Recovery is about becoming more than an addict; it as about becoming a caring husband or wife, a loving father or mother, or perhaps a better son or daughter. Helping people achieve healthy biopsychosocial and spiritual lives and helping them recognize that they have the capacity to do so is the greatest tool we have to prevent and reduce stigma. —Richard Landis, Sr VP of Operations | Danya International
August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day. Based on a movement begun in Australia by the Penington Institute, the day has established a true international presence, and it is in that spirit that I write today.
I’ve written before about the statistics of those who lose their lives to overdose. In 2014, 207,400 people throughout the world died from drug overdoses—many of them from prescribed painkillers. In the U.S. alone, 47,000 people died from overdoses. In New Hampshire, the death rate has risen a staggering 670% from 2004 to 2014. This is the largest rise in percentage of deaths across the country.
While this plight is a crisis, there are also those who recover and go on to succeed at recovery. Recovery is exponentially possible with a supportive community, as we are experiencing in our recently opened Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, NH. With peer-support and by becoming part of a community, those in recovery can work their way back from defining themselves as addicts to actively participating members of society.
One large issue often stands in the way of recovery: stigma. This topic is very important to me and its tendrils reach every population we serve from recovering addicts to the previously incarcerated, those with intellectual, developmental, or physical disabilities, individuals over 55 who find it difficult to find employment, veterans returning from war and youth aging out of foster care. They all have in common the issue of stigma as a hurtle on their path to economic parity and equity.
Recently I was asked about my vision for Fedcap’s future. I envision a world where we not only make an impact in the lives of thousands of people we serve, but in the society as a whole. Imagine a world where recovering addicts are welcomed and supported by their community who champion every day of their sobriety. Imagine a world where those who do not struggle with addiction, honor the lessons learned from those who have wrestled every day with the pull of drugs and alcohol. Imagine a world where stigma wasn’t the largest hurtle for addicts to overcome.
The people I know in recovery are among the bravest people I have encountered. They have been through situations none of us would ever conjure for ourselves, yet they not only survive these trials, but they get past them.
Stigma is perpetuated for a number of reasons. It helps people create and maintain a distance between themselves and the “other,” who they want to believe is not like them. It helps ground people in superiority and helps them feel safe as if to say, “This can’t happen to me.”
But stigma is what prevents those who are affected—addicts as well as their families—from recovery.
What can we do to reduce stigma? Speak up. Talk. Tell stories. Listen to stories. Humanize the people behind addiction and know that their story could be your story. We are not better than addicts. It can happen to us. We are they.
So during this week that singles out a day for overdose awareness, I ask that we focus on listening to stories of those who are succeeding at recovery and ask ourselves: what are my own prejudices or thoughts about those in recovery? And, what can I do to help reframe beliefs that might be contributing to stigma? And finally, what can I do to influence those around me to reduce stigma?
I welcome your thoughts.