Webinar # 4: Recovery And The Stigma Of Recovery

Hello and welcome to our webinar. My name
is Paul Toriello and I’m a proud member of the empowering youth and family
program. This webinar is on recovery and the stigma of recovery. We’re very lucky
to be joined by Donald McDonald who is a national expert in recovery and the
stigma of recovery and how to battle it Donald, thanks for joining us on this
webinar. Thank you. Please tell us a little bit about your personal
professional journey that led you to have this expertise that you want to
share with us. Yes well my name is Donald MacDonald I’m a person thriving in
sustained recovery from severe mental and substance use disorders now for 15
years. I’m a social worker. I’m a addiction specialist. I’m a recovery
coach professional and a pie lover. Ok, fantastic. Recovery. For you, what does
that mean, what does recovery mean to you? Right,
well recovery means more than the absence of alcohol and other drugs from
an unchanged and unfulfilling life Recovery is my life. I am, I have purpose
in my life today, I’m surrounded with loving people, meaningful relationships,
and I have a desire to help other people find their pathway to recovery so that’s
that’s what recovery means to me. it’s it’s a daily journey of
self-improvement and helping other people to find freedom and wellness
themselves. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle for me. So you’ve extended
beyond that though, you’ve become what you call recovery activist. I say that’s
a new phrase or maybe a more recent phrase. What does recov- what does a
recovery activist mean what is it what does that look like? I’ve taken to
calling myself a recovery activist and several of my peers nationally have been
doing that as well and this came about when we began to shed the internalized
stigma associated with with our pathology. We were thriving in recovery,
we were doing so very well yet we were seeing systems of care
continue to be inadequate, systems of punishment continue to respond to to
public health issues so we realized that the recovery movement is a civil rights
movement, that our issues with access to appropriate care, that our issues with
acute care and incarceration versus recovery oriented care, these were all
rooted in stigma these were discriminatory barriers to freedom and
wellness for people, so I along with many of my peers are leveraging our recovery
status, our knowledge, our status in the community, our privilege to try to
demolish these barriers for other people who who aren’t as lucky or as privileged
as we are. And one of the barriers probably one of the biggest barriers is
stigmatizing language, the language that stigmatizes the addict or the person
recovering. Talk about stigmatizing language or language in general and some
in its importance from for perpetuating the negative as well as battling the
negative. Absolutely I always draw in one of my mentors right
now with with a quote from him Don coyhis of the white bison wellbriety movement. It’s an indigenous American native wisdom pathway of recovery and he shared
with us. If you want to care for something, you call it a flower. If you
want to kill, something you call it a weed, and and these names are our social
constructs for things that are strikingly similar in appearance but
we’ve decided as a society: we kill weeds, we nurture flowers, and we’ve also
discovered that the human brain has a similar reaction when we’re discussing
human beings. If we use stigmatizing labels or pejorative language to
describe folk, we are more inclined to care less about them and they are less
inclined to seek help from us. So that that’s what we’ve discovered is if
we begin using more accurate less stigmatizing language, more people will
seek help and generally speaking the help will be better, the policy
environment will be better, the systems of care will be more robust, more
recovery oriented and we’re slowly seeing that change since this movement
started maybe around 10 years ago Fantastic. More people seeking help and
getting better help (that’s right) that’s wonderful. So if those are the the broad
goals of changing language more people seeking help and getting better help.
What are some of the phrases we need to avoid? What are some of those the
stigmatizing words or phrases that are that does have that give us that
visceral gut reaction of “I need to hide” Well the low hanging fruit is pejorative
language none of us should be engaging in pejorative language. That’s language
designed to deride people, to harm people and pejorative language in this space
are words like junkie and crackhead. Don’t use that language. That’s harmful
language, no matter what your world view on addiction is you shouldn’t be using
that kind of language around your children basically. So that’s easy don’t
don’t use those words then it gets a little more nuanced there’s words like
addict and alcoholic. See those those are labels that reduces a complex human
being and all the contents of their character down into one singular
attribute and as we know in this helping space, using person first language has
become standard because it inclines us to see the people we’re helping as as
people with breadth and depth beyond the diagnosis that we’re working with. It
makes us better helpers So don’t use the words addict and
alcoholic. If there is a diagnosis in place a person living with substance use
disorder or a person experiencing addiction. If there is no diagnosis in
place a person with alcohol or other drug problems or a person experiencing
problematic use of alcohol and drugs. These these are our friends and family
members we’re talking about and we’ve discovered more recently a very
pernicious label that is beginning to go away but it’s difficult for it to go
away because it’s so engrained in the addiction space and that’s drug abuse,
drug abuser, alcohol abuse, abuser. It once again puts a label on individuals. It
propagates the self-inflicted myth of addiction. No one decides to become a
person living with addiction so we’ve we’ve data supporting the fact that that
phrase alone inhibits help-seeking and also inclines helpers to be less
therapeutic in their responses to issues that may arise and more punitive in
their responses because they’ve colored this individual as an abuser that’s a
powerful word so we’ve taken to using language like if it’s prescription
opioid specific and and individuals are going off prescription, that’s
prescription opioid misuse. Now this may turn into too chaotic use, it may be
diagnosable eventually. If it’s youth specific there’s no need to
differentiate abusive use. We don’t want any youth using heroin or using alcohol
or using tobacco so it’s it’s it’s substance use prevention, and if
substances get used it it becomes substance use issues. So substance misuse, substance use issues, substance use disorder, problems with alcohol or other drugs. Other language for people in recovery we’ve taken to – I can’t tell
you how many times I’ve been described in the newspaper as former addict Donald
MacDonald right? I’m a person in recovery I’m not a former addict and I no longer
refer to myself that way. I’m a person in recovery so so these are these are the
suggestions that we’ve given to the community to use more accurate non-stigmatizing language with the hopes that more people will come forward. That’s a very clear answer. Thank you for that. Don’t use these words. They’re
stigmatizing. They reduce people’s inclination to get help. It reduces the
helpers effectiveness. That’s a very clear answer.
You mentioned children several times in what you just said. For
Empowering Youth and Families program, it’s a prevention program. What would you
suggest to two parents who are raising kids, thinking prevention or the
prevention educators? What’s the message you’d give to them about recovery and
language to communicate to the children and their family to help them cross
bridges that may present themselves down the road where somebody develops
challenges around the use of substances or maybe they don’t. What’s the best way
to to help a family move forward? Well, first I would say trust prevention
experts. Prevention is a science. Prevention is a well studied, well-funded
science with deep infrastructure. Prevention works. We know how to prevent
addiction. Unfortunately in this country we’ve been responding with less
intelligent responses. We’ve done two things: we’ve tried to create fear around
substance use – to prevent that from happening that hasn’t worked and we’ve
tried moralizing as well and that’s where this language comes from,
the pejorative language and and words like addict is is we’re moralizing
alcohol and drug use in the hopes that our children will not use them. So many
Americans use alcohol and drugs, a percentage of Americans will develop a
problem because of their vulnerability 90% of the time this begins in
adolescence. So if your child has experimented with alcohol or drugs and
they have developed some problems, are they going to come and seek help from
someone who has traditionally either moralized this issue or tried to create
fear around this issue. My suggestion to family members is trust that your youth
are super smart. Kids today are are wicked smart so we know the science
around brain development, we know the science around the development of
substance use disorder. Share that science with them, share that science
with them discourage them from using for as long as possible. We know that if you
use alcohol or drugs before the age of 21, a 25% chance of developing an
issue. If you wait till after 21, it’s a 4% chance so have them playing
the odds. Wait, wait, it’s science it’s not moralizing, it’s not fear-mongering, it’s
prevention science Educate our children on the risks of the choices they may choose to take as opposed to making it a right and wrong issue and a fear-based issue. And when will we acknowledge now for decades that that approach to
prevention is not working? So what would you suggest to families? How can families advocate for change in their communities for for addressing stigma addressing
recovery and promoting recovery? Well the recovery community is a really
big tent. It’s people in recovery, it’s family members, and it’s allies and allies
are basically everybody who knows someone who’s in recovery as someone
who’s been impacted by addiction. So join this movement every September is
national recovery month, so that’s a great place to start.
Join a recovery walk, see if you have a recovery community organization in your
state a recovery community center, these organizations are engaged in education
and advocacy. They’re there teaching the same things that I’m teaching but
they’re also organizing the community into one impactful voice speaking with
legislators and policymakers and service providers, speaking to other family
members to help them shed their internalized stigma so that family
members will seek help and get the casserole that they deserve, not the not
to be isolating behind the blinds thinking that they’re the only ones. So
join the movement is my message. It is it is a surging vanguard of human beings in
America who have been shedding their internalized stigma and have begun
demanding what they deserve. We have a very discriminatory system of care right
now it this this is a pediatric – this is a pediatric public health
emergency that impacts one in seven human beings but we have discovered that 90% of people experiencing addiction do not
have access to services. What else is that other than discrimination? Thank You.
Donald for such a wonderful and hopeful message and thank you for watching this
webinar. As always at the end of the webinar will be links for you to access
more information on this topic. Thank you

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