Imagine a bulletin board on the internet that allowed anyone to comment – anonymously – on your job performance.

Anyone can say whatever they want about the work you do. Some praise and thank you. Others mock you and trash a project that you painstakingly researched and produced. You must always always put your name on your work and claim it as your own. Still, anonymous critics swipe away at your work, leaving you unable to confront your accuser.

shutterstock_92850706That’s what it’s like to be a newspaper reporter these days. It used to be that when readers wanted to criticize or comment on your story they would write a letter to the editor. Newspapers didn’t publish anonymous letters. They called the author and confirmed the person actually wrote the letter.

Then came the internet. Anyone can anonymously say anything about your work – and you – without any consequence. It ‘s unfair but as my mother used to say – “Life isn’t fair.”

You were right, mom. Life isn’t fair.

I am also an alcoholic. An alcoholic journalist. It’s been 15 years since I had  my last drink but I am still an alcoholic and still a journalist. Always will be. I’m not ashamed of being an alcoholic or a journalist. I understand there is still a lot of stigma associated with being an alcoholic. But I am at a point in my career, life and recovery where I am comfortable with who I am. I don’t hide either but I don’t mix the two in reporting the news.

However, every now and then I get one of those anonymous online commentators who uses my alcoholism to discredit my reporting. A week ago I did a story about raises that had been given to employees at a public agency. The story included the names and raises of some employees. Here’s what one commentator said about my story and me:

How about a story about how many times Christine Stapleton has been in and out of rehab? i think you’d find more than 8 comments on that story…. Just because these people work for a public entity, doesn’t mean that they are paid enough to have their names dragged thru the mud by an alcoholic gossip writer..

Here is what bugs me about that comment: It stokes the stigma of alcoholism. Every time someone uses alcoholism, addiction or any mental illness to criticize or mock someone, it prevents someone from getting help.

The more we stigmatize alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness the more people with those illnesses will suffer. You are personally responsible for another person’s suffering when you mock, demean or judge a person because they have a mental illness. It is especially reprehensible to mock someone with a mental illness for seeking help.

This is bullying. I will not be bullied. I understand that there are people with alcoholism, addiction and mental illnesses who are not in a position to disclose their illnesses to the world without jeopardizing their jobs, relationships or causing embarrassment to their children or loved ones. That’s okay.

But it is not okay to standby and listen to bullying. Back in Catholic school, they called that a sin of omission. To bullies, silence sounds like an endorsement of what they are saying. Speak up. You don’t have to get into a big debate. All you have to say is three words to stand up for people with mental illnesses: “That’s not cool.”

My anonymous critic made no further comments after I responded.

I am not ashamed to say I am a recovered alcoholic with 15 years of sobriety. I have not been in and out of rehab. I never went to rehab. 

End of  story.

Cyber-bully keyboard available from Shutterstock.