Addiction comes with a stigma, and it’s not easy to overcome

Posted March 17, 2017, at 7:26 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — When a local service provider first got clean a decade ago, he was all about posting the great news on Facebook and other social media sites, he said at the fifth annual Changing the Legacy of Addiction conference on Thursday.

“I was proud of my accomplishments,” the man in his 40s said in private, while standing in a room full of local doctors, nurses, social workers, caregivers, policymakers and community members at the Penquis Regional Linking Partnership gathering.

“Now that I have a kid, I don’t post as much,” said the man, who did not want to be identified. “It’s because of the stigma. And that’s really sad.”

Bob Fickett, the keynote speaker for the event “Building a Community of Hope and Recovery,” describes himself as a man in recovery from 12 years of abusing alcohol, painkillers and heroin.

He spoke about how he felt disgraced by his actions as a substance abuser.

“There was a while [when] I needed help, but the shame and the stigma kept me from seeking help,” said Fickett, a volunteer at the Bangor Area Recovery Network, which he credits with his success at beating his addictions. “Now that I’m here, I want everybody to know.”

He said he was encouraged to succeed by a caregiver who had “been there.”

“The most important words I heard were, ‘Me too,’ ” Fickett said at a table of stakeholders during a break in the day-long training. “It helped me to understand I wasn’t alone. And if they could find recovery, I could too. It was possible.”

The annual conference, held at the Spectacular Events Center, is hosted by Acadia Hospital, Families and Children Together and Wings for Children and Families.

“There are a lot of ways to recovery,” Bruce Hews, supervisor of the Hope House Health and Living Center in Bangor — a shelter and temporary housing for people with drug and alcohol addictions — said. “It’s not just one way. Bangor has a lot of resources and if we had more money, we’d have more [ways].”

Shannon Simpson, a navigator and visit supervisor at Families and Children Together, said people who use drugs need “more solutions … instead of barriers.”

Bobbi Johnson, associate director of the state’s Office of Child and Family Services, said the conference is a great way to highlight and bring attention to the issue of drug abuse, but it’s also a way “to identify where things are working and where there are gaps.”

How to provide services to the un- or under-insured is a one of the many bills the state Legislature is currently discussing that could help families with drug-related issues, she said.

Fickett has been clean for 2½ years, and admits that just hearing people talk about the drugs and alcohol he once used can still be unnerving.

“It can be triggering to hear somebody talk about it,” he said. “I think I go to a place where I want to talk to them about recovery. The positive side of recovery. … I feel like if I can be the person who says, ‘You don’t have to do this. It’s possible for recovery,’ then maybe I’ve planted a seed.”

Even if only one seed out of 10 grows, it’s still a success, Fickett said.

“I’ll tell my story a thousand times if it will help one person,” he said.

The message that recovery is possible was pretty clear, said Trish Niedorowski, Wings for Children and Families executive director.

“You’re the first person to get a standing ovation in five years,” she said to Fickett.

For Pat Kimball, a licensed drug and alcohol counselor and former executive director of Wellspring, a substance abuse and mental health treatment center in Bangor, Fickett’s story provided a different, clearer message.

“It was such a strong message of hope,” said Kimball. “All we hear is the death count, and that’s not working.”

 

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