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Destigmatize: Too Late to Just Talk About It


Upon leaving rehab, I was cloaked in the robes of naiveté. I was no spring chicken, but I definitely had what yogis call a beginner’s mind. Everything I knew about addiction and recovery I had learned in a 30-day crash course in a lovely facility hidden deep in the middle of Florida. I believed everything I had experienced …the group therapies, the talk therapies, the cognitive behavioral therapies, the medication therapies, the art and music therapies, the mutual aid group therapies. It all made sense to me. I not only bought the Kool Aid, I even bought stock in it! I believed anything and everything the therapists said we needed to do in order to recover.

One of those to do items was to discuss my disease with family and friends when I returned home. After all, the kids should know they may carry a genetic propensity. Friends would want to know because they care. I’m chuckling as I write.

What I learned within the first 24 hours upon returning back to my world is that my kids and assorted relatives definitely did NOT want to talk about addiction. In fact, we have never talked about it since. Within two weeks I learned that most of my friends and colleagues stopped answering the phone.

Fast forward to today. We have just completed another month of Black Lives Matter and fallen into September, designated #NationalRecoveryMonth. BLM is important when we think about the recovery movement stigma. It has brought about conversations and new research regarding discrimination, prejudice and bias which are exactly the negative issues those of us in recovery must face.

One of the big reasons we have such huge #addiction numbers is that the accompanying stigma keeps us from talking about it, from seeking treatment, from getting well. The stigma has underlying biases built in.

How do we change those biases? We know two types of bias exist: implicit bias and explicit bias. Implicit is a pervasive internal attitude and explicit describes a much more conscious bias that may actually be visible to the outside world in some action. We all have bias.

Most experts would argue that we have to work on implicit bias in order to affect change. The scientist in me certainly gets that. These biases aren’t mutually exclusive, so if we go for the heart, maybe we can move the stereotype needle. I’m not at all sure we have the time to invest in implicit bias remedies. I have become convinced we need to go straight to explicit bias reduction. When you think about it, how do I ever really know what you are thinking and believing deep in your core? I don’t. All I know is what you show. That is precisely what I believe we need to do in order to shatter the #recoverystigma. So …

Show me your hiring practices that are favorable to those in recovery.

Show me your housing rental contracts that work for those in fresh recovery.

Show me the legislation and government funding that is pro-recovery.

Show me emergency rooms equipped with buprenorphine, methadone and XR-naltrexone.

Show me those first responders who leave an extra can of Narcan behind after and overdose.

Show me community support for those in recovery.

Show me same day access to evidence-based treatment.

Show me the removal of financial and insurance barriers to recovery treatments.

Show me recovery high schools in every school district.

Show me those in recovery who are speaking up and speaking out to new audiences about the heroics of recovery.

... and I'll show you deep systemic change.

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