Stigma of Addiction – Work, society and more
Hello and welcome to Author’s Promoter, today we have the privilege of introducing you to Dr. Louise Stanger and we will be talking about her book Falling Up a Memoir of Renewal.
How are you today Dr. Louise Stanger?
Louise Stanger: Great. It’s an honor to be with you.
I look forward to us having a conversation about such an important subject.
I’d like to give our readers some background about you. You have worked as a clinical social worker for many years as well as being a professor and intervention specialist. You have also received some very notable mentions. Can you tell us a little about your career?
I’m happy to tell you about my career. My undergraduate degree which came from the University of Pittsburgh. I graduated college in three and a half years with an English lit major. What is notable about that is that at 19 I went to work for Allegheny County Department of Public Welfare, where I was the only social worker in an African American neighborhood when Martin Luther King was shot. The neighborhood never scared me, but the world did. I wanted to make a difference.
I attended San Diego State College. I was the youngest person ever to graduate with a masters in social work. They invited me to teach, which I did for many years. I received my doctoral degree at the University of San Diego. My life’s passion has always been helping people who are at risk. Most specifically in the areas of substance abuse, mental health disorders, grief and death, and loss. During my lifetime, I have always collaborated with others to reduce risk.
As a programmatic researcher, I have had over $4 Million in the U.S. Department of Education NIA-NIAAA grants to reduce high risk problematic drinking with college-age students and their families.
As a clinician, I have always been passionate about moving families to change and helping loved ones become the magnificent people they were meant to be.
During that time, I’ve had the good fortune of being recognized both nationally and locally.
Wow, that is an impressive career; I understand that in your personal life you have also had to deal with addiction as well as the stigma surrounding it. Can you tell us a little more about how this shaped you and also your book Falling Up?
It’s no secret that I was born into a tipsy-turvy world where generationally mental health, substance abuse, and sudden death colored the fabric of my family. As someone who at a very young age experienced multiple familial tragedies and was able to overcome through the help of many others as I grew and became more well-versed in this field, many people asked me to write a how-to book on how to help families. I pondered and decided that even though I wrote grants and academic articles, the best way to share resiliency, hope, and renewal was through my memoir. This would help families to become the people they are meant to be and to give them ways to enrich their lives and to achieve the serenity the so deserve and the graciousness that will honor them.
I also wanted to demonstrate that I’m unlike humpty dumpty, who could not be put back together again. We all have the capability of falling up.
I love the title and name of your book: Falling Up, I am sure there is a lot of meaning behind the title. Why did you choose the title falling up and what does it mean to you and to the readers?
Thank you so much for asking. I thought about what life had been like. We live in a series of episodes – some are good, some are bad, and some are ugly. I pondered. I write, “sometimes I wonder if life is a series of falling ups? Dotted Swiss cheese holes of stabilities, followed by a series of falling downs – a maneuver perfected by humpty dumpty. Today I marvel over the many lives I’ve led. The many iterations of an ever expanding topic sentence that fills the annals of my mind.” In my memoir, I write in a non-linear fashion about the many episodes that I have had in the hopes to share ways in which everyone may fall up.
That is insightful and powerful. You reference Humpty Dumpty a lot; does the story have a personal significance to you maybe in your childhood?
Well, when you read Falling Up, you learn that I grew up in a family besat with mental health and substance abuse disorders. At the ripe old age of 8, my father killed himself. I guess that nursery rhyme that I learned as a young child – like so many other oxymorons – that just resonated in my mind and stuck with me. As a visual, when you see or Google pictures of Humpty Dumpty, it so vividly portrays how one teeters on the brink. How one can fall down and shatter. What it doesn’t speak to is how one can come back together in a new transformative space.
Falling up is a highly optimistic title; very similar to the glass half full. How important is optimism to the recovering addict and those around them?
Realistic optimism is central to recovery because if you do not believe that you can be the man, husband, wife, daughter, son that you are meant to be and that there is goodness in you and the world around you, I don’t know how you can walk that walk. This is not a polyanished optimism. This is an optimism that says the world can get better. This is not an optimism that does not allow you to grieve, because grief is central to recovery. This is not an optimism that does not allow you to make amends. Because making amends to those you have harmed and most importantly to yourself is critical to recovery. it is an optimism that is ultimately strength based that looks for goodness.
It is an optimism that has to be learned.
I would like to turn the conversation a little towards a subject I am very curious about and you are perfectly suited to help me and our readers learn more about. As you stated optimism is very important; I am however curious as to The Stigma of addiction. Can the Stigma of Addiction hinder recovery of an addict and their loved ones and if yes in what way would you say that it does?
Great question. People who think that addiction is a moral failing or that you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps obviously can hinder someone who is in recovery. Today we are lucky that we have an American Society of Addiction Medicine. In March 2013, we did not have the ASAM definition of addiction, which clearly speaks to what is a substance abuse disorder. It speaks to not only how it is a physical, emotional, and spiritual basis, but it changes the brain too. If one feels stigma, it means a mark of shame, disgrace, or disapproval. If the world views someone in recovery as if they did something disgraceful or shameful, that is not healthy. People are so much more than their disease. They are so much more than if they had heart disease or breast cancer or diabetes. We are so much more than a substance abuse disorder or a mental health disorder. It is mandatory that we view people as what they are, not what their disorder happens to be. Stigma is a controlling mechanism. I will do everything in my power as a spokesperson, as family advocate, as a clinician to operate on a strength-based perspective.
Louise Stanger: There are different types of stigma. The first one is the stigma that you may have yourself about what you did, who you are, and some of the things you might have done while you were in the midst of a substance abuse or mental health disorder. People in recovery have obstacles in the way.
They may feel shame, guilt.
There also might be stigma from people around, from the community. This doesn’t happen in our community. When we think about stigma, we have to overcome a community way of looking at things, an individual way of looking at things, and we have to look at ways to enhance growth. There are road blocks in the way to recovery, but they are not insurmountable. They can be overcome.
Excellent explanation so would I be correct in inferring that there are two main types of Stigma with the first one being self-stigma in a sense?
There is stigma that is self-directed and stigma that is community-directed. There can be stigma inside small groups – families, workplaces. Stigma has no boundaries.
Having worked with addicts throughout your career what advice would you give to an addict overcoming self-directed-stigma?
First of all, I don’t call anyone an addict. As a clinician, it is evidence-based that I would refer to someone as having a substance abuse disorder or a mental health disorder. It is my perspective that a person is the sum of their parts and much more than their disorder.
In a macro level, at treatment centers that allow people to stabilize and to begin to structure a lifetime of activities that allow someone to take care of themselves physically, emotionally, spiritually, and consistent with their values.
There are differences between early, middle, and later recovery. The clinical tasks are different at each stage. In fact, that’s another book.
Your question is one that is not just a systemic approach. It’s not just the person with the substance abuse disorder but it’s also the person important to that person, and the macro system – employers, companies, corporations. I remember long ago in the ’80s when I started an award-winning program called “student to student” at San Diego State University. In the beginning, it’s first membership were young adults, who society would have looked at somewhat aghast. They were in and out of prison, in recovery, and wanted to make a difference in their lives. Five or six years out, I was able to help get them a governor’s pardon so their misdeeds were erased. They were able to get jobs and become award winning members of community. It doesn’t matter where you come from, you are much more than whatever your disorder is. That is my mission. To help people understand that. Working with families, with people in recovery, and having the opportunity to people like yourself to reach broad audiences to make a difference in the world. So thank you for that question
I thank you for this insight and fully agree that an individual is more than a disease; it does bring me to difficult question; considering organisations such as Narcotics Anonymous were an individual introduces themselves as an addict how does one deal with self-directed stigma when to some extent this is part of the process at such an organisation?
Also as an aside: Your success noted above is phenomenal and I would like to thank you for your amazing contribution to society.
There are over 368 self-help groups in the United States. NA is one of them. That is a confidential, voluntary, nonpublic group that allows people to come together and self-identify. That is a way in which the person themselves want to self-identify. If you learn anything about 12-step programs, look around the room and find a sponsor. You will find sponsors who have become amazing, amazing people. They can be famous actors, producers, entrepreneurs, they can own treatment centers.
In Falling Up, you learn that my third child died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Do I consider myself a parent of a SIDS victim, yes. Do I find it tremendously helpful to talk to people who experienced that. Self-help group are designed to help people find others with similar situations.
I spent a great deal of time speaking to other people who were widows at a young age. These women found comfort talking to someone else who has been in those shoes.
It’s not necessarily producing stigma, it’s a self-qualifier. If you walk out of a 12-step room, you will find that you do not have to identify this way. That gives you the hope, the strength,and courage to go out there an be the person you are meant to be in the world.
When I think about the many self-help groups in the United States, I don’t see this as a liability. Rather an asset.
Charles, are there many more questions?
This is why it is important to talk to leading specialists about such important subjects; I thank you for the explanation. I am sorry for your loss and also so proud of the opportunity to discuss this important subject with you and to be around someone that constantly focuses on Falling UP, taking your heartache and pain and directing your continued energy to improving the lives of others.
Charles: I do have one more question that I feel is very important. Many employers will look over someone with a history of addiction; even if they have been stable for a long time. How does this complicate recovery and what can we do to change it?
Great question. Drug testing is great in the workplace. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Employers often look for have there been legal cases against you. On a national level, we need to look at what are the recommended questions to ask on. Let’s see what is recommended on an employer form. You can check if you’ve been arrested for a felony. I think that those kinds of questions need to be looked at. We need to train employers to look at the whole person and not reject someone because of a history of substance abuse disorder. You have to look at the insurance company. Can you use benefits for a substance or mental health disorder? This is a rapid epidemic or disease. It behooves us to attack the epidemic in multiprong ways – legislation, legal, help. We need people to become who they are meant to be. We need to have employers allow people in recovery to have a change. In San Francisco, Delancey Street, they embrace people in recovery. People who have had hard times. They run some of the most successful moving companies and restaurants. It’s an incredible model and one that needs to be looked at. If we do not allow people to become who they were meant to be, then as a society, we will suffer.
It’s a hard question with no easy answers.
The other thing to add is that substance abuse is listed under the ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act.
ADA provides protection from discrimination for recovering drug abusers and alcoholics. That is a good place to look.
Under ADA laws, there are accommodations.
I have learned a lot today and I think so have our readers. It has been an absolute pleasure having you with us and I wish we had so much more time as the subjects we are covering are so important. Hopefully over time we can look at improving conditions for ADA as well as breaking down the Stigma of Addiction and helping people better understand such a common yet frowned upon disease.
Before we part is there any last piece of advice or parting words you would like to share with our readers?
Thank you. We have covered so much this morning. I really want to compliment you on your thoughtful questions. I want to invite you to have a conversation with me and get a hold of Falling Up and let me know what you think. I want to invite you to keep publicizing and keep making a difference in our world, because I know we can all fall up.
Thank you so very much for your Dr Louise Stanger and that would be amazing!