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Breaking the Torture Behind Stigmas

Addict addiction alcoholic break dope fiend drunk hopeless junkie label meetings Recovery stigma

Last night I was having a conversation with my fiancee about the way people look at the world, at each other, and at themselves. We discussed, among other things, how I could find my way despite the stigmas that exist out there in the “real” world. I’ve always had this sort-of genuine look upon said world–which may be what makes it easier for me to share my story than others. And this isn’t to say that no one else has a genuine outlook, but some people–those who are able to share their stories–look at themselves (and the world looking back at them), a little differently than I do.

I realize that many people are ashamed to tell their stories, but I’ve always had a deep-seeded desire–no, a need–to understand others, to tell my story, to share my burdens. I remember walking into meetings–when I first got clean–and asking, “Why do I need to say I’m an addict?” and many people would tell me things like, “You don’t sound like you’re ready to surrender,” or “Admitting you have a problem is the first step.” But the problem for me was that I had this genuine way of looking at myself. I never had a true sense of how everyone else was looking at me because I wasn’t a “normie.” I was looking at myself (in early recovery) as the same little boy dressing up in a Peter Pan costume for his grandmother as a child. This is where my mind wanted to return to during my entire addiction–my innocence. I was stuck, fixated on that. So, I was compelled to ask everyone else why I needed to admit I was an addict… not because I thought I wasn’t, but because I didn’t know what made me one. I was stuck in the “genuine” mindset, not ready to admit my faults. And in the meantime, the whole world outside my box was hurling their stigma my way:

Dope fiend
Horrible person

And yes, I’ve been called all of these things. But my issue was that I needed to share my story—and all the horrible things I’d done—so I could understand why people viewed me in this way. Why was I the target of mental and psychological abuse? Why was I being stigmatized? I know the truth of the matter was that people saying these names didn’t know either. It was more or less of a process of normalization, given to us by the society we’d grown up in. Hurt people hurt others; and that is where the problem continues to grow and grow. I viewed myself as someone in need of help, that is for certain. But I didn’t look at myself as someone who was hateful. I couldn’t hurt a fly–although in the midst of my addiction I’d robbed people and places, taken things of more than just material objects. I robbed people of their dignity as well. So what was fueling the hate that I was getting in response to getting clean? Hate begets hate. But, I always thought… Aren’t I just a person? But to many people I wasn’t a person, I was an insatiable monster.

If I ever started to believe that I was any of those things, I was doomed. I was not just a shooter or a dope fiend, although some of my more mischievous behavior did classify me in that category. The fact of the matter was that I was much more than that. I’d always had a sense of goodness buried deep inside. But the problem with stigmas is that they can become more than words if you believe in them yourself. Other people can call you names and present hurtful attitudes, but you must always retain the righteous part of yourself. Especially in early recovery; you mustn't let these types of words and behaviors give you a different sense of belief in yourself. The truth is simple: what brought us to places like meetings is that we wanted to change. We wanted to be better. The goodness was there all along, hidden, waiting to be retrieved. This is where many places stress self-examination and step-by-step working processes. They help you regain a sense of yourself that defies these labels… and these labels are not a necessity in this world, and many are trying to rid the world of them altogether! But we may never rid the world of selfish, hurtful behavior; but we can grant it selfless, helpful behavior.

By keeping a sense of positive reinforcement within ourselves and viewing ourselves the way we WANT to be viewed and not the way others want us to be viewed, we will defeat the self-fulfilling prophecy, eventually break all stigmas, and hopefully dampen the cycle of addiction. The place to start with when it comes to stigmas is the belief in ourselves. We must always want to question everything, that is our inherent right as humans of subjectivity on this earth. “Why do you think I’m a junkie?” or “Why am I an addict to you?” This is a part of many step-by-step programs, but they don’t come out and say it, they want you to discover your place for yourself, and that is where I say bah-humbug! You should always be able to question things, so you can understand how others view you, how you view yourself, and where you need to go from that point onward. That is why questioning these affirmations may be the one essential key to believing in ourselves, creating a program of understanding that gets US clean. That’s why we’re here; to break the perpetual cycle of addictions and stigmas! Now, this is done with a firm grasp of what most call “the obvious.” I call it “one way looking-glass,” mind you, not the looking-glass as coined by early sociologists (we think of ourselves as being what others think of us). We want to gain a two-way mirror. We don’t want to be stuck in this cage of stigmas with everyone else looking in. We must be able to see out as well. We need to create a two-way system, by believing in ourselves from the very beginning. If we stop the system of negativity and bullying, we may stop passing stigma from person to person, and thereafter, culture to culture. We may become a better society, just by one person saying, “I can do this. I am worth it. I believe in myself.” Isn’t that the point of recovery? Isn’t that the point of breaking the stigma? Because if I’ve learned anything about addicts, it’s that you are worth it.

Break the stigma, speak out for others, and for yourself. This is the best advice I can give you for getting from where I was–rock bottom–to happy, healthy, and successful. The key of breaking through and changing for the better is to simply believe you are better. Live with the genuine person’s mindset. Don’t just think about positive actions, be a positive person. Ask questions, be the answer to questions, learn as much as you can, and help others. Be your own voice. YOU CAN DO IT!

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