Stigma- how can we talk more about addiction and mental health

This is a HUGE topic, and not one that I can do full justice to in one post. If it is OK with you I will revisit this topic as I progress through my recovery journey to see if my thoughts have changed or developed.

So- what is stigma?

Since admitting my alcoholism, I have experienced the emotional fall out from social stigma. I hid my addiction well, and so only my closest family and my husband really knew the extent of my drinking. They have not stigmatised me at all, and have been nothing but supportive of my efforts to become well. I also told my closest friends, and again, the response was positive. I feel that the main person who stigmatises me is actually me.

The idea of telling the wider world, acquaintances, or work colleagues makes me feel physically sick. The shame I feel over my behaviour and the preconceptions that I know most people have about addiction stop me from being able to be honest about my mental health with the wider world. Shame is such a powerful emotional driver, and I tend to catastrophise what might happen if people found out. In truth I suspect that many people would be supportive, but at this stage in my recovery it is not a chance I am willing to take, I want to be more secure in my progress before I have to explain my disease to others and challenge stereotypes that inform and feed the stigma monster.

I am not wholly defined by my addiction, I exist, and I will not let stigma define me.

Well, that the idea anyway. alongside shame the other emotion which is fed by social stigma is guilt. I am early in my recovery journey, and guilt has stopped me from taking ownership of my illness. I have found the only way to combat this has to be to be honest with people. When I first sat down to explain to my children what was happening in my life, I told them that I had been drinking too much wine and I was going to try and stop to spend more time with them and pay them more attention, their response surprised me, they said, ‘That’s brilliant, well done Mummy,’ and then skipped off. A direct and honest approach gave me back some control and ownership over the direction my life was changing, something that had been sorely lacking when I was drinking,

I k ow that children tend to be more forgiving than adults, but I have found it very liberating to be able to talk about my disease and not feel swamped with shame and guilt. I am still working on ways of taking this into my everyday life. For the time being I found this image helpful:

So fighting shame and guilt is where I am at today. Sober for 24 days and doing some top level adulting! I wish these stickers really existed, I would so buy them.

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