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I was speaking to a parent recently about her adult child who has addiction issues. The young woman is labeled by friends, family and of course, professionals as an addict. It got me to thinking about how we use mental health labels to describe people, the same way as we might say, he is a comedian, he is a writer, she is transgender. And along with the label, comes an immediate judgment and a preconceived notion of how the person will behave. Most people who suffer from addiction have had something “happen” to them. And yes, it is usually trauma, and yes, they have turned to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain. Many have sought treatment for their addiction, and even are well on their way to living an addiction free life. Many, also continue to struggle and go in and out of sobriety and yes, treatment. Wow! Sounds just like the journey of someone who has experienced developmental trauma (early and repeated trauma). However, unlike the person who suffers from PTSD (and please note we do not refer to that person as “a trauma” they are someone who has PTSD, just like someone who has a heart condition isn’t “a heart condition”. Not only do labels stigmatize, draw judgment, and elicit fear…labels deny the journey. We are now understanding that healing from trauma is a journey, and not a linear one. Trauma survivors have their ups and downs and their behaviors and yes, even their personalities reflect non-linear healing. As we move through the month of April into May, which is considered Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s think about how we view and treat folks with issues of addiction. Let’s raise our own awareness and perhaps move from reacting to responding and changing our own preconceived notions.

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