Am I stigmatizing Myself?


Since the day I told my family I was dropping out of college to go to substance use disorder treatment I felt like there was something “wrong” with me. Often when I tell people outside of social services that I am a person in recovery they don’t know what to say. I have lost friends because they didn’t like the fact that I am in recovery. Maybe suddenly to them I became someone different than who they knew me to be. I will never know because they avoid me. I have had almost 40 years in recovery. Forty years of being someone people could count on. Forty years of consistency, caring, and reliability. After 40 years of doing what is right, how can I still feel “wrong”? Maybe it is because I see the censorship in other people’s eyes. I know many people have been hurt by someone with a substance use disorder and I internalize that hurt as if it were my fault. I do that unthinkingly because I remember the hurt I caused those I loved more than 40 years ago. I wish the censors could see the hope I bring. Hope for a better future for their loved one and themselves.

Others in recovery are also nervous about sharing their transformation. They also still carry guilt or shame of being labeled an addict or a hopeless drunk. It is easy to stigmatize ourselves when we are rejected, feared, or shamed by others in all stages of this disease. Stigma is an emotional response. It stems from fear, shame, guilt, and anger. As individuals in recovery, we have to let all of that go. We cannot see ourselves through the lens clouded in stigma. We have to move past it and see ourselves for who we are becoming. In recovery, we are always working toward becoming the best version of ourselves. Letting go of self-stigmatizing thoughts and beliefs helps keep us from becoming our past selves. So celebrate yourself and who you have become as an individual in recovery. You’re amazing and worthy of love and support.

If you need assistance with substance use disorder or behavioral health, please call Chestnut Health Systems at 888.924.3786 in central Illinois or 618.877.4420 in Madison and St. Clair Counties and Metro East Illinois.

About the Author

Author Joan Hartman
Title Vice President of Strategy and Public Policy

Joan Hartman has worked in the behavioral health field since 1984. She has experience in all aspects of behavioral health including community-based and acute psychiatric, crisis intervention along with all levels of substance abuse services. She has served on the board of the Illinois Association of Behavioral Health since 2007. She currently serves as Vice President of Strategy and Public Policy for Chestnut Health Systems. Joan works to create partnerships with local, regional, and national collaborators. She holds a master’s of education degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of Louisville and a bachelor’s degree in Alcohol and Drug Studies from the University of South Dakota. Joan has been in active recovery from substance use disorders since 1983. She has been married since 1989 and has three children and one adorable grandchild. She is active in her church and relies on her spiritual sisters for ongoing support and accountability.