In case you haven’t noticed, I can’t stand the stigma I’m supposed to carry around as a recovered addict. People expect me to steal from them, or pull out a gun, or maybe just smoke some crystal meth at the dinner table. But guess what, I haven’t been that guy for almost 10 years now, and chances are, I’m never going back there again.
I received the following addiction story from a reader, another recovered addict (from an eating disorder mostly) apparently sick and tired of the misconception. I’m publishing it here with very few changes, and though I’m including it in our Addiction Stories category, I’ve started a new category now and it’s called Anonymous No More. It’s my personal opinion that if more recovered addicts stood-up and told the world that their previously sordid lives are now full and complex, just as they are meant to be, we’d see a lot less of the kind of misjudged treatment Sarah is referring to. So thank you Sarah Henderson for being the first one up to bat on All About Addiction. And here’s to all those who are going to follow everywhere – There’s no doubt in my mind that when it comes to inspiration, addiction stories do as good a job as research-based education.
Anonymous No More: Inside Stigma – A Patient’s Perspective
Hi, my name is Sarah. I’m Anorexic, Bulimic, and a Cutter.
You could call me these things. But they wouldn’t be accurate. Because I am not these things, these labels. And I am not in recovery from these things.
I am recovered.
From those things, I am recovered. I am bipolar, which requires ongoing management. But you wouldn’t know it if I didn’t tell you. I am not the stereotype, I am not the crazy person we all think of, ranting and raving on some street corner. I am like anyone else, except I take a few pills before I brush my teeth in the morning.
I still catch flak all the time. For the taking meds, for going to therapy, for the eating disorder history, for the visible scars from years of cutting. People comment on them, I’ve lost jobs because of them. It’s like, what do you want? I used to cut myself. I don’t anymore. I used to starve and binge and purge. I don’t anymore. So eat lunch with me and stop looking at me like I’m going to vomit on the table any second. Deal with me as I am now, not as I was then.
And yes, I take medication for a chemical imbalance. Guess what? So do diabetics. Only their imbalance is in the pancreas, and mine is in my brain. That’s the difference that makes people freak. That’s where the stigma lies.
If you ask a poet, he’ll tell you the seat of the soul lies in the heart. If you ask a neurologist, he will rightly tell you that the seat of the soul lies in the brain. And anyone who’s ever experienced dementia will testify to that. It’s very possible to exist in your body without living in it. And it’s possible for the person you love to die long before their heart stops.
I believe that stigma comes from people’s instinctual knowledge that when you mess with the brain, you mess with the soul. It can be disturbing, it can be terrifying, it can be cruel. And most people just aren’t up for facing that. However, when you don’t face it, you also miss out on everything the other side has to offer: healing, resilience, clarity, and courage. And while they are some people who don’t come back from mental illness, the vast majority of us do. The other side is a beautiful place. And if you can get past the stigma, you can join us.
Closing “Addiction Stories” commentary from Adi
You’ll notice that Sarah considers herself a recovered addict. When it comes to my own drug use, I do the same, and I can tell you that there are quite a few people out there who strongly dislike it when I tell them that I think I’m done with my drug addiction. To me, this is all part of the same stigma equation – It doesn’t matter if others in recovery stigmatize you as having a problem for life or if the people doing it to you are ones who have never walked in your shoes. The bottom line is that I believe people can be “recovered” and though it probably doesn’t apply to everyone (nothing ever does), I think it likely applies to more people than you believe.
And that’s where working through the stigma is important, as we shed off the shackles of our current understanding and get to a clearing that is lighter and offers more freedom for each addict to use the tools that make the biggest difference for her. That way she can live her life after her recovery as she wishes with little judgment and consternation from those around her. And it shouldn’t matter if we’re talking about recovery from an eating disorder (like anorexia or bulimia), drug addiction, gambling, or sex addiction.
Doesn’t that sound nice?