Facing the Stigma of Addiction Recovery in Light of Nationwide Epidemic
Fay Zenoff, executive director of the Center for Open Recovery, a Bay Area nonprofit, recently celebrated ten years of sobriety—a victory when it comes to addiction recovery. For 25 years, Zenoff had been an alcoholic dabbling in heroin, ecstasy, and cocaine.
Due to the stigma attached to addiction and seeking treatment, Zenoff is aware of the risk she takes by speaking so openly about her journey to addiction recovery. “I felt so much shame about my past behavior that it was a huge hurdle to admit I was in recovery even to my family and friends,” said Zenoff. It was three years before she told friends and family about seeking addiction recovery, and another three to go public.
While speaking up has its risks—many people fear losing jobs, promotions and social standings if they admit they’re in addiction recovery—Zenoff encourages people to be more open.
“People are dying who don’t need to die,” said Zenoff. “If it were safe for more people to say ‘I’m in recovery,’ I think many more people could say ‘I need help.’”
Despite the daily headlines regarding the nation’s opioid epidemic, addiction has yet to be commonly regarded as a real disease. In 2016, the National Institutes of Health devoted $5.6 billion to cancer research funding, and another $3 billion on AIDS research. Substance abuse disorders funding received $1.6 billion, even though more people suffer from addiction than from all cancers combined.
Stephen Simon, a funder behind the Center for Open Recovery, has been sober for five years after struggling with opioid addiction. He understands the stigma behind addiction recovery, but he also understands the staggering numbers of deaths and overdoses—the only reason why he was willing to be publicly open about his addiction recovery journey.
“It’s so bad that I think anyone who’s been given a reprieve from the horrific nature of this disease should at least consider talking about,” said Simon. “Maybe it will free up dollars or spur people with ideas and influence to bring an end to the epidemic. We can’t measure what addiction is doing to the collective soul of the world.”
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