Shame, Guilt & Stigma
In anticipation of Jordan choosing rehab, I made some phone calls. I called a local well-known facility that we could not afford. Most rehabs have sliding scales, so I inquired as to a rate for their program for someone without financial means, and was told it was $10,000. Unfortunately Jordan didn’t have $10. She explained that an option would be another recovery center in a nearby town. Their financial assistance program would be $5,000. She was very complimentary toward the other treatment center and stated that many of their counselors had gone through that very treatment program.
I knew the area where the center was, right smack in the middle of the drug area of that town. I voiced my concern, letting her know I didn’t want Jordan around “those kind of people.”
She replied, “Your daughter is taking street drugs. She is one of those people.”
I nearly fell off of my chair. She was right, but it was painful to hear. It wasn’t easy to connect the dots between the incredibly gifted Jordan, and the Jordan who was now being described as “one of those people.” Not only would I need to accept the fact that Jordan was a heroin addict, but to face the reality that I was the mother of a heroin addict. The shame that I already felt multiplied.
To say I had high hopes for Jordan’s life from the time she was a toddler is putting it mildly. Jordan is highly intelligent, athletic, artistic and witty. To varying degrees, we measure our parenting success or failure based on where our children are in their life. Our self-worth is tied to our children, and when they make wrong choices, our egos become bruised.
If Jordan was indeed “one of those people,” then what kind of a person did that make me? How had I failed so miserably as a parent? I was somehow guilty of something.
More than once I had been on my soapbox proclaiming that if a child went astray, it was the parents’ fault. Maybe this was the source of my guilt. I had judged and condemned parents of criminals and addicts. I had assumed it was bad parenting. After all, if a child was raised correctly, wouldn’t they live in that manner? I had summarily discounted both free will, and addiction.
We pile enough shame and guilt on ourselves as parents without anyone adding to it. Unfortunately society makes certain we have a steady stream of shame or guilt, and adds stigma, like a cherry on top of our shame and guilt pie. We don’t choose for our children to become addicts, just as they didn’t start out in life planning to become one. Society will tell parents of addicts that they feel sorry for you, but in another breath they will wonder, “How did you let your kid end up this way?” The stigma surrounding parents of addicts is suffocating. It is what keeps us in the shadows, rarely reaching out, unless it is anonymous.
Several people, upon meeting me or hearing my story have reacted with comments meant to be complimentary toward me. They have said things such as, “I would never have guessed you would have an addict for a child.” Their comments were no doubt meant to express their surprise at how well I appear to be doing in spite of the tragic circumstances I have been going through, yet I couldn’t help but wonder if they half-expected me to have a needle sticking out of my arm.
What do the parents of addicts look like? We look like doctors, lawyers, factory workers, accountants, actors and receptionists. We look like single moms and dads, Boy Scout leaders, loving parents, struggling parents, softball coaches, and Sunday school teachers. We are blondes, brunettes, and redheads. We have black hair or no hair. Most of us have some gray hair.We come from all ethnic backgrounds and all cultures. What do parents of addicts look like? We look like you.
It is likely there is some sort of stigma attached to your Beast, whatever that Beast may be. It is easy for others to judge you or to analyze your actions. People may be quick to offer their critique or to disregard the severity of your pain. It is easy to make a critical judgment about another person’s Beast without ever having lived with one.
We all need to work together to shed the shame, guilt and stigma attached to our Beasts and those that others live with.
Valerie Silveira is an award-winning author, international speaker and Beast slayer. Through the devastation of losing her daughter over and over to the addiction Beast, and finally losing her to a senseless murder, Valerie empowers others to stand up and fight for their lives. She is the creator of Nine Actions to Battle Your Beast and the Still Standing Sisterhood membership program. Valerie uses her books and Sisterhood to guide women in their quest for happiness, peace, and purpose. She builds up women of courage who stand strong against any Beast in their lives.
Until her death in August 2016, Valerie chose to call her daughter Jamie, “Jordan.”