May 15th, 2022 by ReVIDA Program Director – Jeremiah Lovelady
I invite you to close your eyes for a minute. Think about someone who struggles with substance use disorder. Think about someone who has been in and out of the criminal justice system. Someone who has suffered from mental health issues. Someone experiencing homelessness.
When you think of these people, what images come to mind? Did that person look anything like the picture accompanying this column? If you are like me and many others, probably not. It’s those images and thoughts that form the stigma those in recovery face every day.
What he did that day that no one else did was challenge the stigma. He decided not to see me as the sum of my circumstances. He decided I was another human that needed a break, and he gave me an opportunity. His decision gave me the confidence to believe life could be different and allowed me to challenge my own self-stigma. Just one chance helped me to see that I no longer had to live the way I was living, and there was hope.
We never know how devastating stigmatizing people can be. I am not going to try and tell you that one man’s decision changed my whole life, but I can tell you that one man challenging stigma gave me a strong bedrock to begin a new way of living. It gave me just enough hope to get the help I needed for my substance and mental health disorders.
I am proud to say that was eight years ago and I have not used an illicit substance since. I have a safe home for my little girl and me. I am a CPRS (Certified Peer Recovery Specialist), who gets to help others through their battles with mental health and substance disorders, and I now lead the office where that man gave me an opportunity.
For me, it started with acknowledging stigma exists, not only in others but in myself. Then, I educated myself on how stigma can negatively affect the communities I live in. Finally, I identified what I could do to help combat the stigma. I believe simply being nice, saying hello, and being curious about others’ journeys is one of the most effective ways I can combat stigma. Letting someone who has felt like they don’t matter for so long know that they do matter is simple yet life changing.
So, my challenge to you is this: Ask yourself, “What can I do to combat the stigma in my community?” and then do it. I can’t wait to see the difference it makes.
Jeremiah Lovelady is Program Director for ReVIDA Recovery Centers in Johnson City. He wrote this opinion piece for Mental Health Awareness Month in May.