Breaking the Stigma

Growing up, society taught me that I should not disclose that I am an alcoholic or an addict; that my addiction is something I should be ashamed of. I heard this message every time someone described someone’s behavior to be that of a “crackhead,” every time someone talked about what a “drunk” someone was or called someone a “junkie,” and every time politicians on TV talked about the War on Drugs and promised every addict would be locked away in prisons for life.

I believed in this stigma for most of my life. I thought, as many people still do, that alcoholics were homeless people, living under bridges with nothing but a bottle in a paper bag. That drug addicts were criminals who only knew how to lie, cheat and steal. That is until I became one myself…

It’s because of this stigma that I refused to acknowledge I was sick. I spent the next decade of my life trying to control something that was uncontrollable.

I always smile when someone tells me I don’t “look like an addict.” Not because I blame them for thinking this way, but because who they see in front of them today is certainly a far cry from the person I was in active addiction.  When I was sick, I was unrecognizable.

The reality is, I look exactly as an addict does. We are your neighbor, doctor, teacher, co-worker, caretaker and child. Addiction knows no boundaries. If society wants to paint an honest picture of what an addict looks like today, maybe they could start with me.

Here is what I can tell you about my life. I grew up in a loving family, with successful parents and a happy childhood. I never wanted for anything. There wasn’t any abuse or trauma that I could blame my addiction on. There was no neglect, poverty, or addiction in my home. I have searched my life, with a fine-tooth comb, for some pivotal moment that changed everything, and all I can tell you is that the first time I used I knew I wanted more. And not just in the “Hey that was fun. I think I will do that again sometime” kind of way. But in the, “I want more. More! Give me MORE!” kind of way.

It’s important that I share this piece of my story with others; that I acknowledge the lack of chaos in my upbringing. Many times, society wants to blame the parents. My parents had absolutely nothing to do with my addiction, but I can tell you their unflinching love and support have had a tremendous impact on my recovery.

I was just a normal teenager, seeking acceptance from my peers and wanting to grow up too fast. Just a normal teenager experimenting with friends. That experimentation, though harmless at first, lead to full-blown addiction by my late 20’s. That little girl, with all her hopes and dreams, disappeared. I did some deplorable things in the name of my addiction. I abandoned my family, I was violent and spewed hateful words, and I often times put my addiction before my own daughter’s welfare. I lied, I manipulated, I self-harmed. And at the end of my active addiction, I was reported missing. Poof!

As sure as I am sitting here writing this, I can tell you that I didn’t grow up and suddenly announce I wanted to be a professional addict on Career Day. This was learned behavior by a person with the disease of addiction; a sick person, not a bad one. That does not in any way excuse my behavior, because believe me I have worked for years trying to forgive myself for the damage I caused, but it does explain why I lost control so quickly. Because, you see, I am not that woman anymore. There are times when it seems like a different life altogether.

For years, I tried to “figure out my addiction.” I tried to dissect my life to find some moment in time that turned everything upside down, that made me act the way I did. Something that made sense of the chaos I had created. Always telling myself I couldn’t possibly be an addict, until the day my disease almost left my daughter without a mother, and I couldn’t hide from it anymore.

When we are broken, we become willing to change. And I was broken. Thankfully, I had recovering women in my life who had been waiting for me to wake up. They took me under their wings, they held me up when I couldn’t stand on my own and they taught me how to live. They taught me how to take care of myself, how to be honest and what it means to have integrity.  These women have never left my side yet, and I am forever grateful to them.

My Name Is Vanessa. And I'm More Than An Addict.

One of the most important things they taught me was to carry the message to the still suffering addict, and I have been doing my best to honor this commitment throughout my journey. I take my story into women’s prisons, treatment centers and into my community.

Addiction is a shame based disease. I choose to recover out loud because I firmly believe that no addict should ever have to suffer in silence, that no addict should ever have to die from this disease and that there is nothing that compares to the magic that happens when one addict helps another addict find a new way of life.

My name is Vanessa, and I am a woman in long-term recovery. What that means is that I have not had a drink or prescription drug since October 16th, 2014, and  I pray that I never forget the despair I felt at the end of my active addiction.

Every morning, before my feet hit the floor, I make a commitment to myself to stay sober for another 24 hours, and with that one simple task, a beautiful life was created.

We do recover.

~This story was originally published on AddictionUnscripted.com and also with Facing Addiction’s – The Voices Project – ryanhampton.org~


 



28 thoughts on “Breaking the Stigma

  1. This is absolutely gut-wrenching yet told with such honesty and courage. There is no blame…no “passing the buck,” no “woe is me.”
    I cheer for your continued recovery and hope this post reaches those who are walking the same path. If it has a positive impact on just one person, it will truly be a gift.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The pleasure is very much also mine – reading words that are very genuine that others, especially the type always looking for excuses, tend to make if in same situation.

        Regards,
        TOLA.

        Like

  2. You have given the perfect name for this post – breaking the stigma. I know other addicts in recovery with a very similar story to yours. No identifiable trigger, event or catastrophe. Just an instant,unquenchable and overwhelming ‘MUST have more-ness’ that takes over life. Until – there is no further to sink except into nothingness. And somehow, somewhere, something kicks in to stir up the will to survive, the will to kick the habit, to get and stay clean. I honour and respect you for your honesty and willingness to share your story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! My life changed the moment I started to recover out loud! The shame I felt slowly dissipated and I have learned to forgive myself for the things I did when I was sick. You described it perfectly when you said it was an “instant, unquenchable and overwhelming “MUST have more-ness.” Yes! It really was!

      Thank you for the follow! I look forward to reading more of your work!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much for finding me. (My name is Vanessa too, by the way… I blog as Autumn Delaney). I too too found support from several addicts, recovering addicts as well as parents of addicts who were supporting and even abling their child’s addiction, as well as those who were practicing “tough love”. But every day I saw horrible stories of people losing their children to heroin overdoses. Kids losing their mothers or fathers to addiction… I found my strength through several FB addiction support groups I belong to. My biggest fear was always my son OD’ing and I always told him tht and he’d always say “don’t worry mom. I’m careful and I know what I’m doing”. Until one day he didn’t and he overdosed. But I identify with how you said you did awful things because of your addiction and to support your addiction. I did horrible things to enable my son. I was doing it all in the name of love and for fear of losing him. I never wanted to make his problem worse and always thought “I have to do this in order to get him into treatment”. It was like he was making a deal with me. Give me this and I’ll go to rehab. I just need ____ much money “to pay someone back money I borrowed” then I’ll go to rehab. He was in rehab 15 different times. One of them was a top rehab in Laguna Beach, Ca. That is actually where he overdosed.
    It’s all been such a whirlwind of a 5 year period that has ended in him being sober since July and me having a nervous breakdown at the beginning of August. That is when I started blogging. It’s all so heartbreaking, but I’m glad that you have found recovery. And thanks again for your writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing part of your story with me! I’m sorry for all that you have been through. That must have been difficult. You sound like a very strong individual who doesn’t give up! Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment! I appreciate you!

      Xoxo – Vanessa

      Like

    1. I do still feel the temptation at times. That hasn’t completely left me yet. Normally, if I start having thoughts of drinking, I reach out to other recovering women and I tell on myself. I’ve found that the moment I talk about it out loud to another person, the desire usually leaves me.

      I also ask myself, “Are you willing to trade all that you have gained back in recovery for that one drink?” Because as an alcoholic, I understand that it was never one drink for me. That first drink would start the obsession all over again, and there goes my life.

      I am not willing to trade all that I have today for alcohol. I pray that I never will be.

      Thanks for commenting! xoxo

      Like

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