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What's in a name?

Originally published 01/23/2020

Bell hooks teaches us that our language is designed to reinforce taken-for-granted oppressive practices.* That's a mind-blower, but she is right. The word junkie is loaded; it's a weapon used by anti-drug warriors to paint drug users as worthless, lazy and infectious. 
I don't suggest those who don't identify as addicted people begin casually throwing the word junkie around. That's not how re-appropriation works, and that's not the point of the name. 
Language puts us in our place. It is a tool of those in power. But when those of us who have had language strategically deployed against us manage to snatch those words and phrases back, we upset the status-quo and steal just a little bit of the magic oppression contained in those terms. 

A couple years ago I was drawn into a public debate with one of my old church friends. I was trying to explain some of the things I had only recently learned about oppression and white supremacy. Specifically, I was telling him (and anyone else who would listen) that our language informs our attitudes, and that our attitudes, in turn, inform our behavior. Pretty simple stuff. 
His response was fabulously unexpected, a dagger right to my heart. In some small way, it instigated this project.
He said...

"Take moral advice from a junkie...that will be the day!" 
That was the end of the conversation, but the beginning of a journey.

His words burned in a familiar way. As an addicted person, and as a convicted criminal, and as a thief, I am used to the shame that society expects me to carry on my shoulders. My scarlet letters are many, and they are impossible to erase or overwrite. But when the daggers come from your own people, the callouses often fail to cushion the blow. He got one in when I least expected it. 

I owe him an odd debt of gratitude in hindsight. The Dr. Junkie Show is about destigmatization and hope. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction in a culture pitted against you, there is hope, and there are people in your corner. We can change drug policy and move from punishment to compassion. 

*Check out bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, All about Love, and Outlaw Culture for great discussions of feminism, language, and power. And no, that isn't a typo--bell hooks, not Bell Hooks (read the book). 


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