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Recovering Out Loud: Living My Truth Despite Stigma

By Francis Quesea, Recovery Support Services Project Associate

Project Associate, Fran Quesea, January of 2018 on a trip with close friends a few days after starting sobriety. There are trees behind him as he is standing with his arms stretched out, looking at the sky.
Project Associate, Fran Quesea, January of 2018 on a trip with close friends a few days after starting sobriety.

Three years ago I made the decision to start my recovery journey. I faced a lot of doubt even making the decision to recover because there was a lot I didn’t understand about recovery as an Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA). My perception of recovery at the time looked like going to rehab and spending a ton of money I didn’t have. If I decided to go the route of traditional treatment, I knew I would have to become public to my family about my addiction. The thought of that terrified me because having an addiction was something I felt incredibly guilty and ashamed about. Confronting stigma, understanding my cultural and racial identity, and sharing my stories with others was one way I found healing.

The stigma surrounding substance use and addiction is a barrier many people experience that prevents them from seeking recovery. This perceived stigma is embedded deep into our society and many different cultures view substance use issues as taboo. Stigma can cause people to have negative attitudes about themselves and this can destroy someone’s self-esteem.

In an APIA household, one person’s mental health issues take less of a priority than the prosperity of the family. Traditional APIA values focus on the collective community and because of that, one’s individual mental health tends to be overlooked. There is also a lack of culturally competent resources out there for APIA. These two factors combined can also act as a barrier in someone’s recovery.

It’s also important to consider the impact of the model minority myth. This myth paints Asian Americans as the minority that others should aspire to be. It stereotypes us as wealthier, smarter, and closer to whiteness. It perpetuates harmful rhetoric that pits us against other people of color and dismisses our own true experiences. It alienates us from other people and ultimately ourselves. This standard pressures people who might be going through an addiction to appear like everything is fine when it’s not. This was true for my own experience.

I want people who are experiencing an addiction to learning that there is actually an abundance of compassionate people who have experienced stigma one way or another and are willing to listen if you feel like sharing your experiences. The power of being able to share with my community has made it easier for me to see that recovery is possible and it works. Recovery Dharma, White Bison Wellbriety, 12 Step, SMART Recovery, and many more are communities out there for support. Maybe one of these will resonate with you and you can experience the benefits of a sharing community for yourself.

There is no right time to come out and share your recovery, nor is it mandatory to do so. Recovery is personal, complex, and there’s no one “right” way to do it. Choosing not to share your story doesn’t make your progress invalid either. My hope in sharing my own story and the barriers I faced, is that others can find inspiration to come forth and share their stories if they choose to. If we can stop the stigma around addiction, especially for others who experience this barrier, maybe more people can heal and start the process of recovery.

Looking for a recovery community to join? Check out one of our SMART Recovery groups!

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