There is no doubt that addiction and mental health remain the two hot-and-awkward topics which seem to never stay far away from controversy, and related to it, stigma. As much as they demand a conversation, the attitudes around them make many conversations impossible because people are afraid of judgement and negative consequences. Before deciding to publish my memoir, I struggled for some time with revealing my own name because of my professional associations and because I was still somewhat worried I would get rejected by telling my truth—therefore perpetuate my ongoing dilemma with feeling like I didn’t belong. I’ve toyed with the idea of a pseudonym, with the idea of only using the first letter of my last name, even with the idea of authoring the book as “Baby Boy Bender” (which was the name I was given in my birth certificate—you could say I was doomed from the start…).
In the end, I published the book under my name because I wanted my story to continue to exist outside of the pages of the memoir, I wanted to make myself available to my readers—at least the way I do it now, through this blog and social media. Writing the memoir, I wanted my story to help people like me, people who have felt that they didn’t belong: other relinquishees, people with addiction… that was the drive for me: to connect with others and to make them feel connected. Yes, I was scared that I would be judged and criticized and worse—that my professional connections would suffer—but in the end the fear was thwarted because I knew that it was more important to own my story fully.
I’m by no means a pioneer in pushing the bounds of anonymity—there have been hundreds of books published where people wrote about their problems with addiction or mental health. The books have helped many others, the authors have gone on to write more books (Jennifer Lauck, Mary Karr, Richard Lewis, Bill Clegg), to start podcasts (for example, http://thisnakedmind.libsyn.com/ or https://theshairpodcast.com/), to embrace fully the things that could’ve been their downfall. There are dozens of organizations that set up conferences that deal with mental health and addiction (for example, a new and exciting foundation She Recovers helps women and those who identify as women in staying clean and sober. (Jamie Lee Curtis, Jennifer Lauck, Mary Karr, Jowita Bydlowska, Kat Von D).
I, in fact, have some ideas as how to take my own professional expertise and life experience further, how to build on it and ensure that I contribute to destroying the negative perceptions and dispel the stigma. I am no longer afraid of being vocal about my journey because I’ve been heard (and read) by many people who have related—I’ve had my experience validated many times. But the beginnings were just as tough as you can imagine.
And I would never suggest that breaking anonymity is something that is right for everyone. We all have different thresholds of how much feedback (or criticism!) we can withstand and not all of us have the kind of emotional support that I do. I’m confident and happy and have a family who stands behind my decisions, but that not be the case for everyone.
I wish we lived in the world where it would be safe to disclose our uniqueness, our pain, and our struggles, without judgement. But it is often not safe to do that. Luckily we have places to go where we can talk to others like ourselves (12-step rooms, for example). But it is my dream that one day we wouldn’t have to hide our humanity, that it would be okay to sometimes not be okay. I am hopeful that things will change the more we talk about mental health and addiction and the more light we shed on the positive aspects of those talks, mainly recovery and better public understanding.
#addictionrecovery #addictionmedicine #addictionpsychiatry #addiction #alcoholism #mindfulness #substanceusedisorders #psychotherapy #interventions #angst #connection #family #recovery #relationships #adoption #adopted #focusonthefamily