Wednesday 28 August 2019

Fighting the Stigma of Addiction and Mental Illness

By Cassidy Webb

In recovery I see a lot of people go in and out. Unfortunately, not everyone makes it back. I’ve lost a lot of friends to addiction and I’ve watched even more of them struggle with their mental health. I’ve watched mental illness take over the minds of good people to the point where it drives them back to the needle or the bar. When it’s somebody close to me, I just want to shake them. I want to shake the misery, the despair, and the fear right out of them. I want them to get well. I want them to get the help that they deserve. However, I can’t do that. I’m not that powerful.

Growing up I was told to sit quietly and look pretty. Sharing my emotions was frowned upon, and when I did, I felt judged. I felt like the outcast whom nobody understood. I became a master at shoving my emotions down until they became too much to bear. I would then break down in major depressive episodes. As a teenager, I found solace in drugs and alcohol. I didn’t have to feel anything except pure bliss if I was drunk or high.

The lack of ability to cope with my emotions and substance abuse eventually spiraled into dangerous heroin addiction and severe depression. I had lost the will to live because I was too afraid of what people would think if I asked for help. Before addiction, I was an honor roll student and had my whole life ahead of me. I didn’t want to be seen as a failure. I didn’t want to be judged.

I tried to take my own life, promising myself that if I woke up, I would go to treatment. Treatment was my last resort because I didn’t know that it was possible to be happy. I didn’t know anything about addiction or recovery. I just thought I was insane.

I was one of the lucky ones. I went to treatment once, got diagnosed with depression, learned how to cope with it appropriately, and followed the path I needed to follow to stay sober. Unfortunately, not everybody’s path is the same.

I remember my first day in treatment because I was terrified. I was surrounded by people who were astonished to find out that it was my first time in rehab. Some of them had been to over fifteen facilities and still couldn’t stay sober. Honestly, it was really discouraging. As somebody who knew nothing about mental illness or recovery, I felt like I was doomed to live a life where I was in and out of dual diagnosis treatment centers. A lot of my peers made it seem like getting sober and staying sober was impossible.

Despite this discouragement, I was determined. I didn’t do everything right — after all, I’m human and what makes me human is the fact that I make mistakes. The difference was that I learned from my mistakes and turned them into opportunities for growth. In learning from my mistakes I also embraced transparency. I set my pride aside and I admitted when I was wrong. I sought the opinions from others on how to fix it and I set out to make my wrongs right.

When I celebrated a year sober, I stood in front of both the alumni and the current clients at my treatment center. Some people I was in treatment with were still sober, others were back in treatment. I didn’t condemn them but rather gave them words of encouragement. I wanted to show the people who had been stuck on this relapse rollercoaster that they didn’t have to use again. I wanted to show the people who were in treatment for the first time, feeling as scared as I was, that they can do what I did, too. I wanted all of them to know that, although it may feel like it, this isn’t the end of the road. It doesn’t have to be.

If I could just shake these people who I see struggling and make them ask for help I would. If I could expand mental health resources to be accessible to everybody I would do it in a heartbeat. However, the only thing I can do is use the voice I have been given to share the experience that I can have. If my vulnerability affects just one person, then I have achieved my purpose as a woman in recovery.

When the mental illness goes untreated in the midst of addiction recovery, it often leads people back out to relapse. When it comes to treating addiction, I believe that it is absolutely imperative to address mental health too. After all, nearly half of those who suffer from addiction also have a co-occurring mental illness. Failing to recognize this is doing those who want to get better a major disservice. On the other hand, failing to speak up and talk about mental health is an even bigger disservice.

I believe that the first step in destigmatizing people who suffer from co-occurring disorders is to talk about it from a first-hand perspective. It is absolutely crucial to share those dirty secrets that we hold on to and it is absolutely necessary to acknowledge the times when we fall short. It’s important for those who are struggling to feel comfortable in asking for help and feel comfortable talking to others about the thoughts that run through their heads. By being completely transparent and brutally honest, we allow others to relate to us. We allow others to see that they aren’t alone.

By withholding the truth, we not only suffer in silence ourselves, but we enable others to suffer in silence. This type of suffering is the worst kind because when it comes to mental health and addiction, it can mean life or death. Most of all, we must demonstrate to others that despite how dark the past is, there can be light in the future.

About the Author

Cassidy Webb is an avid writer who works with JourneyPure to spread awareness around the disease of addiction. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope. You can find her and read more of her work on Twitter.


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