Drink and Drugs News DDN December 2018 | Page 6

Families Katie’s experience of stigma made her determined to help herself and others – the beginning of Adfam’s #StigmaMakesMeFeel campaign. She shares her story Finding a voice y older brother has been addicted to class A drugs for the past 17 years. I was 12 years old when he began using drugs, and my younger brother was just ten. Needless to say, his addiction has affected my family in every way possible, but perhaps the worst part was how other people treated us – all because of the stigma surrounding drug addiction. The stigma was ridiculous – nobody wakes up in the morning and says ‘I think I’ll become an addict today’. Yet why does it prevent so many people from speaking out? Is it because they’re worried that people will judge? Of course. Is it because people are worried that others will think they’re an addict? Perhaps. Does it mean anyone has failed? Absolutely not. Does wider society realise the anguish that comes with having somebody who is addicted in the family? No. These are questions that I have been asking for 17 years now. The first time I experienced stigma was when I was 13 years old. The day before we had had a horrible ‘post-high comedown’ drama with my brother. He was incredibly violent and the police were called – and of course being in a small village, that meant that our neighbours watched the drama unfold. While I was looking at the magazines in the village post office, treating myself M to an escape for the afternoon, I overheard three fellow villagers saying, ‘I don’t want a family like that in the village, I don’t want my children growing up surrounded by drug addicts.’ I calmly walked around the corner and corrected their perception, making it quite clear that my family were not a ‘bunch of addicts’, but incredibly hard working and respectable people who were going through tremendous pain and heartbreak supporting someone with an addiction, and that they should be ashamed of themselves for being so naïve. I didn’t get an apology, but was met with rather embarrassed looks and silence. After that day I never returned to the shop. That’s why Adfam is so important to me. Stigma has had a huge impact on me – it silenced me for 16 years, and those who know me, know I am not easily silenced! All the years of not being able to speak openly about something that has several times come close to destroying my family and me was released, and I am incredibly grateful to Adfam for giving me the confidence to speak out against stigma. I hope this campaign will not only bring people together, but go some way for us, as a group, to have a voice and influence policy. Through #StigmaMakesMeFeel we are determined to help others and get our voices heard. Strength in narratives Helping families and friends to tell their stories has been an effective way to offer support, says John Taylor was reading a recovery stories book, full of inspirational stories of how service users found recovery from substance misuse. With that in mind, I thought ‘what about the people around them – their families and friends? Do they not need some form of recovery and for their stories to be told?’ I started to ask my clients at the Daws Families I 6 | drinkanddrugsnews | December/January 2019 and Friends service if they would be willing to tell their stories about how they found their own recovery with a ‘loved one’ in addiction, and the response I got was both positive and quite remarkable. Many said they would like to tell their story to help someone else to feel less alone. Most felt when they came into the service that they were all alone in dealing with their loved one’s addic tion and that they couldn’t tell anyone about what was happening in their life because they feel so much guilt and shame – hence it becoming a ‘family illness’. They stopped talking to people closest to them because they felt sick of talking about the same old stuff or they had received advice that wasn’t useful to them, such as ‘kick them out’ and ‘don’t have them in your life’. They felt that those around them didn’t understand about addiction and were quick to judge, adding to a sense of shame. This is exactly why groups can work so well for www.drinkanddrugsnews.com