A boy in Jerzy Kosinski’s 1965 book, “The Painted Bird” wanders about Eastern Europe fleeing the Nazis after his Polish parents are imprisoned. He comes upon a professional bird catcher who paints a bird with many colors, and then releases it to the sky. The boy watches as the soaring, painted bird comes upon its own flock and is mercilessly attacked by them. The bird plummets, dead, to the earth below.
Stigma means being turned on by our own. It is the sometimes deadly, always hurtful, experience of being made an outsider and shamed. People with addictions are among the most stigmatized of people with real illnesses that need to be recognized and treated - not blamed and ostracized for their disease.
Shatterproof has made stigma one of their four strategic pillars in changing public perception, promoting science and research, and in advocating for the resources needed to make a difference.
The minds of Americans and our media need to better understand and correct the damaging views so commonly held about people with addictions. We have ample evidence that people with addictions can recover and lead fulfilling lives with lasting relationships and career achievements. Yet too many people fear, avoid, and otherwise stigmatize people with addictions, despite the fact that those suffering from this illness are no less a ‘bird’ than the rest of us, even if its feathers are painted.
We can start by rejecting widespread notions of individual weakness, even moral failure. But there is more needed.
Doing so will mean demonstrating that we can detect addiction early, before it does more damage, and intervene with effective treatments, including new FDA-approved medications that reduce the risk of relapse and help people stay in recovery.
Doing so will mean more people with addictions, those succeeding in their lives, coming forth and showing that recovery can work. They will provide hope for others.
Doing so will mean earlier and better prevention efforts aimed at helping families keep their children from starting down the hard road of alcohol and drug misuse and abuse.
Doing so will mean helping families and communities take care of their loved ones when they become ill, as they would with any serious illness. It will mean holding these painted birds close and letting them fly with the rest of us.