There is a very real, very devastating stigma attached to the disease of addiction / alcoholism. (Dictionary.com defines a stigma is as “a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation.”) In spite of the many things we now know about addiction and alcoholism, a large majority of the general public still views this illness with disdain and contempt. There are a lot of people out there who –for whatever reason –refuse to treat those afflicted with this disease with patience and compassion. Instead, we are often treated like lepers; cast out of certain social circles, denied jobs and cut out of the lives of people who are important to us.
An addiction to drugs or alcohol may seem like a choice to those who do not understand the dynamics of this debilitating and deadly disease. Regardless of what other people think, however; addiction and alcoholism (which are actually one in the same) are classified as diseases. Those of use who understand the disease concept know this is not something we would ever bring upon ourselves. Emotional, mental, financial and spiritual ruin is not something any rational, healthy and balanced person would choose for their life. Only a sick person would barrel full steam ahead, engaging in drug and alcohol abuse in spite of the consequences.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction “a primary, chronic disease of the brain.” It is considered a disease because it meets three very important criteria –it is chronic, progressive and fatal, usually marked with relapses and remissions. Some psychologists and psychiatrists believe addiction falls into the category of mental illness, while others argue that it is a bodily illness. Either way, the fact remains that the medical community acknowledges this condition as a very real, very devastating affliction.
It is important that you know this about yourself so that you can embrace your disease and seek healing from it. Your disease does not define who you are as a person, but it is a part of who you are, and it is something that will stay with you the rest of your life. While you may struggle with this truth, the sooner you embrace it, the sooner you will find freedom. When you make peace with your disease, and give yourself permission to recover from it, you no longer allow society’s misguided viewpoints, your parents’ false perceptions or your boss’s uneducated opinion about addiction dictate how you treat your condition.
Admitting to yourself that you are an alcoholic or addict is difficult enough without having to face the attitudes, thoughts and feelings of others who know nothing about what you’re going through. When you begin to speak openly about your illness, others can make that decision that much more difficult by denying the very real, very devastating condition you suffer from. Such a reaction, however, should not deter you from getting the help you so desperately need. Having the disease of addiction or alcoholism is nothing to be ashamed of, just like having cancer or diabetes is nothing to feel guilty about.
Just for today, give yourself permission to be a recovering addict or alcoholic. Show yourself the compassion and patience you want to receive from other people. Embrace your disease and find the hope, healing and wholeness available to every addict and alcoholic seeking sobriety, one day at a time.