Overcoming stigma

By “Mr. Underhill”

overcoming stigma overcoming stigma

There is no one period in my life or story that can define my experience. I can tell you for better or worse it brought me to where I am today. As I write this, I have been alcohol and drug free for three months. My reasons for stopping are pretty personal, but what it boiled down to for me was stigma.  

Stigma for myself manifests itself differently depending on the situation. I still have stigma to this day even though I am sober. I dare not tell my story in its entirety because I feel afraid people will see me differently because of the shameful things I’ve done in the past. This leads to me feeling dishonest, like I can’t be straight up even with my closest friends.

When I started going to groups with active drug users I was amazed at the ease with which they shared their stories. I didn’t want to tell how at one time I substituted crack for alcohol, and vice versa, or how I stole rubbing alcohol because I couldn’t afford the read deal, or worst of all, the times I told my mom I needed rent money even though my rent was paid.  

READ MORE: The impact of stigma

The reason I can say these things now is simple: compassion. Being compassionate and non-judgemental can ease the pain and embarrassment of stigma. This is what I learned from these (Drug User Group) meetings. They opened a door for me, allowing me to share my experiences more openly. Sharing gave me a sense of belonging. Here was a group of people who could share their experience and knowledge for the betterment of others around them. There was no need to put on airs. These people were genuine.

“Being compassionate and non-judgemental can ease the pain and embarrassment of stigma.”

I sincerely believe that whether we see it or not, there is inherent good in each and every person, even our worst enemies. Drug use can be found in every corner of society and every culture. Users can be rich or poor, doctors, lawyers, judges, secretaries, truck drivers, even religious zealots—and the list goes on and on.

The stigma I felt as a drug user was caused by and large by my low self-esteem. By sharing a little of the shameful things, I was able to remove some of the debris and see the goodness in me that was hidden. Wanting to build on that goodness, I decided to stop using. I wish I could say that my story ends here, but it is just the beginning. Don’t get me wrong, I love drugs. The only difference now is that I choose not to do them.

“By sharing a little of the shameful things, I was able to remove some of the debris and see the goodness in me that was hidden. Wanting to build on that goodness, I decided to stop using.”

Drug User Group is a weekly meeting in Whitehorse for people who use or have used drugs. All are welcomed anywhere on the drug use spectrum, from people who use daily to people who haven’t used in years but feel they benefit from the group experience. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has meant that Drug User Group hasn’t been able to meet regularly as we don’t have a large enough space to be able to comply with social distancing regulations. We hope that we will be able to begin meeting weekly again soon.

The purpose of Drug User Group is to

  1. Reduce harms associated with drug use by increasing knowledge on how to use safely, while also providing the tools for people to be able to do so 
  2. Support each other regardless of whether or not we are currently using drugs, wherever we are on our life’s journey
  3. Change public perception around drug use by dispelling myths, educating the public, advocating for reasonable drug laws, and demanding that drug use and addiction be recognized as a health issue instead of justice issue
  4. Keep up to date on issues locally within communities of people who use drugs, as well as harm reduction best practices, to ensure people who use drugs have access to current and relevant information
  5. Empower and improve the quality of life for people who use drugs
  6. Respect the worth and dignity of each person to make their own decisions regarding health and drug use

Contact Blood Ties at 867-332-8268 or [email protected] for more information.

About Canadian Drug Policy Coalition

Advocating for public health- and human rights-based drug policies grounded in evidence, social justice, and compassion. www.drugpolicy.ca