Friday, May 6, 2011

Stigma

***Submitted by Diana, who is a Regular Contributor to Crying Out Now

I don’t list alcoholic on my business card, but I am not afraid of the title.

I understand the reason for the anonymity aspect of AA, but I think overall it keeps our disease in the shadows. And I hate that. If no one talks about it, how will anyone ever understand it?


Recently my husband, Bob, mentioned that he had a conversation with a friend in which he struggled to identify my situation. He said to the friend, “You know Diana doesn’t drink anymore” and as he relayed the conversation to me he added, “I don’t like the word ‘alcoholic’. It has such a stigma.”   Exactly, and avoiding the word perpetuates the stigma. I promptly gave him my permission to use the word alcoholic to describe me anytime. I am completely OK with identifying myself as an alcoholic. The face of alcoholism has too long been that of the old man with a paper bag sitting under a viaduct next to his shopping cart. No wonder there is a stigma.  We need to update the photo in our collective consciousness.

I don’t broadcast my disease at work, but I have alluded to it. Most people know that I don’t drink. Some of the younger people have asked me, incredulously, if I ever drank. My standard response is that I did and then I retired. I usually compare myself to Brett Favre and suggest that I probably should have retired sooner than I did. If I didn’t work for an ultraconservative company, I would be more forthcoming. And if someone, anyone, asks me directly, I will answer him or her directly.

The stigma that we are fighting is powerful and makes seeking help that much harder. We have enough of a fight on our hands with this sneaky bastard of a disease without the public humiliation, real or imagined. Some of our well-intended friends and family reject our diagnoses or make us feel flawed because moderation is not a word in our vocabulary. They would never debate a cancer diagnoses or shame us for our inability to process sugar, would they?

Alcoholism is not a weakness or a character flaw. As those of us on Team Drunk know, alcoholics are a smart, funny, good looking bunch of people. Wait, maybe that is the real reason for the anonymity. If people found out how cool alcoholics really are, they would all start hiding wine bottles in their laundry hampers just to fit in.

8 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post! I am also open about my status as an alcoholic and am open about it with anyone who asks...and some who don't. From my perspective, my drinking took place in the shadows and it was this decision that kept me drinking. Now, in recovery, I cannot keep to the shadows.

    I am not ashamed to be an alcoholic and I refuse to be shamed by it.

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  2. I am the EXACT same way about telling people...friends, coworkers, etc. I remember being so ashamed when I first walked in to AA, and I thought I would always hide it. But even only 20 months later, I am proud to use the word alcoholic, because it gives me freedom.

    Thank you for this beautiful post! :)

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  3. Whoohooo let's get the word out, smart, sassy, capable, outgoing people are alcoholics too!!!

    I drank in public but fell down in private mainly. I didn't identify myself with the term alcoholic because of the stigma from when I was growing up. It reflected failure, not a disease.

    After a week in AA meetings I felt so liberated, when the people there described themselves, when I read the Big Book it was all about me.

    I am determined to educate as many people as I can, in a situation appropirate way.

    GREAT post sister.

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  4. Thanks for this post. I have been regularly posting on 'mainstream' websites to try and draw attention to this very issue. If we all continue to keep speaking out, who knows, we may actually have an effect and take the shame away from our disease.

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  5. Love your post and especially the last line! I am not an alcoholic, and I am here to tell you, shout it out and don't be afraid to. People absolutely need to get over it. And they also need to be educated. I have been very affected in my life by addiction and alcoholism, and the diagnosis is real. I applaud those who continue their treatment. I wish all those that I love and have loved had done the same. Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

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  6. Imagine the hurdles I jumped ten years ago as a SAHM, a church leader, and parochial school volunteer for my kid's classrooms when word leaked out that I was,, ahem,, struggling with an issue.

    I began my blog last November FOR THE EXACT REASON you write about - ditching anonymity and putting it all out there.

    As a recovering alcoholic, I'm DAMN proud of sobriety - it is not easy,, and it takes courage and it takes a lot of work.

    I've begun grad school to become a substance abuse counselor - my agenda will be largely on ending this stigma.

    We've come so far in our education on the disease of addiction, yet people conduct themselves as though we know nothing.

    VERY frustrating!
    Awesome message - thanks for posting this
    dawn

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  7. It's good that you're undergoing treatment. People will soon understand your situation.

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