The Best Kept Secret
By Paula Heller-Garland, MS, LCDC
Do you remember when you first heard about AIDS? No one really knew enough about it to understand the difference
between HIV and AIDS or realize that you can’t contract it through casual contact? There was little research, little
education, little funding, and the thought of AIDS meant a death sentence. People made rude comments about the disease.
Having the disease was the punch line to jokes. It was acceptable to associate AIDS to the homosexual community.
In fact, it was even acceptable to assume one homosexual if they were diagnosed positive.
Do you recall the time in American history when cancer was something we didn’t talk about when someone was diagnosed?
Or even, perhaps, a time when the use of racial slurs was completely accepted in the workplace and schools?
What is the reason that has changed? It appears to me to have changed through education and action. Communities of
people impacted by the discrimination and stigma rose up and took a stand. They insisted it not be okay to speak with
derogatory words. They decided that instead of living in stigma they would insist that the world be educated.
The American Medical Association made the decision to classify behavioral health diagnoses diseases and long
before that groups of people were seeking refuge from what they knew had to be more than a choice. So, what is
the reason are we still in hiding? Why do people who are in addiction recovery or people educated to treat those with
behavioral health diagnoses remain silent? What is causing us to allow the discrimination and stigma to go on?
I have heard some say it is in the traditions of some addiction recovery programs to remain anonymous. The way I read
those traditions say it is only inappropriate to mention the particular program. There is no literature saying
a person in addiction recovery cannot tell others they are in recovery. This may cause someone to question the reason
they would put themselves at risk of being looked down upon for openly saying they are recovering. I assume
people with HIV or AIDS, with cancer, with disabilities, or in minority groups, in the past might have felt
the same way. What if they had decided to allow the discrimination to go on and not speak out against it
through the truth?
Still addiction recovery remains the best kept secret! People in recovery are looked upon as people still struggling to
remain sober, clean or not impacted daily with their mental health issues. But, that isn’t the case. People
in recovery are productive workers, well -educated, good parents, our neighbors, our friends, our classmates,
our teachers, our therapists. What if we stood up together, as people in recovery, those who work in the
behavioral health field, and those who love and support people in addiction recovery instead of living in silence and
allowing the discrimination to go on?
When is the last time you heard or used pejorative words to describe people in recovery? I daily hear on TV,
radio, and in casual conversations people calling others “crazy”. Even people in addiction recovery call themselves or
others “drunks”. How will we move past the stigma if we don’t stop doing it ourselves? Recovery from chemical
dependency doesn’t mean you are a “drunk” and addressing your mental health issues doesn’t mean you are
“crazy”. If people in recovery
and those who understand by supporting people in addiction recovery aren’t the voices
that rise up, who will?
Will you help END THE STIGMA?
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