• David Sales

Less Stigma - More Kindness

As a general rule, I try my best to be of good cheer, regardless of what I am facing personally. Recovery from addiction provides many blessings, and I attempt to be grateful of them all when things are challenging. It helps.

The actual challenges we all face, even the most difficult, are usually not the hardest thing to overcome. I find, almost every time, the actual battle takes place inside of me. The inner struggle to stay positive, to dispute irrational thoughts, and to force myself into believing that whatever seems impossible in the moment... is not. Our minds are amazing in what they can create, but this creativity works in all ways, often creating a negative and distorted reality. Working my way through such a false narrative is, and always be, the biggest challenge for me.

Things are rarely black and white. Everything we see or hear passes through our personal filters and the older we are, the more filters we have put in place. Some from our lived experiences, some from unhealed trauma, perhaps some from our faith or religion, and sometimes our filters get clogged by mental illness and substance abuse. I think the more we have, the more confused we get in times of stress when we are feeling pushed to our limits. When nothing seems to go our way and we can't see a way forward, it is likely the time to check our filters.

I think there is a misconception that addicts or alcoholics, once sober, are all better, as if it was the substance that made us so fucked up. I have learned, at least in my personal case, that this is not entirely true and the only time my sobriety becomes fragile is when I forget some reasons I found comfort in alcohol. It is very easy for me to fall into thinking that just because I have been free from alcohol for over a year now, that everything should be good. It is not, nor will it be, but it can continue to get better if I keep working on clearing the mental dust from my internal filters.

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog should know by now that I write pretty openly about my struggles with alcohol. You know that I've done some shameful things as a drunk in the past which I have shared or alluded to. Yes, I carry remorse and shame for some of my actions while under the influence, but I have learned something much more important through my experiences and how I have looked at myself.

This is really hard to write about and I kind of understand why, but not completely. I am more ashamed to admit and be open about my mental illness than I ever have been about addiction. Maybe it is partly to do with the fact that I have felt more acceptance and support in my addiction recovery than I ever have felt about my mental illness. Maybe I am okay with people thinking my alcohol abuse was the reason my life was so screwed up, that I acted the way I did, that I lost everything, and that by attaining sobriety I can be back on track. Let's be honest, we all want acceptance. I sure do. If I had to choose between being known as a drunk or a crazy person, I would choose the former.

All of us in recovery, as long we are clean, experience acknowledgement and well wishes for milestones of sobriety. That is important support and helps us stay the course. Perhaps it is because people can see what we are in our active addictions. We see the actions, the messes, the poor choices, and the measurable consequences of unwieldy behaviours. We see the cause and effect. We drink, we fuck up, and we witness the result and then we don't drink, we don't fuck up (at least as much) as we witness the effects of that too.

I have become much more reticent to discuss what remains after the removal of alcohol. I am not blaming anyone, but there is a well-ingrained stigma around mental illness in our society. I am often ashamed that even as a person who suffers from diagnosed mental illness, I often buy into and feed that stigma. I do it to myself; I do it to others, and I keep silent when I should step up. I do it because I am selfish and I am afraid that by admitting this invisible defect inside me, I will frighten others away from ever fully wanting to me to part be of their lives. I already fight against profound loneliness, and the last thing I want to do is publicly advertise more negatives about me. Quitting alcohol has been infinitely easier than living with the filters of mental illness ever is.

The invisibility of it is what makes it so personal and why dealing with it makes me feel so alone inside. I am the only one who sees it, is working to live with it, and can measure the progress or lack of it from those efforts. In this - I know I am not alone. I am part of many online communities with others who battle mental illness, and it is the common thread that connects us.

I really don't know why I chose today to write about this. Maybe it is because everything seems overwhelming at the moment. Maybe it is because I am worried about someone else. Maybe it is because there are difficulties ahead and I don't know how I will deal with them. Maybe it is just I'm feeling the exhausted from the effort I put into being positive and of good cheer throughout the holidays. Maybe it is that I need to accept in myself what I so easily accept in others. I don't know, and I am likely not going to know.

I realize I often write and speak of kindness. Today I am adding acceptance to that. I know my internal struggles with mental illness and addiction have allowed me to be a kinder, gentler, and more accepting person with others. The people we meet in our daily lives don't wear a sign around their necks to give us context for their behaviour, no list of the filters behind which they are experiencing the world, and they have no ability to understand ours. I try not to judge what I don't understand. I attempt to offer kindness and accept that they are doing the best they can with what they have to work with. That is all I could ever ask from those who meet me. Yes, I live with mental illness, but I am trying to deal with it better each day. I suppose I need to be kinder to and more accepting of myself because sometimes I don't even know from behind which filter I am experiencing the day.

Today the world is unsettled. There is a lot of hate, a lot of polarity, and a lot of nasty shit is going on. It seems unlikely that kindness can make it better, but it sure can't hurt. I think there are a lot of clogged up filters out there distorting our collective realities.