If you’ve been following us on Facebook and Twitter, you are likely aware of our “X the Stigma” (#xthestigma) advocacy campaign and the many educational, informational, surprising and inspiring posts we have passed on.
From time to time, we like to include in these posts, first-hand accounts of those who have dealt with or are dealing with the pain and shame of stigmas associated with addiction, mental illness, abuse, etc. What we’ve found is that these personal accounts seem to resonate the most with you – our supporters. It makes sense, really. We can hear a fact or bust a myth, but when we hear how something affects an individual personally, it becomes emotional…it becomes real.
We recently asked one of our clients at The Women’s Home to talk to us about her own experiences with shame and stigma. Her words were so impactful and inspiring, we asked if we could share them with you. Melissa, being the brave and amazing woman that she is, said “absolutely – if it will help even one person, how can I say no?”
“My Experience”: TWH Resident, Melissa T.
“Before addiction, I loved the person I was,” said Melissa. “I was driven. I had a great career and a positive outlook. I was a good person and I wanted to get back there.”
But there were things holding Melissa back from getting the help she so desperately needed. One of those things – a big one – was overwhelming shame.
“I was so ashamed about everything I had done and was doing,” she said. “What was wrong with me? I couldn’t imagine that anyone else had manipulated and lied as much as I had…to people I loved. I didn’t want to admit it. I was so depressed and to be quite honest, I hated who I had become.”
Nationally renowned speaker, research professor, bestselling author and long-time supporter of The Women’s Home, Brene Brown, LMSW, offers up a key dinstinction between “shame” and “guilt”. This is important as it explains the poisonous, corrosive nature of shame and what it can do to anyone mired down in it.
She states: Guilt = “I did something bad” and can be a healthy reaction when we act outside our values and standards. Shame = “I AM bad”. Shame is something we are taught, that we carry around like a lead weight. It’s shame that leads to self-defeating and harmful behaviors. Once we believe we are bad, shame erodes our desire to change. We stop thinking we’re lovable or worthy of love. After all, if we are bad to our core, what’s the point in trying to change?
This doesn’t mean that people with addictions or mental illness don’t make poor decisions. They certainly do. But compassion comes from understanding why. And the ability for the addicted to feel worthy enough to get help, is partially impacted by they, themselves understanding why. For so long, Melissa had been told by others that it was her fault…that she did have control over it and so she started believing it. She wondered why others could drink and do fine, but she couldn’t control it. She began to believe that she was an awful person. This feeling prevented Melissa from getting help for quite some time. When she finally did enter The Women’s Home, she began to get the help and education on this disease that opened her mind to a new world, and began to release the harmful self rhetoric.
“My counselor began teaching me that I had a disease,” said Melissa. “She said you wouldn’t shame a person for having cancer or heart disease and that I had a disease as well. This education, including classes like “Shame Resilience” at TWH, really changed my way of thinking. I began to realize that I wasn’t an awful person. I had made some poor decisions, but I’m not a bad person.”
Melissa also realized the value of sharing her story with other addicts and other people with mental illness. She began to understand that she was not alone and that was empowering.
“I’m graduating from The Women’s Home in June, and I can honestly say that I’m no longer beating myself up,” said Melissa. “This program gave me a lot of insight and awareness into myself and this disease. It took awhile, but they were patient and I hope someday I in some way repay every person involved in allowing me to heal in this special place.”
To find out more about our programs at The Women’s Home, go to our home page – www.thewomenshome.org – and read away! To follow our “X the Stigma” campaign on social media, “like” us on Facebook and “follow” us onTwitter. There is power in numbers and opening the lines of communication is key. Join us.