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The 6 letter word that is being used so often

By Melissa SteussyPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 6 min read
Photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash

Stigma-"A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person." (Oxford Languages)

This has been a buzzword as of late for good reason. As a child, I felt this word before I had ever heard it or knew what it meant.

It was the look my teacher gave me as she brought us in from outside each morning. It was a look of disdain, disapproval, and disgust.

I was 6 years old and attending my 3rd school for the first-grade year. My home life was chaotic and after fleeing from my mom’s abusive boyfriend we lived alone for a short time and then found a new low-income place with my mom’s new boyfriend that she rounded up from the local bar and here I was knowing my biological father was in prison, wearing the same Kmart outfit a few days a week and reeking of cigarettes and probably weed.

I could tell by the way she smiled at the other girls and then looked at me with a face I will never forget that she was annoyed and disgusted by my presence and I would be in trouble every day for talking or crying and sent out of the room on multiple occasions to cry it out with no one ever asking me if they could help.

Maybe she thought I wasn’t worth helping. If my parents were that screwed up (which they were) apparently I wasn’t worth saving. If I didn’t have pretty dresses like the other girls then apparently I wasn’t worth acknowledgment or a warm smile. I found myself to be a nuisance and unworthy of her acceptance.

I am an adult now, but still wish I could go back and save that little girl. My little girl. Me.

I work hard to bring her comfort now, but as they say, what’s done is done and emotional wounds like that dig deep.

Growing up poor sucks. There is nothing good about it. Everything is stressful and there is a lot of fighting and dis-ease, at least there was for me.

Growing up on welfare and not having access to things I needed growing up was tough. Maybe it made me humble. Lord knows I should be humble, right?

As an adult, I fight that stigma of being poor or economically challenged still, because I grew up poor I still feel poor. It’s like it’s ingrained and permeated into my being. I can’t get ahead because of my poor mentality.

I started using drugs and drinking at a young age as I was genetically predisposed and because it was all I knew. Once I found a way to feel okay in my body and mind it was on and I became an alcoholic and a drug addict.

I was able to find recovery in 1998. I honestly don’t remember the stigma of being an addict because I didn’t care what people thought of me while I was using. I got sober young enough that I still struggled with being an addict in recovery, but was also fucking proud of myself for making the change and breaking this long cycle of addiction and abuse in my family line.

But I got to thinking, there are some people that rub me wrong.

I have lost so much to drugs and alcohol (and mental illness), my parents, my uncles, my grandparents. Some to alcoholism, drug addiction, cirrhosis of the liver, suicide, but I am here sober and in recovery so I don’t feel ashamed. I feel proud.

But guess what? Some people would look at me as a person in recovery and think, “Aww, the poor girl she couldn’t hold her liquor, oh, that’s too bad she got addicted to drugs she must not be Godly enough," they might think because of my family circumstances that I am unworthy, that I deserve the hell I have been through and it’s my fault.

Some people have no empathy for the LGBTQ community and no empathy for those of us with mental health or addiction issues. Even if we were born this way and have no other recourse.

My mom used and drank with me in utero and physically I don’t show signs of Fetal Alchohol Syndrome. I was able to get through school and have been able to get jobs and become a member of society that people wouldn’t be able to tell that I am “different” but I am. I am very different.

I have issues that others don’t have. Many people would say to me, well you should’ve worked harder, you should have had more self-control, you got yourself into this mess. Some might shake their head at the audacity of a mother that would bring a child into this world while not married as an unplanned pregnancy. Some would shake their heads and walk away in disgust.

Those are the people I feel judged by and their energy is strong. I don’t have many of them in my life, but there are a few and at 45 years old I just decided, no more. I have no space for people that don’t have empathy for others’ differences. I will no longer feel small in the presence of others that are “Holier than thou” I will no longer try to justify why I became a person addicted to drugs and alcohol or why I have anxiety or depression or deep-seated grief. I no longer need a justification to be who I am and will no longer be worried about those who disapprove of my life choices.

I didn’t have a cookie-cutter upbringing and I can’t fit into a cookie-cutter life. I have emotions that I will no longer mask for your comfort.

Some just can’t wrap their heads around how people have mental health issues and think it must be a strength issue. I’ll tell you that my warrior friends with mental health issues are some of the toughest around. The people judging who either haven’t dealt with their own shit or refuse to believe they have any wouldn’t be able to understand. They are too busy disassociating from their own pain to be able to relate to others who may not be as perfect as them.

The stigma around mental health and addiction is real and I am thankful it is finally being talked about.

We need one another. We don’t have to be alone. We can reach out to each other. We don’t have to be in places with people that are judging or condescending. We can surround ourselves with people who can love us, scars and all and we can be open about our afflictions, stigma or not.

“It’s one thing to recognize that there are people who have unspeakable trauma. It is another, to create a world where those voices & stories are not told because keeping them quiet provides comfort for others. The stories are going to be told without permission. Healing will win.

@Nate Postlethwait


About the Creator

Melissa Steussy

Author of Let Your Privates Breathe-Breaking the Cycle of Addiction and Family Dysfunction. Available at The Black Hat Press:

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