The nail wounds on Christ’s hands and feet have appeared on worshippers including St. Francis throughout history. These marks are referred to as “stigmata”. In this case, some may view “stigma” a positive thing. The fact is the marks have been used to label someone for something done by another person. This does not mean St. Francis is Jesus. In the later years, the Greek and Latin used it to describe a mark or brand labeling a slave or the inferior. Today we use it to describe misconceptions concerning a certain person, group, or subject that arise from a lack of education. Regardless of the point in history the term has been used, it is a mark, either seen or unseen. Have you ever been affected by a stigma? I can honestly say that not only have I been the victim of a stigma, but I’ve also been the culprit.

Although I have zero hard evidence leading me to this reaction, it never fails that I reach for my car door lock at a red light when I spot a panhandler.

My brain immediately judges the person based off what society has portrayed the homeless as. If I had the opportunity and took the time to educate myself on the person’s life story, my reaction would likely change. I might

discover the person has a mental illness, has bad luck, a drug addiction, or maybe their yearly income is triple mine. Whatever the reason, it’s unlikely I’m going to get high jacked by them.

On the other hand, I usually do not introduce myself for the first time as a drug addict in recovery. This is not because I am ashamed but because I do not want to be labeled as part of the stigma held against drug addicts. During the process of job searching I have no choice. The negative legal effects I carry from my drug abuse have left a mark that employers will always consider during the hiring process. However, I get out of jury duty every time. The lack of education leads people to think all drug addicts are selfish, lying, immoral thieves. The truth is these are merely effects of drug use that come from the improper solution to an underlying issue.

For every needle used there is a suffering heart. If, as a society, we continue to look at drug addiction as a moral failure, then we continue to ignore the true cause of the use. With proper education and resources, many casualties from addiction could be avoided.  Join WinningTheFight! on October 13, 2018 in Stompin’ The Stigma 5K to help eliminate the stigma and judgment associated with addiction and mental health!

Lori Youngblood is a recovering drug addict.  Her mission is to help others gain knowledge about the disease of addiction.