I can’t imagine being permanently judged by what I had done in my worst moment. Close your eyes. Think about the worst thing you’ve ever done or the worst thing that has happened to you. A time when you felt shame, and embarrassment. Think of a time when you felt so small or mortified at the thought that someone may find out a secret you’ve kept or a choice you made. Chances are there is more than one moment that you are thinking of. That’s ok, it’s normal to have mistakes in your past. As a matter of fact, they have probably helped shape the person you are today. They are probably some of the most important times of your life in terms of defining yourself as a person and building your character. Iron sharpening iron as they say.
What if we wrote down in detail the time you were thinking of. What if we wrote it in thick
permanent marker onto both sides of a giant white poster board. Then we punch two holes in the poster board tie each end of a string through them and hang that sign around your
neck. The rules are you must not remove the sign ever. You must live your normal life as you
always have, but with this sign around your neck at all times documenting the worst moment in your history of you. Imagine the random passersby and the face they will make when they read your sign. What will you feel when you meet your significant others’ parents for dinner that night? How do you think your interview will go for that big job you are excited about? What will you feel? How will you react?
Now, like most people you will probably figure out how to live your truth. You will most likely learn to champion your lowest moment. You will have a great story about how you moved through that time of adversity and made it through to the other side. This is how you will begin to heal your mental health and start to overcome the embarrassment or shame that you once felt. Honestly, good for you! Your truth is exactly that. It is the story that made you. And you should be proud of who you are. If that were the only side to this story, it would be a triumphant story of self-discovery. This would be a celebratory tale of standing tall and owning your truth. But before we queue the ticker-tape parade, reality washes over you.
Because of your truth being plastered out in the open for everyone to see. People will pass by you at the park and make pleasant conversation with the next person. Your wait staff isn’t as pleasant. Your flight attendant is more cheerful than everyone else. You realize all the “normal” people. Those who don’t have to explain themselves just to make friends. Those who don’t need to have an awkward conversation before a pleasant one. Those who don’t collect sour looks from strangers like emotional scout badges sewn directly onto the tender sides of their heart. The “normal” people get to keep their skeletons packed neatly into their closets. Getting a job is easier for them. The dinner with the soon-to-be in-laws is a little less
This is what stigma feels like. This letter is a plea for readers to practice perspective. Don’t form your opinion of a person based on their worst moment. Allow yourself to be open- minded and remember that you weren’t always perfect.
Prevention Project Coordinator
Jay County Drug Prevention Coalition
Multiple Authors including coalition staff, board members, and coalition members contribute to this page.