Her story of addiction is pretty common, but her recovery depended on how she told that story.

There are two stories of Jo's addiction. Only one is actually helpful.

Jo Harvey used to tell her story of addiction in a dark and messy way.

It started when Jo was 7. On a hiking trip, she was given her first drink. She liked the taste, and by the time she was 12, she had experimented with more alcohol and other drugs. In high school, she was introduced to cocaine. She became a party girl, one who didn't remember most wild nights and spiraled into a deep addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Eventually, she gave up the drugs and went in for treatment. In the years since, Jo not only has been sober, but she's dedicated her life to helping others through similar struggles. Today, Jo is completing a doctorate while working to develop alcohol and drug abuse prevention programs for her university.


Now she tells her story as the story of a struggle that saved her.

The difference between those two stories isn't in the facts of her life — those didn't change. But how she tells the story now is radically different because it is no longer dripping with guilt and shame. Jo used to be ashamed that she wasn't the perfect all-American girl that her good grades and pretty appearance led people to believe. She was ashamed that she had succumbed to addiction and that she was struggling with substance abuse. And that guilt and shame shaped how she lived her life.

Why did Jo carry so much guilt and shame around her addiction? Well one factor may have been her gender.

Laura Blum, Nancy Nielsen, and Joseph Riggs prepared a review for the American Medical Association's Council on Scientific Affairs. In it, they describe the societal attitudes about alcoholism and women as well as their unique barriers to treatment.

  • Women who drink excessively are stigmatized as "generally and sexually immoral." That stigma can be internalized by friends, family, health care providers, and even women themselves, who become more likely to deny their alcohol abuse.
  • This leads to an "under-recognition of drinking problems in women until they have reached an advanced stage. Fear of stigmatization may lead women to deny that they are suffering from a medical condition, to hide their drinking, and to drink alone."

GIF via TEDx.

Jo now believes that the key to recovery comes down to the stories we tell.

In order to heal, she had to shake the shame, stigma, and fear to come out on the other side and share her true story: one of hurt and pain, sure, but also of healing and strength. Today, she has this to say about people who are struggling with addiction:

"They matter and are worth fighting for. Even the deepest wounds can heal, and at any moment we can let go of our shame and find peace."

Watch Jo share her empowering story in her own words:


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