It was meant as a warm holiday greeting. An extension of a hand in one of the greatest times of need in our country’s history. A time when overdoses are at an all-time high.
Stigma takes a holiday greeting card and turns it into a “not me, you.” It turns our friends and neighbors into our enemies. It erases commonalities and fuels division. Stigma creates finger pointing and fists, not extended, open hands.
At the end of December 2020, BRiDGES staff decided that due to the stressful times of the pandemic, we would send out a holiday greeting card to the community with our number and a reminder that even though things are shut down, our work for the community carries on.
Over 20,000 cards were sent out across Madison County. What we got back? A tongue-lashing that lasted two full days; who are you calling an alcoholic? Even those of us who have worked in the field for decades, who understand stigma and face it daily as we walk alongside those we serve, were shocked and saddened by the misguided hate we felt in call after call after call.
If we are to make any progress as a nation, as a county, as a community, we must address the elephant in the room. People with addictions are not our enemies. They are our brothers, our sisters, our mothers, our fathers, our husbands, our wives…ourselves. We would be hard pressed not to find a family that has not been impacted by addiction.
Addiction is not a moral failing or a choice; addiction is an organic disruption of the “stop” system in the brain. It is no more a person’s fault than cancer, diabetes, heart disease.
As we enter 2021, let us find humanity and compassion. Let us stop judging others so harshly and stop letting fear drive us into hatred. While addiction is the x factor that can happen to anyone, stigma is the choice in the equation. Let us choose in 2021 to lay our biases down and to extend an open hand, not a fist.