SSDP Just Say Know: Self-Disclosure in the age of Prohibition

SSDP Just Say Know: Self-Disclosure in the age of Prohibition

Written by Julia Hilbert ‘17 of University of Pittsburgh SSDP with contributions from Frances Fu ‘11 and Kat Humphries ‘10.

Julia Hilbert ‘16 speaks at SSDP at University of Pittsburgh’s Decriminalize Safety Rally in September 2018

If you have completed the SSDP Just Say Know peer education training curriculum, or read through the resources in the Self-Disclosure lesson, you have probably realized what I have: that resources regarding self-disclosure of personal drug use are too often aimed only at counselors and medical professionals who work with people in recovery. However, resources for those who work in harm reduction- and drug policy-oriented spaces are lacking. Where are the resources about self-disclosure that are neutral about one’s use, or simply suggest that one should have a healthy relationship with the substances they choose to use?  As it turns out, these are few and far between.
Self-disclosure is a complex topic in and of itself. I admit, I pondered it heavily myself this past July at the Sleeping Octopus Assembly on Psychedelics in Wilkinsburg, PA where I tabled for SSDP and DanceSafe. If you are working in a space where drugs and drug use are the main focus, you can nearly always expect a  barrage of questions regarding your personal drug use.
There are some questions that you have to consider before self-disclosing: Why is this person inquiring about your personal drug use in the first place?  Will your self disclosure act as a teaching moment? What benefit does this disclosure bring? Who is questioning you, and are they trustworthy with the information shared?  Will your self-disclosure lead to “staff splitting” – where those being served view those of us who they know have used drugs as either more or less credible than our colleagues?  Are you going to incriminate yourself if you disclose your personal drug use in this setting?
You should try to make sure that the impact of your disclosure is one that is beneficial to the audience, not being used in an exploitative way, and not one that harms you or your future. You should feel empowered to put conditions on those you are working with, including your quotes about your own disclosure. If it is happening in a public medium – such as a newspaper article or podcast, require reporters and editors to get your approval before publishing so that you can see your own quote in the context of the article they are writing. You should feel in control of the information you are allowing them to use, and often profit off of.
It is also important to think about the type of venue you are at in this situation, and who you are representing. Does the organization you are representing in this space as an activist/advocate approve of self-disclosure of personal drug use? Is it within their guidelines not to do this? Does the venue you are occupying have certain guidelines or beliefs regarding personal drug use? Would you have to deal with any issues of liability for incriminating yourself? What positions of privilege do you hold when considering your disclosure?
Even within the context of activism/advocacy spaces, some people may be more reluctant to disclose due to the very different relationships they have with the police and criminal justice system. Being white, female, cisgender, heterosexual, wealthy, etc. can all be huge positions of privilege, and determinants as to whether or not someone feels they are incriminating themselves when disclosing their personal drug use. It is important to never push anyone, especially our colleagues who are people of color, to make any disclosures they are not comfortable with. Protecting yourself and those you work with should be first and foremost in your mind when making the decision to disclose.  
These things being said, while searching for resources regarding self-disclosure of personal drug use, there is one idea I came upon that I esteem higher than the rest. What if we all simply claim to be a person who uses drugs? We all likely are, whether that drug be the caffeine in your coffee, the nicotine in your cigarette, or something more commonly deemed a drug like cannabis, alcohol, heroin, etc. Many of us are drug users.  
Could this help us unify in our own spaces and therefore help us present a unified front to those we address? Perhaps if we could disclose in this way, we could minimize cannabis or psychedelic exceptionalism, since we would all simply identify as people who use drugs. We could diminish the division between those who only drink coffee in the morning, and those who use what society has stigmatized and deemed to be “hard drugs.” Additionally, those of us who hold all or some of the aforementioned positions of privilege in regards to this subject could use this method of disclosure of our personal drug use to pave the way for our colleagues who are putting more on the line when they decide to disclose.    
Members of movements before ours have not had the choice of whether to bring forth their identities in the work that they do. One cannot simply hide that they are a woman while taking part in feminist efforts, one cannot simply hide that they are a person of color while taking part in civil rights efforts, etc., but one can decide whether or not to disclose that they are a person who uses drugs when fighting the War on Drugs. It is time to make being a person who uses drugs an inextricable political identity, and a unifying front on which we can all agree as we move forward in our efforts to end the War on Drugs.

Julia Hilbert ‘16 speaks with a peer at SSDP at University of Pittsburgh’s Decriminalize Safety Rally in September 2018

Want to learn more about the topic of self-disclosure in the context of the War on Drugs? Check out Frances Fu’s ‘11 excellent article in Psymposia on Reclaiming your identity as a drug user, Karen Walker’s ‘15 previous blog post on the topic, and take a look at all of our resources in the Just Say Know program. Have questions about your own self disclosure or tips you would like to share with other SSDPers? Email vilmarie@ssdp.org.