Fighting The Social Stigma Against Alcoholism

I was quite astonished about how very few people actually know that April is the Alcohol Awareness Month.
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By the way did you know that April is also the Jazz Appreciation Month, National Poetry Month, Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, Confederate History Month, National Arab American Heritage Month, National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month! (from Wkipedia.) Yes it is! And where do we alcoholics fit in here? Well here is the thing.

Sometimes I am so closed-minded, all I see is my “disease” and how I think that my “disease” doesn’t get enough attention, but in reality, I am not the only one with a cause. Strangely enough (or maybe not), this all had brought me to my own thoughts and feelings about the stigma associated with alcohol and/or drug abuse.

I believe, that still in this year, stigmas of many kinds are all around us. And although addiction is a disease of the brain (NCAAD), and this is now a scientifically proven fact, the view of alcohol and drug addiction as a weakness and a moral failing is still very deep-rooted in our society. When the subject arises it is not uncommon to hear things like ‘what an alchie, ‘damn looser’ or ‘just another junkie.’ These words hurt! But yet, we are not the only group that has been stigmatized. There are all kinds of people all over the world that are disgraced because of their association to a particular circumstance.
I also believe that the worst kind of stigma is the one we actually place on ourselves. Here we are not able to have control over our intake of a substance that to most people, is just a leisurely cocktail drank with dinner! Then we try to get sober and we find that our addiction has us wrapped up so tightly that sometimes 24 hours without our favorite elixir is quite unmanageable and we relapse. Then we come to the devastating conclusion that we have now failed not once, but twice!

And what about our own image of the alcoholic? For instance, I grew up hating my bio mom because she was an alcoholic. I remember the kitchen counters filled with empty bottles and her lying in bed half awake. Sometimes she slept for days and sometimes she was just gone for days. My entire family hated her and that was my image of an alcoholic!

Then, as I came into sobriety, I struggled with my shame and guilt over the tremendous wreckage that I have left behind while drinking. Now, I am not only afraid of what others might think, but I also have a hard time believing that under the influence I had become the person that I have never intend to!

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Just like “normal” people, I often cannot comprehend how powerful addiction is, and I find myself puzzled by its controlling nature. I know that if I was not under the influence of alcoholism I would have never come to a point where my child would end up in foster care because I was an unfit mother. This doesn’t make any sense to me either – how could I have chosen alcohol over my child!? A “normal” person would have never found themselves in this situation and if they did, they would, at that moment, quit drinking, cold turkey. But not me. I drank another 4 years and despite also racking up several trips to detox, five days in jail, rehab and a trip to the mental ward, I still could not stop drinking. Was this my choice? No, it was not! Did I want to quit? Hell yeah! Every. Single. Day. I swore that I would never, ever drink again; and Every. Single. Day. I drank again.

Then after a little time in sobriety, all of the sudden I realized that recovery is not just putting down the drink! It is also lots of work, and it takes time – lots of time. And then I start getting better and flourishing, and I wanted to tell everyone how great this is! But now I am worried about the stigma associated with alcoholism, because if I tell people that I am sober than I am admitting that I had a problem. Here I find that my own fears about sharing this with others have me now imprisoned.

But why the hell should I be ashamed of recovery! I should be able to shout about it from the roof tops if we want too! We all long for acceptance from our family, our friend and the society. We all want to share to amazing changes in our lives yet we cannot share those without mentioning our struggles with alcohol. Many of us do struggle for a long time. Often we relapse several times before we “get it” and for this reason, I believe, some anonymity especially in early recovery is an important foundation to getting better. We are so fragile in the early stages, that keeping within our own circles and surrounded by people who get us is crucial. Imagine telling all your friends that you’re getting sober and it’s the best thing ever. Then you relapse and your life goes to shambles and you disappear. And what if that happens more than once. The guilt and the shame that we place on ourselves is often so huge that having to face others after a relapse may turn out to be detrimental to our pursuit for sobriety. For this reason alone many just never return. It is just too hard to have to be dealing with the inability to drink normal and then not being able to get sober. This alone keeps many alcoholics from ever seeking help.

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So, I have gone thru my own struggles with dropping my alcoholic stigma and wanting to shout from the roof tops about this amazing life that I am living in recovery. I want to share it with others so that they will be more open to getting help! I want to break the stigma and change how people view this damn disease! I want to change my own perceptions and beliefs that I have carried for most of my life! Of course now after few years in sobriety, I am a bit more confident and I believe that it’s OK to tell anyone I want! Although I do worry some times because I am not immune to relapse, and will have to be ready to deal with the fallout if one happens. However often I am thinking that I am courageous and I think that I have no problem saying – Here I am, the face of recovery, I still worry about the stigma too!

At the same time, I have been more and more open, posting about alcoholism on Facebook and Tweeter and using my real name. I have even added an actual picture of me as my blog avatar. I have done lots of research, I talked to many people, and I read lots of crap on social media with mixed reviews. Then I even got angry and resentful – who the hell are those people out there, oh it’s so easy to spew out bullshit when you are hiding behind an avatar and a “funny” name. I even got all wrapped up about the fight to end the stigma and got involved in many heavy discussions on the disease vs morality issue of alcoholism, each time coming at with my fists ready! And yet, I still have some hesitations, who am I actually trying to help?

Then after reading a very powerful post on And Everything Afterwards called Stigma, secrecy and sobriety , I had come to a realization. Just like those “normal” people who don’t get my disease, I also don’t know what it’s like to be autistic, or have cancer, or a disfigurement. I have no clue what that’s like whatsoever, and I have no clue what those people have gone thru and continue to go thru on daily basis.

I can only be compassionate and caring.

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Therefore, instead of getting angry at the world, who is coming out of their ignorance, about many things, a bit too slowly for my liking, I am finally seeing that my energy is better spent not trying to convince the world about how wrong it is, but in openly sharing my recovery experience, strength and hope with the world, and helping the next suffering alcoholic.


If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with alcohol addiction, please click the Find Support link for an extensive list of support groups. Also please check out the links to many useful resources in the sidebar, and always feel free to contact me anytime at sobercourage@gmail.com.

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16 Comments Add yours

  1. mishedup says:

    love this, your words are so powerful. The way you show up as YOU, picture, name, everything is awesome.
    I love that “our energy is better spent in not showing the world how wrong it is”…kind of like a bad relationship, right? They don’t change.
    However, the alcoholic, still suffering. who reads your words,who I can stick my hand out to…there is where the work is to be done, there is where we can make change.
    Reminds me of the “think globally, act locally” saying….so true tho. I believe one day the stigma will be gone, but it’s a person at a time. When I talk with other recovering alcoholics, and in my own situation…I had that perception too. It was my shame that kept me in the stigma. Staying sober over time, learning new coping and living mechanisms, have loosened the shame and opened my eyes to the stigma. I can get pissed off too, but my energy is better spent helping the next person recover and being honest about my own alcoholism. Small steps that i truly believe will lead to a bigger revolution.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mishedup! Thank you so much. I love think globally, act locally! Very cool. Yep I got mad so many times, especially when reading stuff on social media. Ugh. And then I have had those moments like wanting to complain to WordPress, so crazy, that would have gotten me no where good I am sure. In the end it’s all about how I show recovery by my own actions, that I might change someone’s mind, or help someone wanting to get sober. We accomplish nothing by fighting, we just get more people pissed off. I think attraction rather than promotion is the key. Small steps for sure but if each one of us takes even one, the change can happen!

      Thanks for the great comment. Hugs.

      Like

  2. Hey Maggie, such a powerful post!

    I loved it, but want to also point out a couple things. Just because one country recognizes a certain cause in a certain month, other countries may not. I was surprised when my friend Liz, who was featured on the autism spotlight, said that it was not Autism Awareness month in the UK where she lives. She too is an alcoholic in recovery, and said she is aware of alcoholism and autism every single day. I thought that was an interesting take.

    Also, don’t be too upset with WordPress. 😉 They have done some amazing work behind the scenes to increase addiction awareness increasingly so over the last year. Nearly every week they feature a post on addiction, alcoholism or recovery on their editors’ picks Freshly Pressed feature. They even picked a recovery piece as an editor pick for 2013, and they featured a recovery blogger just in January in a one on one interview. 😉

    We’re working to make it alcohol awareness day–every single day. I’m biased, maybe, but I’m really really proud of the efforts WordPress has made.

    Keep shining strong, Maggie! ❤
    love, Christy

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    1. Oh, no, I was trying to show how crazy my thinking was about this the whole awareness month thing, I guess it didn’t come thru that way. I was trying to say that sometimes I am so closed minded, all I see is my “disease” and how I think that my ” disease” doesn’t get enough attention, but in reality, I am not the only one with a cause – maybe I’ll add that line. So that was not my intent at all to be against WordPress. I was trying to show how selfish my thinking really was! And I love the Autism piece, that’s why I linked it here.

      Thank you Christy! I always love seeing your comments and I appreciate the input. Sending many hugs!

      Like

      1. Oh I know, Maggie, I didn’t take it any bad way. It’s all good! I just didn’t know if you knew some of those things. I definitely think focusing on action vs resentment is right… But if I could help remove any possible resentment or misunderstandings, I wanted to try. 🙂 sounds like we’re both working for the same things! xo

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        1. Yes we are! Thank you! 😀

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  3. I love that quote at the top about being the change we want to see in the world. I like how you were able to switch your attitude and turn your thoughts around! If I’m honest, I have a hard time putting myself in other people’s shoes sometimes and I think the world revolves around my issues but like you said, that’s our alcoholic mind. Lovely post, Maggie!

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    1. Hi Karen! I love that quote too. I remember seeing it way back and wondering, how does that work? Then I was writing this up and I thought, oh my, now I get it! Lol!

      And me too, I think I am the only one dealing with crap, then come to find out that I am just like her, and him and them! I too have hard time relating, because I think that no one understands. I I think that is true to an extend. But I can still show support.

      Thanks Karen! Hugs!

      Like

  4. momma bee says:

    Great post Maggie- I hope too one day to shout from the roof tops how great sobriety is….. It’s a shame there is a stigma bc I think so many more people would get help faster instead of later or never. Just maybe all of our oil blogs are helping more and more. I know I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for many of the bloggers I have met 🙂

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    1. Hi Momma Bee! This is so true too, its is probably why it took me so long! The last thing in the world I ever wanted to be is an alcoholic! Ugh. But you know it really is not the worst thing at all~!

      Like

  5. Very powerful stuff, Maggie. I am proud to “know” you, and aspire to be as brave as you!

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    1. Thank you Josie! I am proud to know you too, your service is amazing! Keep up the good work inspiring and leading by example. Hugs!

      Like

  6. PurplesShade says:

    This is a really emotive post, and I really like the message. Stigma is definitely something that I think can hold people back, and this is certainly the reason why it’s very important for all of us to speak about our causes, because they all need awareness and attention.
    I personally consider blogging on sobriety and alcoholism to be a lot like blogging on mental health issues in general. Perhaps it’s just because I learned about he issue from my parents who were both interested in psychology and each had one alcoholic parent themselves. So they empathized with their parent, and recognized that the alcoholism, though it wasn’t healthy that it was an expression of their own mental health struggles.
    It may also be just because I think all people deserve empathy, and to be humanized; even when someone is not making good choices for themself, that does not reduce or remove their humanity, it simply means they need help.

    Glad to know all the different causes which are associated with April, and I think it’s perfectly natural to want your own cause included and brought attention.
    For me, because I follow neurodiversity-positive blogs I think of April as “Autism Acceptance” month, because many bloggers who are autistic feel as though awareness is not really as good a goal as acceptance of their varied neurology as okay. Reducing stigma directly through acceptance that there isn’t only one right way to be, and that being autistic is not a bad thing. 🙂

    As I said earlier though, all of us need to try to reduce stigma and the best way to do that is to keep talkin’. 😀

    Like

    1. Hi, thank you for this lovely comment. You have hit on the two key elements, empathy and acceptance – we are so alike in many ways and we are all human.
      Stigma is usually based on fear and lack of knowledge. And unlike many diseases alcoholism/addiction is still viewed as a choice, and although I chose to drink in the beginning, like so many others do, once I was addicted I had no choice. This is why we see alcoholic/addicts lose jobs, homes and families, yet often they are unable to stop; the addiction is so powerful that even though we know it can inevitably kills us, we continue to do it.

      The world is big and I think stigma has no place for any of us. We should all support each other and be empathetic. The circumstances maybe be different but the feelings behind them, are very much alike.  Thank you for spreading the acceptance, the empathy and the knowledge. Hugs!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Mark Goodson says:

    This stigma has been on my mind a lot recently Magz. I really didn’t think about it until I got blogging and on social media when I realized it is all the talk, so to speak. I am very proud of my recovery. But I’m also one who doesn’t broadcast much about it. I teach. I’d rather avoid the discussion of being alcoholic with the parents of the kids I teach, and the administration at my school. I can have the conversation, certainly. But I’d rather just show them the man I am today, not dwell on the man I used to be.
    I don’t know. I suppose ‘stigma’ should change. But then again, I did some awful things in my addiction. Awful things. Nothing I’m proud of. There is a reason ‘addicts’ have this stigma to begin with, isn’t there? I’ve been struggling with what you brought up in this post, so I thought I’d let you know where I’m at with it all. It’s always good to get thinking about it.
    Mark

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stigma should change. We are not moral failings. We are good people who are/were sick. That’s a big difference. Oh this can be an hour or a few hours long discussion for sure. LOL. Everyone is different and it’s definitely a personal choice. But I do believe that we feel that we would be judged negatively if we just tell people. Yes I did horrible things too but that was part of my addiction and not part of me. And I don’t shout from the roof tops that I am sober either. And I didn’t exactly just announce it to my boss or our clients out of the blue. For me there was a need to say it so I could be held accountable during company events that involved drinking. I actually felt more comfortable when everyone knew than when trying to hide it. That’s what it does for me. It lets me be me. The other part is that being open can do as far as help others – and that to me is huge. I’ve been able to help more people just because I was open about my recovery and my struggle with alcoholism. After all, everyone knows someone. So that is really where it is for me, being me and helping others.

      It seems complex in some ways but then it’s not really. The important part is to do what’s right for you. That’s really what matters in the end. 

      Thanks for this great comment Mark!

      Liked by 1 person

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