Stigma played a part in my friend’s death. She was a health professional and mother of four kids. We were friends in graduate school. She was at the top of her class and was outgoing, funny, loud, and always had a huge smile on her face. We ended up living in the same neighborhood.
But behind the veil of suburban life she struggled with addiction to prescription pain medication. She never once told me. I found out later she’d become dependent on them after being hospitalized for a medical procedure. First, her marriage fell apart. Then she lost her job and car. After she was arrested for heroin, her kids went to live with their father. She only told me about the arrest because she needed a ride to meet with her parole officer. “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she told me. “It wasn't mine. I was holding it for a friend.”
Her story was so good it was almost believable. Maybe it was her addiction that made her lie, but I know stigma played a role too. She didn’t want me or anyone to know. She wanted me to keep seeing her as competent and capable. I wish I’d figured it out sooner. Maybe I could have helped get her into treatment. Instead, I found her dead in her bedroom from an overdose.