Stigma: the aftermath of sobriety. How do we break the stigma?
“Alcoholics are equated in social contexts to people who are unlovable, unemployed and criminals. In short, addictions are treated like moral and criminal issues.”-Helen Farrell My husband has been sober for almost 8 years. Not many know the rollercoaster that was our life for many years as he continued to abuse alcohol. While some people wear their sobriety like a badge of honor, my husband is very quiet about his. He will politely turn down a drink in a social setting, often bringing a large coffee with him to sip on instead. I actually had someone smile at me during an event we were at and say: “One of these days I’m going to get him to have a drink with me, I bet he’d be a lot of fun!” I remember my head spinning thinking back on just how “fun” he was during our dark days – I smiled back at this man and said “Nah. He wouldn’t be much fun.” I’ve asked him why he doesn’t brag about his accomplishments on social media – about how he’s turned his life around. His response has been because of the stigma that comes with being an addict, sober or not. He’s pointed out to me that if he were to share in a professional environment that he was a recovering alcoholic, it could change how others view him (even when he was teetering on the edge of rock bottom he was continuing to be very successful in his career), and maybe even prevent a promotion. His biggest reason for not going to rehab was because he didn’t want his boss to know. He didn’t want to have the reputation of an addict. These days my husband takes great joy in coaching our sons in youth sports. We’ve started to make some wonderful friends… most don’t know that he is an alcoholic. There are a few that he’s opened up to – either because they have shared their own stories of sobriety (a few of them wear those social media sobriety badges of honor), or because he has felt comfortable enough knowing their opinion of him will not be skewed. His fear is that parents could potentially hold his past against him if he shares the reason why he’s not drinking with them at a tournament. Not being able to coach kids due to his past would be devastating. Not only for him, but for the kids that would miss out on having an amazing coach. He has a love for kids and sports that is undeniable – the sports seasons end with numerous kids and parents begging him to coach the next season. He’s positive, but expects hard work. Hard work is something he has proven to be successful at. I will continue to silently cheer him on… but I can’t help but wonder, how many others are out there staying silent out of possible societal repercussions?