Perpetuating the Stigma

By Stacy Charpentier

Over the past few months I had the pleasure of training several of the CCAR training programs, in CT and as I write this, in Washington State.  I am very grateful for the opportunity to train a widely diverse groups of participants. I consistently see coaches take shape as they begin to understand the science of this work, while practicing and perfecting their own art.  It is a humbling experience for sure, but also eye opening.

One might say that our curricula provide opportunities for “Aha” moments.  As a trainer, I get to see those aha moments change people’s views on recovery, and even their own recovery journey.  On the very first day of the RCA, we declare that “a person is in recovery when they say they are.”   Six years ago, when I first started at CCAR, that statement caused many people to shift their thinking about what it means to be in recovery and  coach someone who may have a different definition of recovery.  It took a lot for some to accept that definition, let alone support it.  Now, that definition is widely accepted as commonplace, especially if you are a recovery coach.  The landscape of recovery is changing, and yet, the stigma still remains, even amongst coaches.

A few months ago, I ran a pilot of the new Coachervision training where we discuss what it means to supervise coaches and try to get participants to think of their role as more of a coach than supervisor.  One of the modules is on compassion fatigue and signs to watch for.  Some of those signs are absenteeism, poor work performance, etc.  In the very next module, when we looked at a case study about a coach who happened to be our “rock star” coach.  This coach trains new coaches and possesses a wonderful work ethic.  When this coach begins not showing up for work on Mondays, stops returning emails, and often shows up late, the general consensus is that this coach has relapsed. Why? We just talked about compassion fatigue 30 minutes earlier.

Why is our first instinct to question this coach’s recovery?

In another class, an RCA this time, we use scenarios to explore the topic of ethics.  One scenario is about a coach who experiences a short lapse at a wedding and has chosen not to disclose the relapse to his supervisor.  The conversation is supposed to center on the ethical considerations this raises, and instead, the conversations focused on firing the coach and no longer letting him near recoverees.

Recently, I just conducted Professionalism for Recovery Coaches, in which we show pictures of different people and ask participants to judge whether or not the people in the pictures look professional, based solely on appearance.  In one picture, a woman is wearing dress slacks and a button down blouse. She is standing tall and smiling. The comment made, was “she’s not a coach, she’s not messy enough.“

Are recovery coaches supposed to be messy?

If this is how we treat our own people, how can we expect others to treat us any differently?

I think about my influence in these scenarios. I  admit, it is extremely difficult to manage my stuff, which is something I try to model as a coach and trainer.  I am not a person in recovery but I have experienced the shame of addiction as a family member.  I saw my father being treated poorly while receiving medical services for his stage 4 lung cancer, once the doctor found out he was on Suboxone. My father was 5 years into his recover, yet the stigma still followed.  My heart broke.

The occasions I outlined above bring up a lot of stuff for me.  And so I coach. I ask good questions in order to develop some discrepancy.  Here is one question and frankly the answer I have today upsets me…

If we are working in this field to help others overcome stigma, shouldn’t we be the first ones to stop perpetuating it?

Stacy (Rosay) Charpentier began working at CCAR in 2013 as the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy (RCA) Coordinator and now serves as the Director of CCAR’s Center for Addiction Recovery Training (CART). Although she had the qualifications on paper to serve in this role, she didn’t fully realize that she had a place in the recovery community and felt like an outsider. When Stacy first attended the RCA she discovered her powerful story provides a much needed perspective on addiction and recovery from a family member’s point of view. She hopes to utilize her past experiences, along with her passion for this work, to bring professional development opportunities to people who want to help others discover that Recovery is Possible. Stacy lives in her new home in Bristol, CT with her newly blended family, which includes her husband, 2 daughters, 2 bonus daughters and a new puppy!

6 thoughts on “Perpetuating the Stigma”

  1. Stacy, good to see you tackling stigma. And how we stigmatize ourselves based on stereotypes. Who is one of “us?” Who is “Other?” This question is at the heart of not just recovery, but a national conflict over who deserves what. I look forward to meeting you. The ACA group that meets Tuesday noon is having an anniversary celebration Tuesday July 23. I’ll be there!

  2. Thank you Stacy! It’s so powerful to get right with our own beliefs and reactions so that they are in line with our stated values. For me it’s ongoing work and being open to learning is exciting and ultimately freeing. Loved what you wrote.

  3. Very well written and unfortunately so very true. I feel like I have experienced more stigma from supposed recovery advocates than many others I have worked with. I think we need to do more than just talk about defeating stigma by practicing it in our own lives, personal and professional.

  4. As I dwell on this blog post and the comments it’s heartening to see significant progress. I concur there is so much more to be accomplished. How about looking ahead ten years – anticipate what that will look like – and behave like that now?

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