I’m a small-town girl who has recently seen the world through a whole new mindset. Growing up, I never thought my life would be directly affected by addiction. Coming from the small town of Cheshire, Connecticut, I was a part of a tight-knit group of friends. There was the underage partying that took place but when it came to hardcore drugs, I always stayed clear.
Then my life took an unexpected turn. Now, fast forward 10 years and I find myself healing. Healing as I approach month five of my boyfriend living in recovery.
This is someone who was in my tight-knit group of friends and with whom I always shared a special connection. Someone I never thought would be in recovery. Someone I love and adore and couldn’t be prouder of. As I watch my boyfriend navigate the disease of addiction, I now understand how important it is to end the stigma of substance use. This is a topic I never thought would become so familiar to me.
What is stigma? Dictionary.com defines stigma as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” We all know how fast word travels in a small town. I have seen firsthand the judgment and negative stigma associated with addiction. The whispers, the name-calling, the assumptions, all seem to be a natural reaction for some. But has anyone ever realized somewhere beneath addiction lies a story? The story of which is more than likely a crucial missing piece of the puzzle.
I know this because even though I am not the person in recovery, I have experienced the judgment and ridicule myself as the girlfriend. I want these individuals to know that addiction is a brain disease; a disease which deserves as much compassion, attention, research, and education as any other disease out there; a disease that is way too often overshadowed by the stigma.
There was a time when I, too, associated addiction with a certain stigma. I realize now I was naïve and very uneducated on the topic. I do not fault those who have a stigma towards addiction because I do not believe enough light is shed on this epidemic. Although there have been many improvements in recent years, we must do more to make people aware that addiction is a disease that can affect anyone. We must share our stories because only together can we end the stigma and shed light on this devastating disease.
To those in recovery and all the loved ones of people in recovery—children, parents, spouses, siblings, extended family, friends, co-workers—please remember you are never alone. By continuing to share my story and learn more myself, I hope to encourage my generation to be more open-minded and accepting. Together, we can be the change.