In my last blog I mentioned a project I was part of. Important and exciting work. “Real People Share their Recovery Stories.” We gathered stories from across the land told by people who accessed addiction services for support to make changes in their lives. The purpose of the publication was to make recovery visible and have the stories freely available. When people front up to addiction services, willingly or unwillingly, they/we are at a very low ebb. It is not the first place people come to. It’s the last! We’ve tried everything else and when that doesn’t work, we come in the door, full of fear and guilt and shame and loneliness. It takes guts to front up. The stigma that goes with addiction and the demonising of certain substances can be a barrier to asking for help. Stigma keeps us silent and it creates and feeds shame in the person who is using and in their families.
It is our hope, in putting these stories of courage together, people will see themselves reflected, realise they are not alone and generate hope they too can make a change. Stories defuse shame by connecting to the heart. Connection is the opposite of isolation.
I’ve been thinking about stigma and the impact it has on our lives. Stigma is variously described as ‘a badge of shame’ or a ‘mark of disgrace’. It sets people apart.
Stigma, and the discrimination that results, is not confined to addiction and/or mental health issues. It is pervasive in society and it is in us. Naturally, it is present in the realm of ‘ageing’. Ageists abound. I recognise it in me. Check this out – I get my hair coloured because I am not ‘ready’ for people to see me with grey hair. I admire and appreciate others who have done so. Yet I do not go there. Do I see grey hair on me then, as a ‘badge of shame’? Well, “yes”. And here’s the thing, do I, by continuing to pay big bucks to have my hair coloured regularly, also feel shame about that? Well, “yes”. Fucks sake!! I’m glad I know this about myself otherwise I would be in danger of taking myself seriously.
The advertising industry promotes unease about self to sell product. I get that. Even though I don’t subscribe to the magazines, the message gets through. And these days, ‘reality’ TV delivers shame into our living rooms as a spectator sport. The cooking shows. The biggest losers and suchlike. The ‘talent’ shows slagging people off publicly. The shame shows feed our fear of difference. People feel isolated and remedy this by purchasing what they can’t afford, drinking more, say, and/or spending hours on social media, to create an illusion of connection. Its a lonely place to be.
The print media also have a part to play in creating division and feeding shame. Articles about the ageing population and the negative impact ‘baby boomers’ have on life as we know it are fairly regular. Divisive attitudes can be dressed up as ‘care’. Check this out. I recently came upon a piece in the NZ Herald (yes, I know, what was I doing there in the first place?) headlined, “Forget about voting, old age is a time to relax” Well that got my attention, vote for what? So I read on and the writer, Matt Heath, stated he has no disrespect for older people, it’s just that he doesn’t “want them voting anymore,” because we (the aged) have had our turn and besides, we specialise in looking back – not forward.
And I quote. “The world is a terrifying and confusing place when you’re elderly (not in my experience). You’re being left behind (behind what? Is it a race?) When you’re young you can jump up two stairs at a time (no effing way have I ever been able to do that). When you’re old, you stand at the top trembling (Yeah? Nah!) Unfortunately fear can lead to judgmentalism (agree – so what is your fear Matt?) and bigotry (exactly!!) Anyway, you get my point and you can read the full article here if you are so inclined.
I’m sixty eight next week so should I be allowed to vote? Well, thoughts of an election and the choices on offer currently are enough for me to toss my crocheted blanket aside, rise up out of my rocking chair and run screaming from the room. That doesn’t mean though that I will not exercise my right to vote despite the feeling evoked by the thoughts..
I am hoping, as I write, that Mr Heath does not get wind of the fact that I, and many other people over 65, are still in the workforce. Nek minnit, he’ll be wanting to save us poor old sods from the potential terror and confusion of getting up in the morning, negotiating the traffic and turning up each day and doing work that is meaningful to us. He will be wanting to save us from ourselves.
I apreciate the idea of care in Mr Heath’s article, however, if I need help, I will ask. Oh, while I think of it, there is something he could do. Before we are all farmed out to the ‘Twilight Home for the Bewildered’, may I suggest he channel some of his creative energies into assisting oldies with the potentially terrifying and confusing process of the introduction of the HOP Swap. What a fucking nightmare that has turned out to be. Voting for the next Prime Minister is a breeze compared to this.
Sadly the halcyon days of waving Winnie’s Golden Ticket at the bus driver are no more. We can no longer blithely hop (jump up two steps?? Hehe, let it go Suze) on a bus, wave the GT vaguely in the direction of the bus driver as we swan down the aisle with a mad gleam in our eyes because ‘we got the free ride, bitches’. No! Not unless we have gone through the rigmarole of the HOP Swap. The Monty Pythonesque process is worthy of its own blog post. I wont subject you to it. Check it out here if you are interested.
So, back to here and now. Stigma is present in society. It’s in me and in you. Thats okay. I dont want to buy into the illusion of ‘us and them’. I need to own whats mine so I can make a change. I don’t want to wear the badge of shame. I don’t want to be someone who needs to impulsively buy more shit and/or take a mood altering substance or disappear up my own arse on the internet in order to feel connected. I want to do my bit to make recovery visible and I appreciate seeing myself reflected in stories. I am reminded I am okay and you are okay. I want to be who I am. I am enough. We are enough.