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By Joe Miller | November 19, 2015

Semicolon Tattoo

I like to use a semicolon. A semicolon can serve a good purpose in a sentence and a story, as a substantive pause; a signal to breathe that doesn’t impede forward progress. For me and many others, it’s also an icon. A message. And a movement — the Semicolon Project.

I wear a semicolon on my person, a permanent mark that says, “Pause, don’t end.” I would say I wear it proudly, but proud doesn’t seem like the right word. It’s more like I wear it steadfastly, supportively, determinedly, happily, sometimes sadly.

It’s not a new thing and I am admittedly not on the front edge of it. I have, however, been in the middle of it. Most of us connected to the behavioral health and addiction world, personally or professionally, know by now what the semicolon represents and how it started. I have my own life stories that connect me with the Semicolon Project. Some are beautiful. Some are tragic.

The people I know who paused successfully now lead different lives. Many are free of the often-overwhelming weight of their mental illness and addictions. The rest successfully deal with them through a combination of support networks, consistent professional care, and a variety of therapies. They paused long enough to find help, or let help find them.

The ones I knew who could not avoid the full stop are biting, interruptive reminders of what can happen when mental illness and addiction are undiagnosed, ignored, denied, stigmatized, left untreated, or not treated thoroughly. Hanged in jail cells, asphyxiated in cars, purposeful overdoses… there are a lot of ways to end, but not one single way to restart.

I have tried through my years to help as best I could; I’ve learned that every little effort helps. Hopefully my simple semicolon tattoo, and tens of thousands like it, can help to further raise awareness of addiction and mental health issues and treatment and break down the stigma and shame that too often accompany them. Because I know that proper diagnosis, treatment and support can lead to a healthy, happy life. And a happy life, like my long sentences, can go on and on.

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