Ask An Addict: On the sting of stigma

Ask an Addict is a column penned by a Kamloops scholar with expertise in addiction issues and someone who is also an addict. The column is meant to inform and help, which is particularly important as we remain mired in an opioid crisis that continues to claim thousands of lives each year. If you have a question you would like answered, email it to editor@kamloopsthisweek.com. Anonymity is guaranteed.

Stigma stings. I hide in the shadows because people judge me as evil. I am not evil or bad, only suffering and sick. 

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I meet others who think they hold no judgement toward people like me. I once held this same view. I believed I was nonjudgmental, pure in my thoughts.

I lectured, wrote about and cared for people who were similar to me: marginalized, ashamed and downtrodden.  

Stigma stings.  

People look down upon me; I hear their judgment and taste their disdain. In various medical, healthcare reports, I hear the sting of my shame. 

Like others, I thought I was 150 per cent OK in my actions, particularly toward those who had suffered. In my world, due to my experience, I believed I stood beside those who were hurt.

I was completely, absolutely 100 per cent wrong.  

I believe that what I believe becomes my thinking — my next level of thought. My thoughts then turn into actions and my actions into reality. 

I explore beliefs to find out what I will think. What I think is different from what I believe.

My beliefs arise from a deeper, often unconscious space.  In recovery, I uncover who I believe I am —not who you or I think, me to be.

Mind twisting, I know.

Stigma stings.

I recall two times — first with my doctor. 

She knows everything about me, I am honest with her. One day she allowed me to use her cellphone in her private, personal space. I was honoured, touched by this act. When my call ended, I sat waiting for her outside to finish up her work.

Suddenly she came into the hallway, asked me back into her office.  

 “I am sorry to do this to you, but can you open up your purse?” I grew afraid, what had I done? I opened and showed the contents to her. Nothing was found.

“I lost my triplicate prescription pad,” she said (the one doctors use to write controlled narcotics).  

I felt ashamed. I knew I had done nothing wrong yet I felt ashamed.  

Stigma stings.

Even now as I type, humiliation presses deep into my gut. 

She apologized after she found her prescription pad. I never stole or lied to her, ever. Yet her fear of addiction came out clearly to me.

Stigma, it stings.

The second instance reveals my own stigma to me.  A few years back, I hired a personal worker to help in my home. This person had been with me for two to three years. She knew my addiction story and one day decided to share her own history with me. In the past I had without question, left her alone in my house. 

I trusted her. She proceeded to tell me she was also an addict; once addicted to narcotic pills.

In that moment I faced me. I knew that everything was different. I could no longer trust her to be alone in my house. How horrible is that; she had done nothing to me. Yet here I was facing myself in her state of being.

Thus, if you think you are free from judgement, the evaluation of others, I ask you this: if your child or newborn was to be cared for by someone, would you allow an addict, an alcoholic in recovery, to do this for you? I think not. Therefore I throw out a challenge: to examine yourself and be true with your beliefs. After all, what we believe becomes reality and I want — no, I need — that to change.

© Kamloops This Week

 


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