MERRIAM-WEBSTER defines stigma as follows:
a : A scar left by a hot iron: BRAND.
b : A mark of shame or discredit: STAIN.
When I have asked people suffering from substance use disorder and their families to identify the most powerful deterrent they encounter on the path to long-term, sustained recovery, they all respond unequivocally: SHAME.
Fifteen years ago, when my memoir The Year of the Dogs was published, there were not many voices speaking out against the stigma of addictive illness. The stories, the faces of the recovery movement were still largely hidden in the dark, obscured by the shroud of shame that continues to cost us so many lives.
On this journey, I have encountered scorn, disdain, perhaps even outright hatred for speaking out for those suffering from substance use disorder and their loved ones. I was often truly shocked and saddened at how easily these lives were dismissed as worthless, undeserving, disposable. Nonetheless, I continued to believe steadfastly that our collective stories could change what was in people's hearts and plant a seed of empathy, so that one day access to compassionate care and effective treatment would be the norm. Sadly, hundreds of thousands of souls have been lost since then to addictive illness, while we, as a society, continue to debate the value of their lives and if they even deserve to be saved.
Suffering from addictive illness is not evidence of a moral deficiency, but questioning the value of another human being's life because they are ill, certainly is. With one in three families now directly effected by substance use disorder in this country, it is time to stop waiting.
IT IS TIME TO ACT.