Morag has had a difficult journey through life with many ups and downs. She states however that this makes her more determined to help others who are facing similar circumstances. Although recognising she can’t change the underlying social issues, Morag genuinely cares and wants to do all she can to help people struggling with addiction as she completely understands them due to her own experiences.
Morag spoke of a lifetime of trauma, including losing her dad to heroin addiction and a period of time in the care system which led to her becoming addicted to heroin herself for almost 20 years. There were many periods of stability and many relapses during this time, however she has now been completely drug free for six years. Morag stated that the turning point in her life came when she managed to get a place in college, as well as a part time job. This she said gave her “purpose” and something other than her addiction to focus on. The result of this was that she finally managed to stop using heroin and come off methadone.
Morag developed a friendship base at college, although this was extremely difficult at times as no one was aware of her addiction issues. Because of the stigma surrounding addiction, she felt too ashamed to tell anyone and was terrified that anyone would find out.
While sharing her experiences of stigma Morag spoke of the ‘blame and shame’ she felt when she had to listen to friends and also some lecturers using derogatory language and making judgements about people like herself. This she said caused chronic anxiety, panic attacks and on a few occasions during such discussions she had to leave the classroom to try and stop herself from crying. Morag also spoke of her experiences of the ‘hierarchy of drug taking’ where people who use drugs judge each other, “particularly those who use what could be considered as more socially acceptable drugs.”
Over the years Morag has really struggled with the stigma and discrimination she has faced, but with real grit and determination she has continued to progress in her studies and recently successfully achieved an Honors Degree. During her time at University, knowing the impact that it had on her own wellbeing, Morag chose to carry out in-depth research into the stigma associated with heroin addiction. Morag admitted that this was a very challenging time for her as it brought up many of her own issues and memories of the discriminating attitudes that she herself had faced. Again, she felt the blame and shame that accompanies heroin addiction which resulted in her suffering a breakdown during the writing of her dissertation. With support and counselling, Morag came through this and feels strongly about tackling the “soul-destroying stigma” that comes with addiction, stating that “words can never really describe how it feels to be made a social outcast in this way… the addiction itself is bad enough but it could be argued that the stigma is the worst part of it”. This she goes on to say is increasingly enhanced by social media which allows people to publicly share hateful opinions about people who are addicted to heroin while at the same time giving their families direct access to the stigmatising attitudes and beliefs held about them.
Morag states that people need to have a better understanding of heroin addiction and recognise that “people who are addicted to drugs are not having a good time.” Rather than it simply being a matter of choice as is often implied, there is always a back story that includes structural and cultural factors causing people to end up in such circumstances. She goes on to say that people suffering from addiction have many skills and talents, and are often very resilient, proactive, resourceful and extremely determined individuals. She states that “the sad reality is that we do not recognise this, and instead internalise the labels ascribed to us, with the outcome being that we believe we are useless, worthless and there is no hope for us.” However, with the right support and opportunities she believes that everybody has the potential to positively progress.
These are some of the reasons why Morag has become passionate about helping others and challenging stigma. Stigma she concludes only causes more suffering and creates barriers where there needs to be hope, encouragement, belief and opportunity. Morag now feels she is in a much better place and continues to enjoy her volunteering roles and really understands the struggle faced by those still caught up the cycle of addiction.
Morag’s current and future goals:
- Continue to build her life on the positives she has achieved
- Continue to volunteer to support others to recognise their own skills
- Continue to build her relationships with her daughter and sister
- Return to university at some point to do a Master’s Degree in Contemporary Drug and Alcohol Studies
- Have a job that is linked to influencing drug policy