Screw You, Stigma

Life Lessons From The Pool

This picture is supposed to be funny, but it really is addict shaming. Contributing to the stigma of “what a person with SUD looks like”. And guess what? I did it myself yesterday. After all my preaching and teaching of why can’t people just have compassion- bla bla……

Yup, guilty as charged.

I was at my complex’s pool again. Enjoying my pool float with my blue water weights in typical old lady fashion. The only other people there were the usual, non-English speaking elderly man, who always gets in the pool with his grandson- I’m assuming; and a lady-assuming the grandma.

Soon, through the crinky electronic gate, comes a dad with his boy. They jump in the pool and I immediately had thoughts of packing up. Then I hear the beat. The low base rumble of a car usually with it’s windows open, but even when they’re closed, you can hear the beat. The beat. It brings to mind a person who’s trouble. Not troubled, even though they probably are, but someone to stay clear of, nevertheless. The low riders. Car and pants.

Sure enough, it pulls up next to my unlocked car- because I hate to lug all my keys into the pool area. I panic, thinking of my wallet under the seat. I decide just to stay a few more minutes to take advantage of the cool water in the 98-degree heat. Then I’ll go rescue my car from Mr hard-of-hearing’s view.

Then he comes in. In all his glory of brazen colorful tattoos on his chest and arms & long khaki shorts with a hole in the knee to show another tattoo popping through.

His ‘tw******* girlfriend soon followed with some contorted mouth movements. Yup, I made a quick and thorough judgment of her too.

Then, he brings in a case of water and starts walking around passing them out. He goes around to everyone. The old guy and his wife were shocked. They tried to ask him how much? The kid said, “free”.

Then he proceeded to play with the kids and offer to cannonball into the pool. He said he hasn’t done it in years, so he kept counting to 3 & chickening out. He then said,

“If I get hurt, will you help me?”

One of the kids said,

” No”

To which he responded,

“I can respect that.”

I thought about that and how he didn’t expect anything from anyone. He spread kindness when it wasn’t expected. He didn’t care what people thought or that they weren’t willing to help him.

I couldn’t believe that with the journey I have been on with my son, that I couldn’t stop myself from passing judgment at first. I’m usually hyper-vigilant about “correcting” others.

Yesterday on a non-drug-related site, someone posted a picture of a syringe they found, with the word “irresponsible junkies” in the post. The comments that followed were, of course, triggering to me. The one that hit me was, “I’m so sick of these kinds of people”.

Of course, I made a snarky comment of,

“I’m soo glad none of US would EVER know or LOVE these kind of people.”

Who are these kinds of people? We moms know…they’re our kids. Our brothers, sisters, spouses. How do we offer a morsel of compassion when these hijacked brains are leaving needles around? For me, it just proves how this is only going to be solved with all hands on deck. Not with an “I’m sick of these people, but let me go on with my perfect little life while someone else fixes the problem”.

Shatterproof writes this about stigma:

"There is enough negativity in our world today—further judgment and blame towards those actively using drugs or in recovery needs to go.
Let’s create connection in an unprecedented time of isolation, and give those who are all too used to social isolation and shame the love and support they have always deserved."

Sharing the following story as a way to emphasize the truth in addiction and hopefully help everyone understand. I did not write it but it is how I believe. To win this battle best we can we need to be educated on it.

We were uneducated when our son told us he had a drug problem. We hadn’t given much thought about whether addiction was a choice or a disease. We had so much to learn. My husband and I started seeing a counselor who specialized in addiction. We had to educate ourselves. We read and read, and read some more. Our views quickly changed and we began to understand why our son couldn’t just see the damage and stop, why family wasn’t enough. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to stop, it wasn’t that he couldn’t see what the drugs were doing to his life or that he didn’t love his family or that we weren’t enough. We learned how opiates change dopamine levels in your brain, the chemical that regulates pleasure. We learned it takes a minimum of a year for those levels to even begin to return to normal. We learned things which would normally bring pleasure no longer do because of the change in dopamine levels. We learned that the brain’s response to opiates overrides everything else. We learned it is not a choice. We learned recovery was a long process and that relapse is part of it. We learned that people struggling with addiction need to know they matter and that someone cares. We learned once the addict was clean that the battle wasn’t over, that it would remain a lifelong fight. We learned there are not enough quality treatment centers. We learned most treatment centers are not affordable to most of those in need. We learned that many treatment centers have waiting lists and that many people die waiting to get in. We learned that many things need to change in order to stop this epidemic. We learned volumes.

Our son was a good kid from a good family. He was loved very much. He had a big heart and was always helping others. I know without a doubt he never thought he would be that person. I know he hated he ever crossed that line. I know he hated himself when he was actively using. I know he hated seeing the pain he put us through. I know he wanted more than anything to be clean. I know he fought with everything he had. I know he was winning the battle. I know he loved his family. I know his daughter was his pride and joy. I know he was proud of himself for being clean. I know he was looking forward to his future. I know he deserved more. I know he didn’t want to throw his life away or to die. I know without a doubt that no one would chose to be an addict.

Our son was and will always be our hero.

“Everybody has their own opinions on drug and alcohol addiction, but until you’ve been there, your opinion remains insignificant. Yes, they chose to use a drug or alcohol thinking they would be one that would be able control it. You don’t control a drug or alcohol, it controls you. There are some lucky ones who have beat it, but don’t think because they’re still alive that life is gravy. They fight everyday all day to stay clean or sober. It’s a constant battle from the time they open their eyes until they close them and it never goes away. Most are good people who made a bad choice.

Battling a drug or alcohol addiction is a beast for the person addicted and the ones who love them. So, in loving memory of every family member and friend who has lost their battle with drugs and alcohol and to those who continue to conquer it, put this on your page if you know someone who has or had (no such thing as had) an addiction.
They need every single ounce of encouragement.”

Shame and stigma help no one.

Written by a mom whose son lost his battle

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A unique perspective on the world from a small town girl turned big city nurse. Now a grandmother to 6 gregarious, resplendent boys and 5 endearing, magical girls, she strives the make the world a more understanding, pleasant place to experience this intense thing called life.

One thought on “Screw You, Stigma”

  1. I am so sorry for your loss. My eldest son died from a heroin od. I became an addictions counselor afterwards…his death changed everything…our thoughts, attitudes and beliefs. Ultimately it changed our behaviors towards those we had previously judged.

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