Fighting The Social Stigma
I was quite astonished about how very few people actually know that April is the Alcohol Awareness Month.
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!
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may also find some great inspiration and support from all the awesome sober bloggers listed in the side bar under POSTS I LIKE and RECOVERY BLOGGERS, as well as Sober Courage page on Facebook and Sober Courage on Twitter.