Fighting the Stigma: Transitioning back into Civilian Life after Addiction Treatment

Stigma is deadly. The judgment that veterans face when they attempt to seek treatment for trauma and substance use and abuse can be a huge obstacle. Not wanting to be viewed as weak by other military members, the world at large, or themselves, many simply do not consider the option until the problem is dire — and even then, many will forego treatment entirely.

Unfortunately, even if it is an issue that is overcome in time to provide for treatment, it may still be a problem on a personal level when it is time to come home and transition back into civilian life. If you are a military veteran headed back home after treatment, here are some things you can do to ease your transition and improve your ability to manage stigma — both perceived and real:

Consider your assumptions. It may be true that some people will judge you for your past in addiction and the treatment you received to help you get back on track, but it may also be true that because you are expecting others to judge you, you see signs of the problem when those signs are not there. This does not make the problem any less powerful, but recognizing that you may be assuming that people are judging you when they are not can help you to minimize the effect of stigma in your life.

Discuss the problem in treatment. If you are facing stigma in your search for work, in dealing with your close friends or family, or in how you view yourself, it is an essential topic for therapy. Venting is a positive thing when it is done in a safe and protected space, and getting strategical guidance from your therapist can help you to manage the issue if it continues to be an ongoing problem.

This is not a “you” problem; it’s a “them” problem. One of the big things learned in recovery is owning your own stuff, and letting other people own theirs. While you need to manage your reactions and how you feel about things that happen to you, when others are rude, aggressive, dismissive, or otherwise treat you poorly due to something you cannot control — race, gender, addiction history, etc. — it says far more about them than it does about you. Essentially, their view of the world is not your problem, and it’s not something you have to change or deal with.

Let stigma be a divining rod rather than a barrier. If you feel that stigma is stopping you from getting what you want in life or experiencing the kinds of relationships you would like to have with certain people, you can look at it as a tool rather than an obstacle. In recovery, it is often difficult to discern what situations are harmful or dangerous to your recovery and which people will be supportive of your growth. If you find that certain people are rude or dismissive because of your past in addiction and treatment, they are helping you out by letting you know early on that this is not the right relationship or situation for you.

Mental Health Month is in May. How will you put your mental health first in managing your relationships with others?

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