Archive for stigma

Junk Talk Interview with James Brown, author of This River

Posted in authors with tags , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2011 by Editors

This River

We had the good fortune to sit down with James Brown, author of the recently released This River from Counterpoint Press. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation. Jim Brown is one of the most thoughtful, humble, and articulate authors writing today.

Tim Elhajj for Junk Talk: I’m a writer and recovering addict. With the stigma of addiction being what it is, I thought long and hard before publicly revealing my problems with drugs. One thing that really impressed me with your writing was how candidly you discuss your own struggles with mental health, alcoholism, and hard drugs—all subjects that have an associated social stigma. Granted the stigma with some of these subjects has softened in the last, say, fifty years, but do you ever feel the weight of having revealed so much of your life in your writing?

James Brown: Yes, like you, I thought long and hard before I decided to come clean about my past in my writing, particularly with my first memoir, The Los Angeles Diaries. Years of alcoholism and addiction had robbed me of my sense of responsibility, ethics, morality, self-confidence and self-esteem. When I was finally able to collect a decent amount of sober time, just over a year, I came to realize that there was no story more important to tell than my struggle with addiction, and I felt that if I didn’t write about it, that I’d never be able to move beyond that part of my life. I needed to tell the truth in order to confront and better understand the nature of my illness, the same illness that destroyed my brother and sister. Their suicides haunted me, and still do. The revealing of my past was painful in the recounting, the remembering, the reliving, the recreating on the page. It wasn’t cathartic, though it did, in the end, give me a sharper perspective and greater understanding of my family and what tore us apart.

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The Upside of Stigma

Posted in commentary with tags , , on March 18, 2010 by Editors

Lest you believe that nothing good can come from the stigma of addiction, a new study shows that the United States is making ground in the war on cancer. The reasons? Mostly related to how unpopular smoking has become.

The biggest factor in the change, according to [staff at the American Cancer Society], is prevention: people are smoking less, and we should see continued improvements in this regard due to the decreased rates of smoking in adolescents.

Anti-Drinking Campaign Leads to More Drinking

Posted in commentary with tags , , , , , on March 10, 2010 by Editors

So says this Advertising Age study.

It has long been assumed, of course, that guilt and shame were ideal ways of warning of the dangers associated with binge drinking and other harmful behaviors, because they are helpful in spotlighting the associated personal consequences. But this study found the opposite to be true: Viewers already feeling some level of guilt or shame instinctively resist messages that rely on those emotions, and in some cases are more likely to participate in the behavior they’re being warned about.

Why does this surprise anyone? Has anyone ever been shamed into anything productive? One of the reasons we launched Junk is to address just this sort of attitude.

On the Stigma of Alcoholism and Government Plots: Yesterday and Today

Posted in commentary with tags , , , , , on March 6, 2010 by Editors

Today most people accept the idea that alcoholism is some sort of disease, or malady of the mind. But Deborah Blum’s Slate article—about a government plot to poison alcohol during prohibition—reminds us that public opinion hasn’t always been so easy-going.

You hear stories all the time about alcoholics drinking all sorts of crazy nonsense to get a buzz, but rarely do you hear stories about the government capitalizing on this sort of phenomena for the purposes of law enforcement.

Although mostly forgotten today, the “chemist’s war of Prohibition” remains one of the strangest and most deadly decisions in American law-enforcement history. As one of its most outspoken opponents, Charles Norris, the chief medical examiner of New York City during the 1920s, liked to say, it was “our national experiment in extermination.”

Even in the early twentieth century, some people were aghast. Editorial debates raged back and forth in the newspapers. Here is a quote you (hopefully) won’t find in any twenty-first century newspaper:

“Must Uncle Sam guarantee safety first for souses?” asked Nebraska’s Omaha Bee.

Lest we start feeling all good about our modern-day government, it’s sobering to remember that a similar plan to poison Mexican marijuana fields with the herbicide Paraquat was attempted as recently as the 1970’s. As the Slate article mentions, amid public outcry, the plan was scrapped.

Yay, public outcry!

As a teen, I remember my pot connection—a man in his forties with a prosthetic leg—who liked to joke that the Paraquat in his stash gave you a little extra buzz. I remember feeling some mild concern over this joke, but not enough to hold onto my money. And, of course, in my twenties, knowing that someone had overdosed on a particular brand of heroin was a sure-fire way to guarantee a surge of interest, sellout crowds.

I haven’t used heroin in over twenty years, but I rarely talk about my experience with regular people. That kind of self-revelation can be too difficult to pull off, too much to deal with.

This past Christmas I watched Miracle on 34th Street with my adolescent daughter, who still believes in Santa. I had seen the movie many times before, but not recently. Early in the movie, Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), the real Santa Claus, finds a drunken man playing man the part of Santa for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Kringle becomes indignant, expressing his displeasure by striking the drunken Santa repeatedly about his head and shoulders with a cane.

My daughter grew panicky. “Daddy,” she cried, “what’s he doing to that man?”

I should have joked with her that it was an old-timer intervention, but I didn’t. I comforted her. She is a few generations removed from the people who thought an alcoholic best served by an ass kicking or lethal dose of posion—she is part of the next generation.

Yay, next generation!

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