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Scottish Government Viewpoint: Talking can help break the stigma of addiction


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Michaela Jones.
Michaela Jones.

Michaela Jones

Michaela Jones used alcohol to help her cope with trauma from an early age. In her 30s, her alcohol use increased and increased to the point where she almost lost everything.

Now aged 54, Michaela has been abstinent for 13 years and credits the support she found from her ‘tribe’ in getting recovery.

Explaining why she started using alcohol, Michaela said:

“A lot of this is reflective, but I had what would considered a fairly traumatic childhood and I was also sexually abused for a really long time. I suppose I disassociated as a result. I was like two people all the time. The outer me was outgoing and extrovert, whereas the inner me was a scared, frightened and hurt person, and it was complex trying to juggle the two.

“The outer me did really well. I went to Uni, travelled, volunteered overseas and then when I came back to the UK, I got a job and worked my way up in the organisation, eventually managing a team of around 200 people.”

During this time, Michaela’s alcohol use increased as she describes alcohol as being the only thing that brought those two different people together. She said:

“As the outer me was on the up, the damaged person was going down the way. Alcohol removed all those nerves and anxiety, but my use increased and increased to a point where I was drinking to survive. I got up in the morning and was drinking, then being sick, drinking, then being sick. I was physically addicted and couldn’t function without it.

“You can’t apply logic to addiction. I knew I had a problem, but I had no idea how to get out of it and that was a very lonely place.”

Michaela lost her job, and the structure that went with it, eventually losing her home, her car and her relationship, and then attempted suicide. She said:

“All the chickens came home to roost when I lost my job. I knew I couldn’t live the way I was living but I didn’t know any alternative. God knows how I got through those first few months of detoxing, I was hanging on by a thread.

“One day I was frankly quite angry about the lack of support there was for me. I couldn’t believe how bad it was. I became involved in service user involvement and went to the first recovery walk and saw my tribe – and that’s when I got recovery.

“That was the start of a journey where you realise all these people who are stigmatised and seen as negative to society are amazing people with amazing assets. The only thing they share is pain and suffering that they’ve tried deal with through using drugs and alcohol, which seemed logical at the time until the drugs and alcohol became the problem.

“They were the most amazing people you would ever want to meet and what a shame we lose those people all the time. All they’re doing is medicating suffering, as everybody does in life to varying degrees.”

Michaela now works as a National Policy Officer with the Scottish Recovery Consortium supporting, representing and connecting people with lived experience. Speaking about the importance of connection in recovery, Michaela said:

“Addiction is about disconnection. You disconnect from everything including yourself. You’re in such pain and you can’t get out of it.

“In order for people to get well they need to be connected to other people. We are human beings, we’re not conditions. We tend to treat the presenting symptom not the underlying symptom. The underlying symptom is loneliness and disconnection and we’re trying to find ways to feel better. Unless you show people how to feel better, they’ll keep doing the same things over and over again.

“Stigma, especially in workplaces, leads to silence. We might be worried about someone in work but we’re too frightened to say anything, so these people end up in decline. And that is where stigma is dangerous, because we are ignoring something we know is happening.

“I’d worked where I worked for 13 years, and I didn’t get any support. I was just made redundant and that very nearly killed me. I don’t blame my employer, but I blame a society that doesn’t know how to talk more openly about addiction.

“I think if you can shift the needle even slightly in terms of people’s perceptions of addiction, it could really change things. Show a bit of compassion, don’t walk away, speak to that person you’re concerned about. We’ve got to humanise this. It’s about people who are suffering every day.

“I think people tend to be judged as ‘groups’, but when you speak to someone on a one-to-one basis, I think that stigma and judgement lessens.

“To break stigma, you’ve got to stop seeing people as a homogenous group and see them as individuals with their own story. And taking time to understand that story can change lives.”

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