Shame and fear kept me trapped. I was molested from one of my earliest memories until I was in 4th grade and we moved. It was by a baby sitter that my parents used. I was confused and ashamed while it happened. I was told I was dirty and nasty while it happened. I heard my mom talking about people touching little kids and how they were disgusting to my dad, and I thought she meant the kids so I never spoke up. I was afraid my mom and dad would think I was disgusting. I could not tell my friends, for fear they would judge me. I did not feel like I fit in with them anyway, because of the abuse. That shame and fear led me to addiction, because it numbed me. I could escape the abuse, and when I was with other people doing drugs, I felt like I fit in.
I never spoke about the abuse for the first 5 years I shared my story, because I was still ashamed and fearful of what people would think. I was never afraid to talk about my addiction and mental health issues. I have been talking about being an addict in front of classrooms of my peers since my sophomore year in college. It was for a current issues criminology class and a couple of sociology classes that sometimes had as many as 150 kids that I was currently going to school with. I talked about it at work, and never feared for my job. I talked about my addiction and bipolar disorder in front of the 700 people who attended my church, and was accepted and embraced for doing it.
I could even talk about the physical abuse from my grandpa when I was in the 5th and 6th grade and lived with him. I thought when I was younger he did it because he knew about me being a disgusting boy with my babysitter. I could even talk about that, without being fearful of being judged or seen as less than. But it took me years to admit the sexual abuse to anyone.
Now that I am trying to combat the stigma faced my people who struggle with addictions and mental health problems, I am running into something I was not prepared for. I should have been ready for it, because of how I once was ashamed to admit and fearful people would judge me because of being molested as a child. I guess have been sharing my story for so long that the possible stigma is no longer a concern. In fact, when I talk about it I generally have at least one person come forward after and admit that they had been molested and I was the first person they were telling.
Because of that, I was surprised by the number of people who don’t want to be involved with some of the recovery events. I was not ready for the number of people who would be unwilling to identify themselves as people with addiction and mental health struggles. Even though they are now in recovery, and that is what we are celebrating through all of the Better Life in Recovery (BLiR) events, they still are fearful of identifying themselves. They still walk with shame about the choices they made in their past and how it could impact their lives today if anyone were to find out.
“If my coworkers see me, I might not have a job tomorrow”
“What if my children’s friends’ parents are there? They may never let their kids come over again. They might not even let their kids be friends with my kids at all.”
That is still the fear we walk around with. It amazes me. Addiction is seen differently from just about every other disability and disease. The reasons for this range due to the perception of people with disabilities such as addictions and mental health issues: they never get better and they did it to themselves are the two most frequent reasons I have personally encountered. When someone has lung cancer and is in the hospital, even if they smoked two packs of non-filtered cigarettes for 30 years, I have yet to hear someone say, “So what, he did it to himself.” When someone has Parkinson’s I never hear someone say, “Who cares, you know THOSE PEOPLE never get better.”
There is a difference between the two. For starters, most other disabilities have great supporters. They have advocates who speak out for them. Most disabilities get more money budgeted at the state and federal levels each year, while prevention/recovery gets less and less. They have foundations that pour a lot of money into research, and they have frequent fundraisers that get MILLIONS OF DOLLARS donated for research. Try holding a recovery telethon on television and see what the outcome is. I can promise it will pale in comparison to the other ones that are on television. It will also have a lot less celebrities come forward to support it.
Then there are the judgmental attitudes; they make people fear being open and honest. That is why BLiR was created. For starters, we will try to bring in a functional prevention program into schools. Secondly, we will give people a forum to share their recovery so that others may get an idea not just about the truth and science behind addiction but the power of recovery. We will educate communities on the reality of recovery and how amazing it is. We will give people opportunities to be proud of the hard work they have invested in their recovery through advocacy and awareness events that celebrate people in long-term recovery.
That is how we change the conversation. That is how we remove fear and shame, that is how we decimate stigma BLiR style. In order to do that, we need to begin looking at funding ideas. I personally have no idea what that is going to look like. I do know that we will be putting together a Kickstarter project as well as a fundraiser in October that will attempt to raise the capital we need to finish the documentary we are currently working on. Once the documentary is completed we will then begin screening the documentary and having forums that discuss recovery. From there we will put together the program that will bring the documentary into schools and colleges so that we can discuss the dangers of addictions and the power of recovery.
If contributing either money or donations for silent auctions is something that you could do, please contact me. If you know other people who are passionate about challenging the stigma that exists or interested in prevention efforts for our youth, forward this to them. I have attached a trailer of the first several people we have interviewed for the documentary so that you can see what we are going to be doing. The money will be used to complete the documentary (travel expenses to collect more stories, video fees, editing fees, etc.), legal fees, music licensing fees, promotion, build the program to take it into schools, etc. As we get closer to October, I will know more about what we will be doing. We will be forming our nonprofit and kicking into overdrive for fundraising so that we can make our projects a reality. I can promise that October will have a fundraiser with a silent auction and we will kick off of a kickstarter campaign. The details will be coming out on facebook and in my blogs as we get closer to the events. Thank you so much for any help you can provide me.