It’s no secret that the stigma around substance use and mental health is a huge issue. We learn quickly that advocating for our recovery is going to have to be handled on our own and it is often not going to be met with understanding. So we weigh the cost—is my being vulnerable and disclosing my struggles with mental health and substance use going to be worth the potential shaming that may likely come with it? Personally, I have experienced this more in the healthcare field more than any other area.
In chatting this week with some of our Sober Mommies team, we shared stories and it turns out I’m not alone.
“I went to the ER for fluids for dehydration at my doctor’s request when I had the flu. Because I’m open and disclose my substance abuse history, the nurse took one look at me and said, ‘Well we aren’t going to give you pain meds you know.’ My chart specifically says I’m not to be given narcotics, at my own request. She didn’t take time to listen or even look at any of that. She heard my history and labeled me a ‘junkie.’ I told her I wanted a new nurse if she wasn’t able to check her stigma.”
“I was discharged from the ER several years ago when I showed up seizing. They found out my history and on my release paper all it said was ‘Bipolar Disorder.’ I tried to explain that my bipolar disorder didn’t cause my seizures and something was wrong with me. Basically, they thought I was faking. They said, ‘Maybe YOU don’t even know you’re faking, you believe it’s real, but it’s not.’”
“The hair pulling has been so embarrassing. Now I bite my nails, pull out my hair, and I’m semi-bald in the front. None of my doctors take these things seriously.”
“I lost custody of my son when I was 19 and was very depressed. When I went for help, my doctor told me there was nothing wrong with me, I just needed to get a job. So I went to the pub and got drunk and didn’t ask for help with mental health again until I was 41.”
“My doctor told me my oldest was going be stillborn if I didn’t stop smoking. I flipped out. It made me never feel open to talk about any other issues I might be dealing with.”
When we are met with overwhelming judgment is there any wonder why we aren’t more open about our past?
I was years into my recovery before I ever felt comfortable advocating for myself. It was years before I was able to say, “I feel like your attitude toward this is coloring the way you see me and if you can’t overcome that bias, I would like to request a new provider.”
I’m a person with a chronic, critical illness that lands me in the healthcare settings more than the average person, and I have let people speak down to and shame me, rather than advocate for myself.
Why is that?
Shame. Shame makes us believe that we are the only people who feel that way. Shame tells us we probably deserve judgment and condemnation that happens when we’re open about our struggles. Here’s the thing though—there’s nothing you can say about me that is worse than what I have already believed about myself. No one is more judgmental and critical about my past than I have been. I’ve carried more self-judgment in these bones of mine than anyone could ever hope to say about me. For so long, I believed it—I absorbed it—I let it define me. I was fine was someone treating me like I was less-than and I fully believed they were within their right to do so because I deserved that.
Then I found my recovery community and I started healing. Therapy helped, but really what started to change the way I handled this was being part of a community of women in recovery. The more I got to know and respect amazing women in recovery, the less I was okay with anyone ever speaking to them that way. I would hear stories like the ones I shared above and I would get enraged. How dare anyone speak to my sisters like this! How could anyone consider judging such amazing women who’d come through so much?! I wanted to get loud and shed light on how they were being treated. They were worth so much and deserved every ounce of respect and care.
And a quiet voice in me began to whisper, “What if I fought this hard for me too?”
It’s much easier for me to stand up and shout your worth than it is for me to see mine. It’s much easier for me to advocate for you than for myself. It often feels like between my depression and trauma, I live in a house where all the windows are crystal clear but all the mirrors are broken or blurry. I look at a sister in recovery and see how far she’s come. It’s easy for me to cherish how beautiful her story is. I’m quick to tell her how worthy she is of all good things. I look at myself and it takes a while for me to get past, “Meh, you probably had that coming.”
When we choose to disclose our recovery we are worth being heard and respected. Advocating for ourselves begins with knowing our own worth. The reason it’s easier for me to stand up for someone else is that it’s often easier for me to see their worth. So I’m making it my mission now to know mine.