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Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles’ Mother: Addiction & Stigma

Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles’ Mother: Addiction & Stigma
This photograph was produced by Agência Brasil, a public Brazilian news agency, published under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Brazil License

Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles’ Mother: Addiction & Stigma

If you’ve caught just five minutes of the Rio Olympics, you have likely seen, heard of and even cheered for America’s newest sweetheart: Simone Biles. With her faultless execution, fierce athleticism and charming smile and confidence, the 19-year-old gymnast has won the hearts of many at her first Olympics games. Tuesday night, Simone and the ‘Final Five’ USA Women’s gymnastics team took home the gold – and there’s still plenty more competition to come in the individual events. Simone has been practicing gymnastics for years, she said it starts by getting a mat. Here is a guide to find the best gymnastics mats for you. In all of her growing fame, details about Simone’s past have emerged, including her biological mother’s former struggles with substance use and addiction. With the building excitement around the superstar’s performance at the Olympic Games, the ugly stigma of addiction has once again emerged.

Simone Biles’ Mother’s Addiction

According to various sources, Simone Biles’ mom, Shanon Biles, a single mother, struggled with drug and alcohol addiction in Simone’s early years. Her addiction brought her to the point in which she was unable to care for her children. By the time Simone was two, she was placed in foster care – and jumped between foster homes for several years before finally being adopted. Simone was six when she was adopted, along with her sister Adria, by her maternal grandfather, Ronald, and his wife Nellie. “Her mother had many problems with drugs or alcohol,” Ron Biles said in an interview with NBC. “We took them in as family because they were family. And just gave them what we had: That was love and encouragement.” In an exclusive interview with Daily Mail Online, Shanon Biles said, “when we signed the [adoption] papers, it was like my dad flipped a switch on me – no communication, don’t call and don’t visit. That’s how it was at the beginning.” “It was hard to give up my kids but I had to do what I had to do, I wasn’t able to care for them,” Shanon continued. “I was still using and he didn’t want me coming in and out of their lives when I wasn’t right.” “I didn’t understand it at the time, but years later, I understood why. I had to deal with me first.”

Dealing With Drug Addiction In The Family

Addiction isn’t an individual problem: When one family member is sick, it can have a ripple effect. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, addiction puts a tremendous amount of stress on the family’s stability, unity and health – both physical and mental. In the Biles family, three generations were affected. But just like the addiction affects the whole family, sometimes it takes the whole family to recover. You see, simply treating the person who is addicted and expecting everything else to fall into place isn’t realistic. Recovery takes the effort of a team – and most often, that team is the family. Recovery begins with deconstruction of the self and  the family unit, and restoring it piece by piece with healthy behaviors and boundaries, truth and love. For the Biles family, it took a harsh reality – and probably a lot of tears to come to the decision that Simone’s mother wasn’t well enough to care for her children. It took courage for Simone’s grandparents to step up and care for and raise two young girls. It took bravery for Simone to work through and embrace her new family situation and keep her eyes on the goals of becoming an elite athlete, despite everything she had encountered as a young child. It took a total rebuild of the Biles family to break free from addiction.

Breaking Free From Stigma

According to an interview with TMZ Sports, Simone Biles’ mom, Shanon has been sober since 2007. “I was struggling back then, but life goes on and that’s my past,” she said in the video recording. Unfortunately, Shanon Biles has drawn great criticism and judgment about her past addictions. Numerous articles have been released about the struggling mother giving up her children and shaming her for the consequences of her addictions. In the field of drug and alcohol addiction treatment, we know that those who struggle with substance addiction are not morally weak or failed. We don’t believe that anyone wants to become dependent on a substance. We don’t believe in promoting the stigmas that so often prevent them from getting the help that we need. With news outlets and commentators shaming and stigmatizing Simone Biles’ mom, they’re preventing other struggling parents from seeking much-needed help. People who struggle with an addictive disorder don’t want to be labeled an “addict” or feel that their lives will surround the stigma “once an addict always an addict.” By breaking free from the stigma of addiction, people would find it much easier to make a realistic assessment of their substance use and move forward with getting help and restoring their families. Shanon Biles should not only be proud of her daughter, Simone, but she should also be proud of her recovery from addiction. She’s faced tremendous obstacles, including the loss of custody of her children – yet has fought to overcome her illness, and regained control of her life. She’s faced ridicule for loving and supporting her daughter from afar – yet recognizes that she couldn’t raise her daughter because she wasn’t well enough at the time. Instead of stigmatizing Shanon Biles, we should be cheering for both her and her daughter.