From Rock Bottom, to Stigmatized, to Accepted

When my life reached rock bottom, there was nowhere to go but up. Alcohol and prescription drug abuse had left me in a desolate, unhealthy place. Divorced and without custody of my son, I felt that only death could be worse.

This was me, a true alcoholic and drug addict.  I can see in my mind’s eye the homeless person, tattered and dirty, clutching a brown paper bag with a bottle inside. Staggering down the street, searching for a spot to pass out; I have a difficult time with this image.

Stigma is when someone views another in a negative way because that person has a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that’s thought to be, or actually is, a disadvantage.

Unfortunately, negative attitudes toward people who have addictions are common. As you’re probably well aware of, this stereotype can prevent alcoholics from seeking the help they need.

I certainly felt this stigma as I thought about attending Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Raised in a wealthy environment and pretty much ignorant of the addiction community, I was quite sure that I would be uncomfortable at these meetings.

Lo and behold, I did not see a room full of misfits; I saw women and men of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Diversified in race, creed, gender and age. I was surprised, yet delighted as I took a seat at my first meeting.

As time went by, I met a priest, several physicians, lawyers, an actor and a CEO of a large corporation. These people fit in comfortably with all their fellow chemical abuser and I soon felt at home.

Referring again to my ignorance, I will state that these professionals were no more intelligent, likeable, or kind than any others. We all do put our pants on one leg at a time! Shame on me.

Sobriety was soon my focus and as the years went by, I too had to wrestle with stigmas. Of course, I did not go about wearing a t-shirt announcing my issue, but after getting to know people in my community, I was able to tell many that I was in recovery. Interestingly, the majority of the folks that I revealed my plight with praised my sobriety and many even told me a story about their sober friend or family member.

I recall telling a neighbor whom I share a friendship with that I was an addict. He responded by saying, “I am too. Would you like some coffee and cake?”

I believe that our society is gradually accepting and understanding of those who carried the proverbial “monkey on their backs,” and that this stigma is decreasing. Learning that every person wrestles with conflict of some kind is the first step in this process.

Having written the above, I would like to close with one final thought: we haven’t the ethical or moral right to take others down with us due to our disease. Let’s be proactive and fight the remaining stigma with responsible behaviors.

Author, James MacDonald entitled his book, “Lord Change My Attitude Before It’s Too Late.” Good words for our prayers.

Author: Katie H. is a writer, recovering addict, and mother based in Connecticut.