The stigma surrounding addiction is undeniable, but it is important to remember that the problem is with society, not with you. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you. You likely felt it before you entered rehab and now you face the same stigma in recovery. At times, it can be debilitating, and while you can’t erase stigma overnight, you can learn ways to prevent it from derailing all your progress.
It is important to keep an open line of communication with your support network and educate them about addiction. They might be unsure of how to talk to you or may treat you differently, so it would be beneficial for your relationships, whether professional and personal, to communicate how you are feeling and be open and honest about what you need. They are the people that you can turn to for support, so if they know how to talk to you about your addiction and recovery, they’ll be better able to help you.
### Put Yourself First
When people hear that you are in recovery, they might ask you questions that you are not ready or willing to answer, and that’s ok. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. Share what you are comfortable with and politely decline to talk about the rest. It is important that you always put your well-being first. If sharing your story is going to hinder your recovery in any way, don’t. You are not your addiction. You have much more to share.
### Keep the Focus on Recovery
You went through rehab and are working on your recovery – that’s awesome! You should be incredibly proud of this amazing accomplishment. When speaking to people about your experiences, frame your discussion around the positives in your recovery: how much you learned from your struggle, how you grew as a person from your experiences, etc. This will help you to explain how much of an accomplishment your sobriety is and also help your conversation partner gain some insight into addiction and recovery.
### Speak Up
If you are comfortable sharing your story, use it to tear down the stigma that surrounds addiction. Many who have never been affected by substance abuse are unaware of what addiction is really like ⎼ how easily it can start, how it can affect anyone, how difficult it is to quit. Sharing your experiences with others can help shine a light on the reality of it. If you are really passionate about changing the conversation that surrounds addiction, you can look into becoming an advocate for an addiction organization, start a blog where you open up about your past, or speak at local school and community centers. This will go a long way in reducing the stigma of addiction for everyone and will help others feel more comfortable speaking about their struggles with addiction as well.
### Take It Easy
Learning to cope with stigma is hard, and it’s something that you have to learn. Don’t beat yourself up because you’re not immediately able to cope well with it. People are learning more about addiction and the times are changing, but it is still slow going. Don’t get angry or upset when people don’t understand. Instead, try to educate them. Remember, you can’t control how others feel, but you do have control over how you react. Surround yourself with supportive people, go easy on yourself, and don’t let others alter how you see yourself. You are in recovery, and that is something to be proud of.