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The Shame and Guilt with Learning about Substances in School

I remember being in grades 7-8 about 13-14 years old and my teacher was starting our health curriculum that covered substance use.

The entire class was shown photos of “before and after” substance use with diaristic changes in the individuals. Of course, they didn't discuss any of the underlying experiences or health conditions that could affect the person's mental health or substance use and I recall my teacher sharing that "using substances is a choice you make, and it is a choice to continue using or not."

Although my teacher may not have used these exact words he definitely shared the perspective to our young minds that substance users are bad.

I felt so much shame and guilt.

As a child of substance users sitting in that classroom listening to someone who is supposed to be educating me and the class on these experiences,

I felt so much shame and guilt. It was brutal sitting in the classroom hearing that my parents are bad people for using substances, and I don’t wish that feeling upon anyone.

Our school systems need to change the way they teach this curriculum and I am determined to see the change happen.

If you are a child of substance users and have experienced something similar to this I give you the biggest virtual hug possible. My heart hurts for the way children are impacted by stigma - your parents are not bad people for using substances. You and your parents deserve so much more than that.

And you’re not bad for loving, supporting, and working on your relationship with them. You and your parent(s) deserve to have the support available to reach your independent and family unit goals, whatever they may be.

About the Author:

Kloey C. is a Starling youth volunteer, an advocate, and a youth who has been impacted by the stigma of a parent’s substance use. Her spirit Mohawk name is Kawanáte, which means "came out talking" which she states is very fitting with her passion for sharing her story”. As a youth whose parents attempted abstinence-based treatment multiple times, she is a fierce advocate for harm reduction and a safe supply so that parents like hers receive adequate and individualized support on their recovery journey, and so that youth do not feel the shame of a parent’s substance use.

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