The definition of a stigma is ‘a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person’.
Another definition has it as ‘a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something'.
Those who have used drugs in the past, or who still do, commonly face stigmatisation. Possibly the biggest hurdle a recovering long term drug or alcohol user has to overcome is not physical addiction or psychological cravings - but trying to break through the ‘wall of exclusion’ that makes it very hard for them to get into new routines or to develop friendships, skills or hobbies. They are often ostracised, criticised and distrusted.
People can, and do recover, though. Below are some real life stories of people who have managed to turn their lives around, hopefully for good.
William (Ayrshire Council on Alcohol service user)
"I didn’t have a life before, my thoughts and anxieties dominated me. It was like wearing invisible handcuffs. Now I see that alcohol took away my liberty, it didn’t free me at all.
"I was on a pathway to killing myself with drink. I knew myself I couldn’t keep doing this but didn’t know how to stop. My family were there and my kids but I still felt lonely and depressed. I know now alcohol was impacting this. The worst part for me was feeling unable to go outside, so embarrassed that people could see me when I did venture out to buy drink. The bin men too would have known, bottles and bottles every week built up for them to see.
"I eventually built up the courage to speak out and asked my GP for help. They recommended ACA and made my appointment. My counsellor was present and listened to how I felt. It was important to be listened to and for my plan of reducing without a detox to be heard. I know now I did this my way and had ownership for the first time of my drinking.
"I actually didn’t mind having my counselling switched to telephone during the COVID-19 lockdown. My counsellor did though keep encouraging me to not avoid going out completely. Lockdown did worry me in other ways like what if the shops ran out of alcohol? Having telephone counselling at this point kept me focused and on track and it was helpful working on weekly goals. I wasn’t rushed when my reduction stopped for a little while, it was at my pace.
"I learned how to go one day at a time and manage my cravings for alcohol. Slowly they became few and far between and the tips that I tried and tested along the way became natural.
"Being alcohol free isn’t for everyone but it was my goal and now I can see clearer, have better concentration and enjoy feeling fresh. I’m present with my family and have started to go out. I’m learning Italian, building computers and planning to learn to drive. All achievable now I’m in recovery.
"If I had to speak to someone else about why to ask for support and counselling with ACA I would say: You can do it too. You can’t do it alone or if you do it may not last. I’ve learned how to cope when bad things happen and I can now see my triggers. It’s hard to strip away the alcohol but it has to be done. Facing stuff helped me feel resilient."
Ayrshire Council on Alcohol service user
"For me, being in recovery means being connected. Connected to other people, to family, to friends, to services. I value the importance of having that interaction with others, to gain strength and support from others, even the embrace of the recovery hug. To share a joke, talk about what the day brings, to simply ask and be asked 'How are you doing today?' But right now this has been stopped, I am required to stay inside, to isolate from the world, and this scares me. It scares me because it is reminding me of the old me. The me that voluntarily isolated myself from the world due to my addiction, the me that didn’t feel worthy enough to talk with others because I didn’t have anything positive to say. The me that never went outside my house, that stayed inside day after day, night after night with alcohol for company and the voices inside my head for conversation.
"I recognise that my anxiety levels have increased, panic had risen inside my throat, and I am restless finding it hard to concentrate. The structure and routine that I have been creating over the years has been abruptly stopped, come to a halt, disappeared. However, it is in these moments that I ground myself and remember that this is only temporary, as are so many things in life, and that change can bring about the true strength inside us. As humans we learn to adapt, and as a human in recovery it is vital that I adapt. My connection with others hasn’t disappeared; it has just changed. Video chats, text messages, phone calls, they are all connecting me. I re-invent my daily structure, going back to using a weekly planner, writing in things that may seem simple, but it doesn’t matter because it gives me a goal I can tick off, providing me with a sense of achievement. I keep a diary listing five things that I am grateful for each day, and this allows me to be grateful for the things I do have, as not everyone has these: somewhere safe to stay, a comfy bed to sleep in, food in my cupboards - this reminds me just how fortunate I actually am to have these.
"I am using this time to grow, to complete the Christmas cross-stich I started in 2018 and never finished, to pick up a paint brush and be creative once again, to read the book a friend lent me and I haven’t returned. I still can go outside once a day and exercise, breathe in the fresh air. I now have the time to rest, and reflect, to be connected with myself. It is important for me to remember, now more than ever, that I am not alone, in fact we are all in this together."
Peer Worker - Scottish Drugs Forum
“The national emblem of Scotland is a thistle which is jaggy, I feel as though Scotland is sitting on the thistle and we need to get up and get on with it. This, as well as the fact that I care about Scottish people, my community, families and what is going on around me is the reason I am a peer research volunteer. I would rather work for nothing and be part of something, than do paid work that isolates me from the reality of what is going on in the world."
"I become a peer research volunteer because I am interested in the sociological impact of drugs and alcohol. My community connector told me about this opportunity and it sounded interesting so I decided to get involved".
"I started drinking when I was 14 with alcohol that was stolen from a shop. At school I sat an 11 plus and failed, and while all my friends went to the academy, I went to a junior secondary school. I later started serving an apprenticeship and began going to pubs at 16.
"I soon became a daily drinker, going home drunk on many occasions, and this was to be my life for 40 years. I always managed to hold down a job and I worked for an American organisation, with 20 office staff and 200 floor staff reporting to me - and this was with a poor education behind me!
"After that job, I bought a chip shop and bookmakers which only lasted for a year as I drank every day during that period.
"I then decided to go to an AA meeting, and since that day I have not taken any alcohol. That was 18 years ago. For the last two years I have been involved with the Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF). This involves intensive training and I have carried out surveys, and studied Kilmarnock town centre and employability issues. I also worked in Lanarkshire looking at needle exchanges, doing surveys and being a mystery shopper.
"Today we have planned more surveys on recovery to continue the good work already done and this is a legacy I’m very proud to pass on to new people engaging with SDF."
"I was a heroin addict for 17 years but have now been drug free for three and a half years.
"The drug abuse started when I met my partner. It wasn’t that I had a bad childhood - I had a great one - I just fell for the wrong person. I was young and didn’t know the seriousness and the consequences of my actions. Before I knew it I went from smoking heroin to a chaotic lifestyle and a serious habit of injecting.
"Eventually I went on a methadone prescription for years until one day I woke up and thought to myself: 'I’m better than this'. From that day on I started to reduce my dosage of methadone and took back control of my life.
"I started Ayrshire College and completed a PDA Addiction Counselling course whilst coming off the remainder of my methadone. After coming off it completely, I started volunteering and completed another course at college, an NC in Working with Communities.
"It was then that I started to realise that I would like a career in addiction work and I have now applied for the Addiction Worker Training Programme."
"Growing up there was always drink around as both of my parents drank alcohol which caused dysfunction in the home. Although I have memories of some good times, I was a quiet and withdrawn child.
"I was bullied at primary school, and later on I started to get into trouble with the teachers for misbehaving and getting involved in school ground fights. I got myself a job selling papers around the pubs at age 13 and had already tried alcohol before then. Into my teens I was quite shy with girls and meeting new people, and felt quite inadequate. In my late teens I had more experiences with alcohol, and by the time I was 17 I was going into pubs more regularly.
"Drink helped bring me out of myself, gave me more confidence and made me feel different about me. I felt part of something being out with my friends at the weekends and felt more relaxed in the company of others with a drink in my hand. At times though, I drank too much and sometimes couldn’t even remember how I got home. My drinking increased even more at 18 when I started a new job and was drinking with workmates who were older than me.
"At 19 I met someone and got married soon after that. During our relationship we had two children and I then reduced my drinking and spent less time in pubs. I got a new job, started taking driving lessons and we moved into our first flat together.
"At 21, after a night out that went badly wrong and the death of my grandfather, I had what can only be described as a breakdown which took me down a path of prescribed medications and at one point I was sectioned, having completely lost touch with reality. I had to quit my job. As time went by I started to go back out drinking again to make me feel good and to forget past events. My drinking then progressed to a dangerous level, leading to binges and morning drinking which just became normal to me.
"In my mid to late 20s I went to my first AA meeting which my dad had started to attend. At that time though, I did not and could not accept that I was an alcoholic and felt too young to attend meetings, believing I could control my own drinking and get my life back.
"After a few more years the drink took over. My mental and physical health were affected, as were my family, children and friends. The drinking also affected any chance of me getting a job.
"I felt very alone, full of fear and anger, and couldn’t understand what was happening to me or why I couldn’t control my drinking. I was extremely paranoid and suffered from regular anxiety.
"Nine years ago I went back to AA when I was in a new relationship. I wanted desperately to stop drinking, and found that listening to others brought me back some hope. I went to AA meetings both at night and during the day, and although it was a slow process, I began to feel better although I felt very up and down without the crutch of alcohol. But I realised that alcohol only made things worse, never better, and with a lot of help and support from my family, my girlfriend at that time, and the fellowship of AA, I began my journey in sobriety.
"I then started attending college doing an NC in Social Care, and did some volunteering before going on to be a Peer Researcher for the Scottish Drugs Forum. This has given me the confidence for a new career and some hope for the future. I have a new partner and family in my life and today I am trying to keep my life simple and take it one day at a time."