can certainly ask the people you tell to keep things confidential. Your addiction is a medical condition, and you have rights to protect that information.
Less Is More
One thing to keep in mind when telling those in your life about your addiction: You don’t have to share all the details.
However, you need to make sure you cover the following:
· Be honest and open that you’re an addict and are seeking professional help.
· Express the reasons you are seeking help.
· Accept responsibility for your actions and acknowledge that you understand you may have hurt people along the way.
· Let them know that recovery is a journey and not an overnight process.
· Commit to being honest and to keeping open the lines of communication.
· Express that you’re excited and look forward to being substance-free.
If you need to explain your situation to children, make sure that you answer their questions at a level they can understand. It is also helpful if you establish people in your life that children can go to as a “support system” if they have questions. Finally, explain that your addiction is an illness and not just a bad habit.
The Stigma and Yourself
There are going to be days where explaining your addiction and battling the stigma causes internal turmoil. It’s okay to feel discouraged during your recovery and have negative feelings toward your disease. Here are some things you can do to help stay the course of recovery and feel better about yourself:
· Educate Others. People can form opinions based on ignorance as easily as they form opinions based on facts. Combat that by educating others about the science of addiction. Hopefully, the facts will help them understand the matter better.
· Be Nice to Yourself. Think about how you would speak to someone you love who is sick. Talk to yourself in the same loving, nurturing tone. When you treat yourself with kindness and respect, others follow suit.
· Surround Yourself with the Right People. Surround yourself with individuals who can help you combat addiction and people who support sobriety. These individuals may be family or friends, people you met in a recovery support group, or individuals you know from a therapy group.
· Break the Silence: Talk openly about your addiction and recovery with as much confidence as possible. Sharing your story with people will empower you in sobriety, and it could be what empowers someone else to get help, too.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, let The Walker Center help.