A slew of celebrities, from Ben Affleck to Eliza Dushku to Katey Segal and others, have recently come forward with confessional accounts of their substance abuse. Their latent disclosure of their sickness reinforces the deep and pervasive stigma regarding addiction and the kinds of people that fall victim to it. Even after years of battling the disease, and ultimately overcoming it, the shame and fear of judgment they feel preclude many from talking to others about what they went through. The problem with such silence is that, in addition to creating internal pressure on the recovering addict, it deprives others currently going through addiction of valuable insight regarding their struggles and what they can do to reverse the course.
Each person’s recovery journey is their own; and it’s up to them how much they want to share with others. The pressures of the recovery process can be difficult enough without having to constantly relive one’s substance abuse history in front of an audience. Having said that, the unwillingness to share should not come from a place of fear or shame. Would we ridicule someone for falling victim to diabetic shock or a heart attack? Would we stigmatize someone for having a stroke? Wouldn’t we want to do everything we could to save others from a similar fate? Regardless of any cultural stigma, addiction is a disease and should be treated as such by society and clinicians, alike.
We may never be fully ready to disclose the less dignified parts of our substance abuse history; but when we are ready to tell others outside of our immediate circle that we overcame addiction, we can use it as an opportunity to be an example for others who truly believe that there is no hope for themselves; this anecdotal insight will help erode the stigma of shame attached to addiction, one person at a time.