Sometimes words do not adequately address how I think and feel about a concept. Stigma is one of the words that I struggle with. When I think of stigma my mind replays some of the most difficult moments in my life and in an instant I re-feel all of the old feelings of hurt, pain, self-hatred, shame, and hopelessness. You see stigma eats away at you over the course of your life slowly chipping away at you, force feeding you the stereotypes and characteristics that society has deemed you possess. For years I allowed others to dictate how I felt about myself and when I am feeling low I still allow others to define me—even when I totally know better. Stigma is killing people. Stigma is killing me. I work to overcome the hurdles and obstacles that are in front of me and find time and again that the hurdles are not there to ensure the wellness of the person in question, rather they are there to keep you from ever getting out of the ditch.
Stigma is powerful and often produces the following: Fear, mistrust and violence against people who use drugs. Many times family and friends turn their backs on people struggling with substance misuse. In fact, the often are told they must turn their backs or they will be enabling the person. I would argue if a person is struggling with substance use issues/ addiction they need support more than ever. The worst thing you an do is desert them. Stigma is responsible for the overwhelming prejudice and discrimination that drug users are faced with on a daily basis. We are criminalized, denied opportunities, demoralized, tossed from the mainstream economy, stripped of our rights constitutional as well as basic human rights. We often have trouble within the workplace, education, housing and health care.
I have decided that telling my story and sharing the experiences of others might be one way I can really show people how
stigma works. I am not telling these truths for pity. Rather I hope that by shedding light on stigma path a little smother for those who come after me.
I need to say that over the years I have encountered some very special people that have loved me through this thing and I believe will continue to love me until the very end. I intend to pull the covers back on the horrors people like me face.
Here are some of the basics:
1. Detoxing in jails and rehabs without a decent withdrawal procedure. It is only recently that rehabs are detoxing people with suboxone. In our local jail if you take methadone or are on replacement therapy you are made to withdrawal with minimal meds to relieve the discomfort. We must stop punishing people for using while they are detoxing from drugs. We should make people as comfortable as possible. We must stop believing that if we make people miserable they will remember how bad it is and never do it again. —THIS IS INHUMANE. These drugs are prescribed by doctors …..????
2. Denied food stamps and other government services. Contrary to popular belief most people that use drugs or misuse drugs do not sell their EBT cards (food stamps). We will never be able to stop the few people who misuse the system but denying everyone who has had drug felonies is wrong. And yes they changed the law so that Class I and H felons can reestablish eligibility but other drug felons (trafficking etc.) are unable to re-establish they are held under a lifetime ban.
3. Criminalized- Simply being a felon. Being a felon prevents you from getting jobs/ getting into schools/ getting certified or licensed by certain types of professions.
4. Abandoned by friends and family due to their limited understanding of mental health issues, substance use, and or addiction. Family members of people with addictions are often treated the worst. They are blamed, told they are if they help “the addict” (I hate that language. When we say things like “the addict” we make it easier to mistreat and dehumanize the person) they are enabling and killing the person.5. Sent to rehabs that are very much punishment camps and designed for people with conduct disorders not substance use issues.
5. Left in terrible pain in any medical situation. A person that has had substance use issues could not ever experience real pain or a real medical problem. Over and over again we are told that all addicts are liars, thieves, and sneaky. THIS IS NOT TRUE. This kind of talk only makes recovery more difficult for people.
9. Denied housing, denied jobs, denied entry into colleges.
10. Treated like some sort of TOKEN drug user. Agencies always want my help but they never want to treat me as an equal.
11. Being told I am in denial about my addiction because I do not believe I am powerless nor do I believe I should turn my will and life over to a program or the care of GOD. I believe that I am the only one with the power. My spiritual life and beliefs about God can strengthen my resolve but saying that god is the answer only validates that the problems is one of morality. If god is the solution then lack of god must be the answer. I do not believe this to be true.
12. My ankle looks like this and hurts like hell. I have a fracture of my Tibula and it is infected and nonunion. No doctor will even think of helping me with my pain. I have been to 7 doctors in the past year and I have tried everything to employ the help of medical professionals only to be denied, talked down to and basically told I will have to suffer. In fact…told that I should amputate my foot because they don’t want to treat my pain.
13. I am mistreated by police, illegally searched and constant victim of verbal abuse and rights violations. I have also been targeted by a crazy person who has worked very hard to ensure I am locked up for engaging in harm reduction work.
13. I have an MPH in public health and am hoping to get my PhD or even a second masters degree but will I ever be treated like a professional or just another druggie??
Stigma. Will we ever be free?