We know that the greatest way to break down stigma is by employing contact strategies. In other words, we know that mindsets can shift when there are opportunities for people to experience their preexisting ideas, attitudes and beliefs about a particular person or thing confronted with conflicting evidence to the contrary. We understand that putting a face and voice on recovery is so important for this reason alone: to break down the stigma of addiction as something that is insurmountable by showing that recovery is in fact a reality for millions. In addition to the power of contact strategies, there are other enormous benefits to more and more of us stripping away shame and openly sharing our individual and family recovery stories. To understand these benefits, we must turn our attention now to the brain and a little ‘ole feel-good hormone known as oxytocin.
Oxytocin is the hormone that is responsible for human behaviors such bonding, maternal behavior and building trust. More importantly for this discussion, oxytocin is also the hormone that is responsible for human behaviors such as empathy, generosity and increased motivation to help others. While there are a number of different activities that can release oxytocin in the brain, there is one that research has shown to be of great importance to our addiction recovery advocacy work: the act of simply listening to and receiving somebody else’s story.
When we authentically tell our stories of triumph to others, when we openly share our heroic journeys of recovery, when we freely dispense of the gifts of wisdom we picked up along the way, we then have the amazing opportunity to serve as small but powerful oxytocin-inducing agents to the brains of those listening. When we tell our recovery story to another individual - whether verbally in person, online through our writing or played out on TV - we are serving as catalysts for the release of the very hormone known to be responsible for generating empathy, generosity and an increased motivation to help others.
If we want the general public to have greater empathy for substance use disorder and its related challenges, we have to tell them our stories.
If we want the general public to be generous in supporting or investing in the funding needed to make prevention, treatment and recovery support services and resources available to all, we have to tell them our stories.
If we want the general public to be motivated to help other’s struggling with substance use disorder, we have to tell them our stories.
If we want to see a tipping point in the way the general public supports recovery, we must listen to the science – and what science has to tell us is this: Sharing our stories is what moves people to be empathetic, generous and of service to the cause. So get out there and be an oxytocin-inducing agent in the world; get out there and be a catalyst for change; get out there and tell your or your family's recovery story.