BENNINGTON — A person with a drug problem often won't admit they have one because of what others will think.
That stigma promotes a vicious cycle, according to area residents in recovery and their advocates, and is something that prevents people from getting the treatment they need.
Two events this week will recognize National Recovery Month and aim to raise awareness of mental health and substance abuse. The Turning Point Center of Bennington County will host a film screening on Friday. And on Saturday, the recovery center will hold its 3rd Annual Recovery Walk.
Stigma around substance abuse disorders comes from a lack of understanding, says Allison Cavanagh of Bennington.
"One of most painful things is people who don't understand," Cavanagh says. "When you don't understand something it's easier to make judgements of something."
"It's people thinking that it's a moral issue or a weakness," says Ken Sigsbury, board member with Turning Point.
"Addiction," says Sue Juliano with Turning Point, "is a disease."
On Friday, the center will screen "The Anonymous People," a 2013 documentary that features interviews with 30 entertainers, athletes, politicians and other prominent figures.
The 3rd Annual Recovery Walk will be held in downtown Bennington on Saturday. Registration starts at 12:30 p.m. in the old high school parking lot, 640 Main St. The first 80 people will receive a t-shirt. Participants will gather downtown and walk together to the town office, where two guest speakers will share their experiences. Participants will then come back to the center on Main Street for food, music, and company.
One goal is to show just how many people support those in recovery, says Maria Donza with Turning Point.
"In a small town, they're worried about who will see them, what people will say," she said. "But we're trying to make it known that it doesn't have to be that way."
The National Recovery Month each year in September aims to increase awareness of mental health and substance abuse disorders. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) sponsors the effort.
More than 43 million Americans – 18 percent of adults 18 years and older — experience a mental illness such as substance abuse disorder, according to SAMHSA. More than 21 million Americans age 12 or older were classified with a substance abuse disorder in 2014.
"For the general public to go out and party, that's acceptable," says Sigsbury. "But, if you admit to yourself and others you have a problem, there's a stigma attached to that."
Valerie Dwyer of Bennington described her own experience. She was functional and had a job, but says alcohol affected how she acted and her relationships. But alcohol was fun, she says. And if she stopped drinking, who would she hang out with?
"It was like being outside a party and looking in," she said. "There was an emptiness. Alcohol wasn't doing to me what it had done for years."
She walked into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on a Wednesday afternoon. The honesty, she said, shook her.
"I was hearing people say things I only thought, that I never would have said out loud," says Dwyer, now a peer volunteer with Turning Point.
Today, a bumper sticker on her car carries the motto: One day at a time.
For more information about Turning Point Center of Bennington County, visit the office at 465 Main St. in Bennington or call 802-236-4967.
Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.