Certified National Drug & Alcohol Interventionists

The Cruelty of Stigmas

I consistently hear the words addiction and stigma in close proximity to each other. I’ve also made several statements regarding this very issue, such as, “because of the stigma associated with addiction sometimes it is easier for people to turn the other cheek” or “the stigma caused by addiction only helps in fueling an addict’s guilt and shame.” After reflecting on this for some time I realized how true these statements are, then I started to clearly see how profoundly these sentiments affected me. But these are just words and I’m not sure people can really understand how the action of stigmatizing someone can be so detrimental. However, if we start trying to understand, sympathize and see how deeply it can hurt; how it can cause one’s self-esteem to plummet it may begin to be less difficult to get into the solution part of this consuming and harmful issue. And finally our journey can begin. I often write about these affects. I hear someone’s story or notice the irrational actions some addicts have when they are confronted. Then I know. They have also had this stigma placed and inflicted on them.

 

While living and surviving day to day as a junkie on the streets I really had myself fooled. I tremble inside sometimes…any time a flash from the past creeps back into my conscience. Honestly, it’s maddening! Yet I know how lucky I am, I made it home while so many never did or never even had the chance. On the streets I was a ticking time bomb…an easy target for so many. For several months I didn’t have any major problems, besides the obvious: my addiction and my unwillingness to face it. But this was my way of coping, or to be perfectly honest, my way of escaping my life. But I had a car and in the “dope-world” my car was like currency. At this time I still looked like myself (underweight sure but I didn’t look completely strung out) so if a cop rolled by I waved while others scattered. I can actually remember laughing at this. When I was growing up I’d always been taught that the police were “the good guys” that they were trust worthy. From time to time a couple of officers passing by would say “Hi” ask my name, then normally the next thing they said was, “Hey, do you know your Mom’s been looking for you?” I’d shrug, make small talk and be on my way. There were also 2 officers that patrolled an area where an old friend was crashing, but these 2 were different. First, I thought they hated me but then one night they stopped and searched me. The found some dope I had in the cellophane inside my cigarettes….it was about $50 worth but all they did was give me a few tickets, tell me who it was safe to hang around and lecture me not to walk anywhere alone. I just told them I was walking because I was almost out of gas (which was true). Once again, at the time I still had my car, most of my clothes, make-up, toiletries…..and my hair (which at that time fell to the middle of my back.) Then came the night I was brutally assaulted. I won’t go into all the horrific details now but they held me for at least 6hrs. They started by cutting and tearing my clothes off down to my bra and panties. They took turns burning me with cigarettes, punching me and using the scissors to butcher my hair and take every single possession I had, including my car. My clothes, toiletries, make-up, etc. weren’t important but my car was a necessity for me to survive. But what made matters worse was no one ever did a thing about it…even after I went to the hospital and reported the assault, giving the DPD the address where it took place. Where they kidnapped me from (at gunpoint). I even gave them their names and the names of some of their associates. Plus people who witnessed me being drug down stairs in tears, pleading for help while a gun was held to my head. I escaped because they had to go to the hospital because one of their own children may have been going into labor. I was lucky…one person who saw them take me came in, wrapped me in a blanket and carried me up to the nearest gas station. Now this guy wasn’t an angel in life but he did tell me his full, REAL name and told me I could use him as a witness…that I should report it. But even with all the info I gave, coupled with all my injuries (swollen jaw, broken ribs, and numerous cuts and cigarette burns) the police still made it sound like I was somehow to blame. That it was nothing more than a “drug deal gone wrong”, that’s actually what they said to me. None of it made any difference to them whatsoever. When I got up to use the restroom and looked in the mirror my knees buckled at how horrible I looked, my hair was not just cut off, it was as I said “butchered”. In several spots they’d cut it to my scalp in other areas it was just cut off, others it was just…mangled. And even though it was only hair I immediately remember thinking, “I wonder if I hadn’t looked THIS bad, if I still had some of my hair would they have taken me seriously?”

Right then, right there I realized I was no longer a person to the police or anyone else…not even the nurses in the ER. They had no care or concern, I was just another junkie who would die on the streets or end up in prison…I would always be looked upon with suspicion. I suddenly felt dirty, raw and gritty, like a stranger in my own mind and body. I was stigmatized.  

The social stigma cast on addicts and their families can cause both the family and the addicted loved one to stay closed off for far too long. It is time someone helps others understand the harm and anguish it causes. For some the harm may be even greater and this harm can easily be released into our communities. Once someone feels that people think of them as nothing more than a junkie or dope fiend our society has just released someone into the world who feels they have nothing and no one to lose.

2 Responses to “The Cruelty of Stigmas”

  1. Dave Cooke Says:

    Thank you for sharing your story and these thoughts. I used to refer to my son as a heroin addict. Then I was enlightened to the notion that this was a label. Instead, my son is a young man battling his heroin addiction. It changes the context in a powerful way – makes him human, calls attention to his disease, and demands respect for his situation. We have a lot to learn. We have a long ways to go. We all need to be inspired and empowered to share our stories and be willing to enlighten. Keep going!

  2. Daniel Tiblets Says:

    Great Blog. It IS maddening how many “drive by assessments” are made by those who do not understand there is a person with a real story behind each action, regardless of how socially unacceptable it is.

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