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 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 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 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 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 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 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 recovery aren’t the voices that rise up, who will?
I invite you to stand with me at The Big Texas Rally for Recovery in Austin Texas on the South Steps of the State Capitol on October 1, 2011 beginning at 4:00 PM to let people see how recovery from addiction and mental health issues really looks. Beginning at 4:00 PM Thomas, “Hollywood” Henderson will share his personal story of recovery. That will be followed by The Jimi Lee band, a local Austin favorite, led by a man in recovery. This will all be emceed and broadcast by Neil Scott, from Recovery Coast to Coast radio.
Will you help END THE STIGMA?