Stigma – the problem is, it’s not just about me

By Anonymous

I was recently asked by Adfam if I would support an interview on ITV as a case study to discuss the findings from their recent Covid impact report. While I am a keen supporter of Adfam and instantly recognised the significant opportunity to get some much needed national exposure, I had to decline. However, I desperately want to help, to make a difference, so thought I would explain the reasons in the form of a blog in the hope that it reaches those in positions of influence to understand why funding for families is so critical.

My partner has been an alcoholic for more than a decade. In that time there has been no physical violence (and I feel it’s important to make that clear) but plenty else with extremes of Jekyll and Hyde behaviour which I know so many family members struggle with – psychologically it’s damaging and so, so stressful (not to mention hugely frustrating). Over time I’ve been through countless approaches to rehab, publicly funded and private, visits from social services, made friends with a number of constabularies (who have, I have to say, been absolutely amazing, supportive and understanding), a threatened suicide attempt, worries about money, worries about the mental health of the children and the long-term implications … many, many things that others have so eloquently documented and will no doubt relate to. Frankly, it’s sxxt – not sure I’m allowed to say that in a blog, but that’s what it is.

Over the time, particularly in the early years, I told no-one and did my utmost to shield the children .. daddy was poorly and had gone to bed early, daddy had picked up a bug which was why he was behaving strangely … and so on. I started declining social gatherings to avoid unnecessary embarrassments, made excuses at work, and side-stepped wider-family occasions. As time wore on, my tolerance wore out, I was less prepared to compromise my life to such an extreme degree. I did eventually tell a couple of close friends, who weren’t at all surprised – funnily enough they thought it was obvious. They were protective and tried to be understanding, but could, at times, be judgemental (and the judgement was about why I was staying and putting up with it – if I had a pound for every time that had been said to me I’d have a good old pot of savings!).

So here’s where we come to the point of this post. I’m not a stupid person and while my mental health really suffered on occasions, I have been able to make rational decisions. I swore that I would give my children the best start in life that I could, no matter what – they are the source of my resilience, determination and frankly, purpose. Throughout the past decade I have constantly assessed what is best for them, physically and mentally – I’ve been close to leaving several times but it hasn’t been the right thing for them. I have worked tirelessly to protect them and what I absolutely will not risk is anything that impacts them.

If this was just about me I’d be out there talking to the television, the newspapers, or anyone else who would listen, to raise the profile – I’d take any judgements on the chin. But it’s not about me, never has been, by choice – we have extended family and friends who still know nothing about the challenges we’ve been through, nor will they. I suspect others will be in a similar position, I doubt I’m unique - and herein lies the problem; the stigma keeps us silenced, not for ourselves but those we love and want to protect (for me at least). So for those in positions of influence, I think this is a real challenge and I don’t know what the answer is – somehow it seems so much harder to discuss this in open forums than, say, dementia, autism or other forms of mental health but is in equal need of much needed support. I never tried to work out how much I’ve personally cost the NHS over time, I dread to think, but I’m pretty sure education and the right kind of support would’ve been far cheaper and a lot more effective!

This thoughtful blog captures [anonymous]’s experience of stigma related to her husband’s alcohol use, and her decision to remain anonymous as a result. Unfortunately, her experience is not uncommon. Results from a survey we conducted with YouGov last year showed that 1 in 3 adults at some point in their life have been affected by someone else’s substance use and 13% of those indicated that they have experienced stigma.

At Adfam, we are working to challenge the stigma that families face by starting a national conversation. Last year, over 100 families, celebrities, politicians, and others took part in our campaign #StigmaMakesMeFeel to share their experiences of stigma and raise awareness.

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