recoveryblog: a blog for recovery advocates!

Our recovery advocacy blog is produced by individuals in recovery!  Here you will find commentary and personal discussions on different aspects of addiction recovery and advocacy.

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Family Recovery 101

December 12, 2018
Original Blog Date:  December 15, 2017 Knowledge about the effects of addiction on families and the family recovery process has grown exponentially as a result of scientific studies and cumulative clinical experience. Among the most important conclusions to date that can be drawn from this body of knowledge are the following. 1. Alcohol and other drug (AOD) problems spring from diverse influences; unfold in widely varying patterns of severity, complexity, and duration; and are resolved through multiple pathways and styles of personal and family recovery. 2. The effects of addiction (a generic term used for the most severe patterns of AOD problems) on the family are influenced by the role of the addicted person within the family, the timing of addiction within the family life cycle, the degree of co-occurring challenges faced by the family, the cultural context within which the family is nested, and the resilience resources and recovery capital available to the family. 3. Addiction can be transmitted intragenerationally and intergenerationally via multiple, interacting mechanisms. These mechanisms include the following: a) genetic and neurobiological influences (e.g., those with family histories of addiction are at increased biological risk of developing a substance use disorder), b) assortative mating (i.e., the propensity of individuals to select intimate partners with shared family and developmental experiences) intensifies both biological risk and substance use as a preferred coping mechanism), c) parental/sibling/spouse modeling (i.e., substance use as a learned behavior and one potentially initiated and coached through the influence of other family members), d) adverse childhood experiences with multiple traumagenic factors (e.g., early trauma, multiple episodes and duration of trauma, more boundary-invasive forms of trauma, multiple perpetrators, perpetrators drawn from family or trusted social network, failure of belief and protection when trauma is disclosed), d) historical trauma (e.g., such as that experienced by Native American tribes), e) early onset of AOD use (early onset increases risk of addiction, greater problem severity, more rapid problem progression, and a longer course of problem resolution), and f) environmental factors (e.g., drug-saturated neighborhoods, social promotion of excessive AOD use). In short, the addiction of one family member increases the risks of addiction in other family members; addiction in past and present generations increases the risks for addiction and related problems in future family generations. 4. Family roles, rules, rituals, and relationships; the frequency and quality of family interactions with kinship and social networks; and the global health and functioning of family members are all severely disrupted by addiction. These effects can be far-reaching, with effects on children carrying into their adult development, including their future intimate and family relationships. (See interviews with Claudia Black, Stephanie Brown, Sharon Wegscheider Cruse, and Jerry Moe) 5. The adaptations families make to survive the immediate threats of addiction enhance short-term safety and emotional survival of family members and lower threat of family dissolution, but also constitute roadblocks to long-term personal and family recovery. 6. With proper coaching and support, families can play a catalytic role in recovery initiation and maintenance of the addicted family member and the family as a whole. (See interview with Robert Meyers) 7. The recovery of affected family members can begin prior to the initiation of recovery by the addicted family member. The improved health of affected family members increases pressure for change in the addicted family member. Strategic actions can be taken by families that increase opportunities for recovery initiation. 8. Family-focused addiction treatment and recovery support services generate recovery outcomes superior to treatment focused solely on the addicted person. 9. Recovery can destabilize family relationships if families are not provided ongoing support through the recovery process. According to the research of Dr. Stephanie Brown, addiction-affected families in recovery need “scaffolding” of support to manage the transitions from active addiction to stable recovery. Lacking such support, families that absorbed and survived every addiction-related insult may be fractured (i.e., family dissolution) during the recovery process. 10. With support, families can achieve a level of health and functioning superior to that which existed before the family was impacted by addiction. Addicted individuals and their families have the potential to get “better than well.” 11. With support (including the options of peer and professional support services), families can heal and break intra- and intergenerational cycles of addiction and related problems. (Recovery of one family member increases the probability of successful recovery of other family members. See Here.) Families that lose a family member to addiction also need a recovery process—a process that can be enhanced through peer support and professional guidance. 12. Individuals and families in recovery can play a larger role in healing communities wounded by addiction via their support of others affected by addiction, their recovery advocacy activities, and larger service to their communities. It is time—no, past time—that the basic unit of service within recovery support service settings shifted from the individual to families and kinship networks. Making that shift will require substantive changes across the addiction treatment and recovery support service continuum.

5 Gift Ideas that Give Back this Holiday Season

December 10, 2018

Happy holidays! ‘Tis the season of giving, which means people everywhere are lining up in stores and online to pick out the perfect presents for their loved ones. Whether you choose to go with the latest technology, the coziest sweater or a heartfelt homemade gift, this season is filled with presents galore for people young and old.

Unfortunately, the holiday season can also be a very challenging time for some. Whether a person can’t afford to give gifts or has no one to celebrate with, the holidays can often be lonely and even burdensome. For those of us who are able to give more, this is the perfect opportunity to get involved in your community and help spread the holiday cheer this season. To get you started, here are five gift ideas that give back this holiday season.

1. Buy from a one-for-one company.
If you plan on buying a specific present for your loved one this holiday season, consider buying from a one-for-one company. With the one-for-one model, whenever you buy an item from the company, it will also donate an item to someone in need—essentially doubling your buying power. Not only can you give the perfect gift to your loved one, but you can also give a gift to someone else in the world. Companies such as TOMS, Bombas, SoapBox, Better World Books and more offer great gift options for you and give back to local, national or international programs for people in need.

2. Choose handcrafted presents.
For the loved one who wants something a little bit more unique or creative, choose a handcrafted present from local, national or international artisans. Fair trade businesses believe that the products we buy and sell are connected to the livelihoods of others. Because of this, when you buy fair trade goods created by a local artisan, you support responsible companies and empower workers from all around the world. These handcrafted presents are a great idea to give this holiday season. Not only are they unique and special, but they genuinely support the livelihood of your fellow human beings.

3. Donate in someone’s name.
Did you know you can give to an organization in someone else’s name? That’s right! If you have a loved one who is passionate about a specific charity or cause, consider giving to the organization under their name. Whether you choose local, national or international, you can tell your friend or family that what matters to them also matters to you by donating to the nonprofit’s efforts. Give the gift of charitable giving this holiday season by showing your support for a loved one’s passion through giving back to a charitable organization.

4. Give a gift to a shelter.
This season, families—and children—all across the United States will find themselves without a home, food or presents to enjoy for the holidays. If you want to give a gift that gives back, consider donating to a local shelter in your community. As the weather cools down, shelters often find themselves stretched at the seams in need of resources. To help out, try donating a gift or two. Whether you choose to give food, winter clothing or a toy for a child, you can brighten someone’s holiday season.

5. Invite someone into your home.
Finally, the holidays aren’t only a time of giving, but also a time of community. They’re the perfect occasion to invite people into your home and offer them food, warmth and a loving smile. If you know someone in your neighborhood who has nowhere to go this season and no one to celebrate with, consider taking the extra step to invite them into your home. A simple gesture like this can bring the community together, show how you care and make someone else feel genuinely loved during the holidays.

As we prepare for the holidays, it’s easy to focus on the presents you plan to give and receive. However, if you want to live a more altruistic lifestyle, take the time this year to consider how you can give back during the season of giving. Start with these ideas as you give back this season to help spread holiday cheer.

Reflections on a Man and a Movement

December 7, 2018

My relationships with White Bison founder Don Coyhis and with the Native American Wellbriety Movement are among the most important influences on my recovery advocacy and recovery research activities. I first met Don in the late 1990s as rumblings of a new addiction recovery advocacy movement in the United States were just beginning. In the years that followed, Don and I had innumerable opportunities to collaborate. We served together on boards of recovery advocacy organizations, shared speaking platforms at national conferences, and co-authored numerous articles and a book on the history of recovery in Native America. Through those years we mentored each other and became endeared friends—brothers of another mother, as is sometimes said.

At each event we mutually attend, Don and I seek time alone to talk about our evolving ideas and how we can best serve the recovery advocacy movement. As I look back over these years, Don’s contributions to my own continuing recovery, my own thinking, and the recovery advocacy movement seem endless. His books, videos, and innumerable trainings are filled with profound insights, but among this large menu, Don made two exceptionally unique contributions. He brought to the advocacy movement and to my own work a perspective of time (recovery across past and future generations) and a perspective of space (the ecology of recovery) that existed nowhere else in the recovery movement.

The time perspective Don conveys has many dimensions, beginning with a profound sensitivity to history. His teachings on historical trauma widen our understanding of how addiction and related problems have been transmitted intergenerationally within historically oppressed communities and how the legacies of such trauma can serve as potential obstacles to successful recovery. He further demonstrated how to “forgive the unforgiveable” and draw upon the history of cultural resistance and recovery to break such intergenerational cycles. Don has repeatedly reminded us that we cannot understand today’s addiction problems or their solutions without seeing them in historical context. He has a deep consciousness of and respect for ancestors and ancestral wisdom—how the teachings of elders conveyed through stories, songs, ceremonies, and sacred texts can aid recovery for individuals, families, and communities.

Don’s time perspective also embraces the future. He often suggests we consider how present proposed decisions and actions will affect people seven generations into the future. Knowing that much of our vision of transformed communities could not be completely achieved in our lifetime, Don conveys a sense of urgency to recruit young people into the recovery movement and to mentor these young people to carry forward work toward that vision. It was, in fact, that awareness that spurred a shared commitment by Don and I to create a body of written work that would be available to current and future generations of recovery advocates. In that sense, we were writing for our contemporaries, but also writing to people who will be here long after we have passed from the earth.

Don’s time perspective also includes the issue of timing—for individuals and communities. He admonishes that timing matters. A community must be ready for transformation before successful efforts can be launched. Like personal recovery, community recovery can be supported, but it cannot be forced. In Don’s work, Native communities have to demonstrate a commitment to community recovery before receiving a sustained commitment for support from White Bison. While Don’s presence often helps spark that commitment, it is the community itself that must demonstrate its desire to break entrenched patterns of passivity, helplessness, and hopelessness. Don expects a core group of community members to declare that they are ready—that it is their time.

When most people think of addiction recovery, they think of it as a highly intrapersonal process. Don brings to the recovery advocacy movement the gift of placing that personal recovery process in its environmental context. First, he suggests that the success or lack of success of personal recovery hinges to a great degree on community context—the degree to which the community environment invites and supports recovery or stands as an obstacle to recovery. Second, he suggests that there are whole communities that have been ravaged by addiction and points to the need for a community-wide recovery process. Third, he suggests that wounded individuals, families, and communities need a “healing forest” that can nurture and reciprocally support these recovery processes. Don is among a small cadre of innovative thinkers arguing that the exclusive focus on individuals/families should be extended to neighborhoods, communities, and the wider culture. He reminds us that recovery must be nested in the earth, that it requires anchoring to physical as well as social, psychological, and spiritual space. That conceptual breakthrough radically widens policy advocacy and recovery support options by illuminating as never before the role of community in recovery.

My publications on recovery management, recovery-oriented systems of care, recovery capital, community recovery, and recovery coaching as well as my broader recovery advocacy writings have been deeply enriched by my discussions with Don over these many years. Beyond the kinetic ideas he shared, Don influenced the language I use, my interest in the language of addiction and recovery, and our need—the recovery advocacy movement and the country—to purge language and labels dripping with centuries of stigma and moral censure. Much of this work began with Don’s simple and oft-quoted declaration: “Words matter. If you want to care for something, you call it a flower; if you want to kill something, you call it a weed.”

The recovery advocacy movement and recovery advocates across the world owe a great debt to Don Coyhis and the Native American Wellbriety Movement. Don, today we honor that debt by offering our deepest appreciation for all that you have done for us and with us and most importantly for serving as our wisdom keeper. In retrospect, the rising recovery advocacy movement was itself in need of a recovery coach—an elder guide—and you have served that role with uncommon skill, dignity, and humility. We extend our hearts to you in gratitude and look forward to our continued collaborations in the years to come.


Celebrate National Write a Friend Month

December 3, 2018

Happy December! This month marks a time filled with cold weather, warm fires and of course, gifts galore. As some might say, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” complete with family and friends coming together and celebrating the holiday season.

Not only is December a cold season with warm greetings, but it’s also known as National Write a Friend Month. National Write a Friend Month is an entire month specifically designated for us take time to write a note for a friend. In a month filled with gifts for others, this is a great time to actually share your words with loved ones—tell them what they mean to you and why. If you want to join in and celebrate National Write a Friend Month during this wonderful winter season, here are a couple writing ideas to get you started.

Buy new stationery.
First and foremost, prepare to celebrate National Write a Friend Month by buying new stationery. Stock up on your favorite cards, envelopes and pens to send creative notes and letters to your loved ones. If you really feel imaginative, you can even choose stickers, or include a personalized return address label for the envelopes. Sometimes, the simplest things in life are the most satisfying, and buying new stationery is one of them.

Send a holiday card.
Once you have your new stationery ready to go, use this season as an opportunity to send a holiday card. Make your list of close friends and family to send the cards to and brighten the cold winter month. Include a picture of you or your loved ones, a little life update and a return address for them to send their own holiday cards. If you can, make things even more personal with a handwritten note for recipients to feel extra special.

Write to a loved one.
This Write a Friend Month, make the holidays even more remarkable for your loved ones by sitting down to write a handwritten letter to them. With technology nowadays, handwritten letters sent via snail mail are few and far between, but they have incredible power to brighten someone’s day. Everyone appreciates a personalized note that surprises them in the mail. Send a little extra holiday cheer this season by writing to a loved one.

Share with a stranger.
After writing to your loved ones, consider sharing with a stranger this holiday season. During the cold months, many people in need can feel lonely and left out of the winter cheer. Give them encouragement during a challenging time by writing a letter or note to a stranger. For instance, write a letter to a military member and thank them for their service through programs like Operation Gratitude. Not only can you get involved, but you can also send the gift of joy.

Find a pen pal.
Finally, consider finding a program for pen pals to join in. Whether for children or adults, pen pal programs are a great way for complete strangers to get to know each other and build a friendship across boundaries. Check for available pen pal programs in your community, or search online for national and international options. Not only can you have a cheerful holiday season writing, but you can continue the friendship for months to come.

The month of December is known for many things, including National Write a Friend Month. This season, celebrate the holidays with a day in the snow, sit by a fire and drink hot chocolate. And of course, don’t forget to take the time to write to friends, family and complete strangers. Spread the gift of cheer through writing as we finish out the year with the season of joy.

Intergenerational Healing: Recognition, Resistance, Resilience, and Recovery

November 30, 2018

Essentially, it is thought that the negative effects emanating from group trauma experiences are not only transferred across generations, but that these effects accumulate, such that events occurring at different points in history are part of a single traumatic trajectory.—Amy Bombay, Kimberly Matheson, and Hymie Anisman

Wakiksuyapi, those carrying the historical trauma, can transcend trauma through a collective survivor identity and a commitment to traditionally oriented values and healing.  Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart

Historical trauma and historical unresolved grief (as that experienced in the Jewish Holocaust, in the genocidal and cultural wars against the Indigenous tribes of North America, and in the historical enslavement of African peoples) are recently introduced concepts that convey the enduring effects of mass disconnection from culture, family, and self (Brave Heart, 2000).

Historical adversity, such as that currently underway in Syria, involves the simultaneous experience of mass deaths, loss of homeland, dislocation and dispersion, economic hardship and exploitation, abandonment by the world community, and the resulting destruction of family/cultural ties and identity-shaping stories. Such trauma involves a colonization of homeland and culture and can also involve a colonization of the mind.

Research on historical trauma underscores the potential intergenerational effects of such adversity upon individuals, families, and cultures, particularly when remnants of institutional violence and oppression remain in the emerging social, political, and economic environment. Recent studies of survivors of the Jewish holocaust and survivors of Indian Boarding Schools vividly reveal how the effects of historical trauma can amplify the effects of contemporary stressors across generations and be manifested through increased rates of guilt, depression, suicidality, substance use disorders, aggression, pessimism, apathy, sleep disorders, and interpersonal conflicts.

The mechanisms of such intergenerational transmission have been extensively catalogued and span multiple dimensions. Physiological mechanisms include the transmission of trauma and stress vulnerability via epigenetic inheritance.  Psychological mechanisms include the collective memory of and preoccupation with traumatizing events or a shared “conspiracy of silence” related to such events, amplification of responses to current injustices, survivor guilt, self-blame, increased risk for personal trauma, low self-esteem, internalized aggression, and enhanced risks from self-medication. Social mechanisms of transmission include the disruption of family, extended family, and kinship networks; loss of positive cultural identity; suppression of cultural coping styles and rituals; lack of parental role models; impaired parenting across generations; and potential enmeshment in subcultures (e.g., drug, criminal) that undermine personal hardiness.  Religious mechanisms include the loss of religious traditions and healing rituals and vulnerability to charismatic cults.  Political and economic mechanisms include political and economic marginalization and the loss of personal and tribal agency.

Collectively, these factors can create a snowball effect of stress proliferation and impaired coping capacities across generations, including the intergenerational transmission of alcohol and other drug problems and their progeny of related problems. But history does not dictate personal or collective destiny. Recent research on historical trauma reveals the capacity to transcend such effects through open acknowledgement of the traumatizing events, restorative justice (cultural acts of apology and restitution), forgiving the unforgivable, rituals of inter-group healing, and intra-cultural strategies aimed at intergenerational resistance, resilience, and recovery. The story of historical trauma is incomplete and is itself wounding if it fails to include the elements of survival, strength, and the potential for healing and health in spite of prolonged adversity.  This brief essay will focus on these healing processes that tend to unfold in four overlapping stages.

Intergenerational recognition is a breakthrough of awareness of the links between the past, present, and future. Recognition involves full admission and acceptance of prevailing problems and their interconnection, a new vision of solutions, and discovery of the laws of change that govern the journey from problems to solutions. Recognition involves the discovery that solutions lie both within the self, family, community, and culture and in the mobilization of resources between and beyond these realms.  Resistance, resilience, and recovery begin with processes of truth-seeking and truth-telling across the generations.

Intergenerational resistance is a culturally-, politically-, economically-, and religiously-aware refusal to continue family and tribal legacies of alcohol and other drug problems. It is a refusal to expose oneself to that risk. It is a personal declaration, “Here it stops!” Addictive disorders result from a collision of vulnerability and exposure.  Resistance is the conscious refusal to be exposed.

Intergenerational resilience is a refusal to develop a severe alcohol or other drug problem following alcohol or other drug use exposure. It is an assertion of health in the face of adversity and risk, e.g., a drug-saturated family and social environment.  It is the embrace of alternative styles of coping and an alternative identity.  It is the conscious mobilization of internal and external resources to neutralize the mechanisms through which intergenerational alcohol and other drug problems are transmitted. It is the advent of new personal and family traditions of coping and health.  Intergenerational resilience is the process of aborting alcohol and other drug problems before they have an opportunity to fully develop.

Intergenerational recovery involves initiating or sustaining a family history of recovery to break intergenerational cycles of alcohol and drug and related problems. It is the unequivocal admission of one’s own problems within a larger historical context and a sustained commitment to enhance intergenerational health and positive connection to community. It is a personal declaration that this new tradition starts with me!

In the face of historical trauma and historical unresolved grief, manifested in generations of alcohol and other drug related problems, we have observed seven steps essential to promoting intergenerational recognition, resistance, resilience, and recovery for individuals, families, and communities.

Awakening and Collective CommitmentThere is a period of consciousness-raising through which new stories (oral histories) arise that acknowledge prolonged AOD problems and place them in their larger historical trajectory. New and renewed leaders voice unspeakable truths framed in a message of hope for the future and a vision of how to create such a future. The healing vision of the future extends to the seventh generation. “I stories” of injury and healing (personal narratives) are reframed through a new and larger “we story” of injury and healing (collective story of a people). Anger, guilt, shame, and fear are openly acknowledged. Personal and collective survival are extolled and rendered heroic—tapping new strength within and beyond personal and tribal identities.  In light of these truths, drinking and drug use are framed as forms of personal and cultural capitulation/suicide; sobriety is framed as an act of personal, family, and cultural resistance and a strategy of survival and protection of oneself, one’s family, and one’s culture. The personal healing of historical trauma requires escaping one’s own encapsulation and standing with others in a cultural circle.

Mass Mobilization There is a call to action that reaches the hearts of the people, first in small numbers and then in every-increasing waves. Personal self-consciousness gives way to a new collective consciousness and commitment to action. The expansion of resources for healing self and family are extended to visions of a healed community and a healed history.  A revitalized culture is birthed via history, language, symbols, art, literature, music, and ritual.  Collective identity solidifies into awareness that new activities constitute a potentially historic movement. Personal and family identities are strengthened by this renewed cultural identity.

Personal and Collective Mourning The past is mourned so that a future can be forged. Tears must wet the early trail of new beginnings. The sites of past trauma are revisited. Rituals of personal and collective grief are created and repeated so the unspeakable past is never forgotten.  Injuries of the past are linked to continued injuries in the present, as well as awareness that inherited styles of coping may not fit new realities. The wounds of men, women, and children are distinctive, creating the need for them to heal separately before they can heal together.

Forgiving the Unforgivable To move beyond the enduring wounds of the unspeakable past and its contemporary legacies, ways must be found to forgive the unforgivable. Self-destructive rage over past injury must give way to healing across the boundaries of victim grief and perpetrator guilt. (We become what we carry!) The heart of the perpetrator must be found within the heart of the victim; the heart of the victim must be found within the heart of the perpetrator. Forgiveness of others begins with forgiveness of self.

Achieving a New Harmony. Historical balance between the peoples is achieved through acts of restitution and new rituals of reconciliation. Mechanisms of restorative justice are explored and acted upon.  Without acts of, and the experience of, justice; replicating cycles of the past cannot give way to new forms of relationships. We-they polarizations give way to a larger understanding of the human family. Interpersonal contacts between cultures increase exponentially and are ritualized and harmonized.

Acts of Empowerment, Service, and AdvocacyThere is a mass transformation of helpees into helpers. The wounded are rechristened as healers and charged with the responsibility of sharing their resilience and recovery (experience, strength, and hope) stories with others. Personal dependence (isolation and victim-stance) gives way to mutual dependence (restoration of an ethic of collaboration and community service). Mutual help through the sharing of stories is an act of service, but also assures cultural continuity—a ritual that is as much cultural communion as communication.  Collective action, in the form of political advocacy, becomes a ritual of personal and cultural empowerment—a positive antidote to internalized anger and apathy.

Cultural Revitalization Cultural development begun in the stage of mass mobilization takes on increased attention and depth, including expansion of historical research; language reclamation and purging of stigma-laden words and images; embrace of ancestral and new rituals; adoption of ancestral forms of self-presentation via hair, dress, jewelry; culture-laden art, theatre, and film; and expressive styles of music and dance. A stage of community building is evident in new and revitalized institutions, emboldened by sober leadership, that support the health of individuals, families, and the community. Collectively, this revitalized culture and these support institutions constitute a healing forest that mends the wounds of the people and frees their capabilities.

Acts of Celebration Ancestral community ceremonies (gatherings, memorials, communal rituals, power songs, dances) are renewed and new ceremonies are birthed that celebrate cultural survival and vitality. Kinship bonds are strengthened. Cultural values of survival are elevated and extolled through acts of storytelling. Stories of suffering are transformed through a process of cultural alchemy into stories of heroic survival and strength. Connections between youth and elders are strengthened by the transmission of historical memory and through mutual identification. Problem visibility is replaced by celebration of personal, family, and community solutions. The public nature of these celebrations also progressively alters how communities view those who have experienced historical trauma. A new empowering narrative revealed in these events alters perception of self and one’s own culture and also alters how one and one’s community are perceived by others, shedding legacies of stereotypes, stigma, discrimination, and personal shame.

The seven processes above are critical to the promotion of intergenerational recognition, resistance, resilience, and recovery across diverse communities and cultural contexts. Such processes are a reaffirmation of the inextricable link between personal and community health as set forth in The Red Road to Wellbriety: “…the individual, family, and community are not separate; they are one. To injure one is to injure all; to heal one is to heal all.”

Of Potential Interest

Bombay, A., Matheson, K., & Anisman, H. (2011). The impact of stressors on second generation Indian Residential School survivors. Transcultural Psychiatry, 48(4), 367–391.

Bonnano, G.A. (2004). Loss, trauma, and human resilience:  Have we underestimated the human capacity to thrive after extremely aversive events? American Psychologist, 59(1), 20-28.

Brave Heart, M. (1993). The historical trauma response among Natives and its relationship with substance abuse: A Lakota illustration. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 35(1), 7–13.

Brave Heart, M. Y. H., & DeBruyn, L. M. (1998). The American Indian Holocaust: Healing historical unresolved grief. American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research, 8(2), 56–78.

Coyhis, D. (2011). The Wellbriety Movement Comes of Age.  Colorado Springs, CO: Coyhis Publishing.

Coyhis, D., & White, W. (2003) Alcohol problems in Native America: Changing paradigms and clinical practices. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 3/4:157-165.

Coyhis, D., & White, W. (2006). Alcohol Problems in Native America: The Untold Story of Resistance and Recovery-The Truth about the Lie.  Colorado Springs, CO:  White Bison, Inc.

Denham, A. R. (2008). Rethinking historical trauma: narratives of resilience. Transcultural Psychiatry, 45(3), 391–414.

Kirmayer, L. J., Dandeneau, S., Marshall, E., Phillips, M. K., & Williamson, K. J. (2011). Rethinking resilience from indigenous perspectives. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 56(2), 84–91.

Sigal, J. J. (1998). Long-term effects of the Holocaust: Empirical evidence for resilience in the first, second, and third generation. Psychoanalytic Review, 85(4), 579–585.


Toward Seven Generations of Recovery Advocacy

November 30, 2018

In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations. –The Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy

That’s all it takes—pressure and time.—Red (Shawshank Redemption)

There is a tradition within many Native American tribes of using ancestral history to inform current decision-making and weighing the potential impact of present actions seven generations into the future. Leaders of successful social movements similarly understand the value of inherited wisdom and that fundamental social change requires sustained advocacy across generations of time. As a result, such leaders have articulated visions of a transformed world beyond their own lifetimes (e.g., from the Code of Handsome Lake to “I have a dream…”) and inspired children, youth, adults, and elders to devote their lives to the fulfillment of such visions.

Recovery advocacy in the United States can similarly best be thought of in intergenerational terms. We now find ourselves in the middle of what may well be a seven-generational change process. The first waves of recovery advocacy organized by and on behalf of people seeking and in recovery can be traced to late 18th and early 19th century abstinence-based Native American cultural revitalization movements  and to Euro-American temperance advocates. The former drew on their recovery experience to challenge the use of alcohol as a weapon of genocide and called for the rejection of alcohol and other trappings of European culture and a return to Native traditions. The latter used their personal stories of addiction and recovery to castigate alcohol, invite others to sign a pledge of abstinence, and, in some cases, advocate the legal prohibition of alcohol.

The rise of alcohol problems following repeal of prohibition stirred a second wave of recovery advocacy launched by Marty Mann in 1944 via the establishment of the National Committee for Education on Alcoholism (NCEA). NCEA sought changes in public attitudes toward persons addicted to alcohol and a commitment of public resources to support alcoholism-focused public and professional education and community-based alcoholism treatment. NCEA evolved into the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), expanding its focus to all drug dependencies.

A third wave of recovery advocacy efforts unfolded in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the founding of the National Alliance of Methadone Advocates (NAMA, 1988—presently the National Alliance for Medication Assisted Recovery, NAMA-R) and the Society of Americans for Recovery (SOAR, 1991). NAMA-R has sustained its advocacy activities, but SOAR under the leadership of former Senator Harold Hughes was only active for a few years.

A fourth wave of recovery advocacy culminated in the 2001 Recovery Summit and the founding of Faces and Voices of Recovery. In a process similar to that experience within the civil rights and other social movements, the success of Faces and Voices spawned complementary and more specialized organizations, including the Association of Recovery Community Organizations (ARCO), Young People in Recovery (YPR), Facing Addiction with NCADD, the Association of Recovery Schools (ARS), the Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE), and the National Alliance for Recovery Residences (NARR), to name just a few.

Other waves of recovery advocacy will likely follow. It will take a long time to destroy the cultural misrepresentation of people experiencing and recovering from substance use disorders and the harm to individuals, families, and communities that flow from such caricatures, but make no mistake, that process of change has deep roots that are now accelerating. The present era contains its own unique vulnerabilities, but, compared to earlier generations, the advocacy movement of today portends a much more sustainable movement due to stronger organizational infrastructures, greater cultural and philosophical diversity, greater attention to leadership development and succession planning, greater involvement of women, people of color, and young people in recovery, and boundary expansion to include all those affected by addiction (including the families of the more than 72,000 individuals now dying each year in the U.S. from drug overdoses).

It is a profound blessing to be part of something so much greater than ourselves—to contribute to a movement with full knowledge that its greatest fruits will be harvested by generations to come. If you have been graced with the promises of recovery or have lost someone to addiction, come join us in creating a world in which a message of hope is extended to all who still suffer and in altering the community landscapes in which such suffering flourishes. Addiction has long been marked by intergenerational legacies of pain and despair; personal/family recovery and recovery advocacy offer opportunities to replace such traumatic inheritances with legacies of hope, resilience, and active resistance. Join us. Let’s Go Make Some History.

Volunteering Ideas for Cold Weather Months

November 26, 2018

Brrr…! It’s cold outside! As the month of November winds down, December peeks around the corner, followed shortly after by January. However, as we celebrate the most wonderful time of the year, we can also feel a cold chill seeping in through our winter coats.

Winter is definitely a joyful time filled with many things to celebrate; but for those who can’t afford to pay for their home, keep their kids warm or find a place to stay, it can also be particularly dangerous. Fortunately, when we all come together, we can help make an impact. If you want to live a more altruistic lifestyle, help give back in the upcoming season by checking out these volunteering ideas for cold weather months.

Host a coat drive.
Winter is certainly a chilly season, particularly if you don’t have anything to keep you warm. For many low-income families, coats are simply too expensive to fit in the budget. If you want to give back and help people in your community keep warm this year, volunteer to host a coat drive for individuals to donate their new or gently used coats to those in need.

Knit scarves, hats and mittens.
Of course, you can’t have a coat without keeping your head and hands warm. If you happen to have a particular talent for knitting, try knitting a few scarves, hats and mittens to donate to people in need. Even if you aren’t a very good knitter, consider donating any mittens, scarves or hats you can to the local shelter.

Collect money to fuel heat.
For many people, the extra costs to keep the house warm during winter are too much to afford. See how you can help by volunteering to host a penny drive campaign to assist families in paying for their heating. Even a little spare change can make a world of difference for someone in your community this winter.

Write and send cards.
For some, the cold season is often the loneliest season. Help brighten someone’s day during the dark winter months by writing and sending a greeting card. Write cards for a local shelter to hand out to patrons, thank volunteers for their service or give back with a care package for troops overseas, hospitalized children or people in need.

Build a blizzard box.
Sometimes, cold weather can prevent necessary community programs like Meals on Wheels from delivering. To help people who need the services, try building a “blizzard box” with anything they might need during a winter storm. Include nonperishable food items, water and even a flashlight for them to feel secure when programs aren’t available.

Donate toys for gifts.
Winter also brings with it some of the most expensive holidays of the year. In the U.S. alone, the average American spends approximately $700 each year on gifts. However, many people cannot afford to buy gifts for their children or other loved ones. Give back by volunteering to shop for new toys to hand out to children in need this holiday season.

Bring food for a shelter.
Finally, the winter season can also put a strain on community shelters, as people in need rush indoors to try and stay warm. This often results in a lack of available resources. Get involved by bringing food for the shelter to give away. Check a list online to see what food they need most, or contact your local shelter to see what you can give to help.

Winter is the most wonderful time of the year, but for those who can’t afford the cold, it can also be the most challenging. As we head into the holiday season, give back to your community by using these volunteering ideas during the cold winter months.

A Call for Local Recovery Historians

November 23, 2018

The famed historian Barbara Tuchman once observed that the historian’s greatest challenge was capturing the history of the present—or as she put it, history that is “still smoking.” There is much within the worldwide history of addiction recovery that is still smoking, including the:

1) international growth and philosophical diversification of recovery mutual aid organizations,

2) astounding growth of electronic recovery support media and virtual recovery communities,

3) cultural and political mobilization of people in recovery via a rapidly evolving recovery advocacy movement,

4) emergence of recovery as a potential organizing paradigm for drug policy,

5) shift toward recovery management and recovery-oriented systems of care as new frameworks for the design and delivery of addiction treatment and recovery support services,

6) proliferation of new recovery support institutions and new peer-based recovery support roles, and

7) the dramatic increase in recovery-focused research activities.

Collectively christened the recovery revolution, these developments are touching individuals, families, communities, and cultures in profound ways that warrant careful historical documentation.

As a historian of addiction treatment and recovery in the United States, I can assure you that many past chapters within this history have been lost with only faint rumors of their existence remaining. It is my hope that the same will not be true of recovery within our current era. For those of you with a potential interest in preserving this history, listed below are activities that could help prevent such a loss.

* Collect documents, photographs, audio, video, and other artifacts that document the history of addiction treatment and recovery in your local area.

* If you are a member of a recovery mutual aid organization, other recovery community organization, or treatment organization; help create a local archive that captures and disseminates this local history.

* Record interviews with treatment and recovery elders telling their own stories and sharing local recovery milestones.

* Learn some of the basics of historical preservation to assure the safety and integrity of these collected resources. (Many invaluable historical documents have been lost to flooding, fire, theft, humidity, and insects.)

* Share aspects of these stories through presentations, articles, monographs, and books.

* Offer copies of these materials to one or more of the major addiction studies archives to assure their availability to future historians. Such archives include the Brown University Chester H. Kirk Collection on Alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymousthe Alcohol Studies Library of Rutgers Universitythe Pittman Archive of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundationthe Alcohol Research Group Library, and the Illinois Addiction Studies Archives.

I have proposed through my writings that people in recovery should be viewed as a people—an indigenous culture with their own distinct institutions, languages, symbols, rituals, music, art, and rituals worthy of historical investigation and preservation. Perhaps you can play a role in such historical research and preservation. The shift to a recovery paradigm deserves careful national and local documentation. Those of us on the front lines of this movement must serve as witnesses and the archivists of this revolution in thinking and service practices.


7 Things to Feel Thankful for This Thanksgiving

November 19, 2018

Can you smell it? The faint scent of turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie drifts through the air this week, as we all gather around our family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. The holiday of Thanksgiving has a long and often conflicting story throughout U.S. history, but throughout the years one thing has remained the same: the season of gratitude.

With such busy lives, it can be difficult to slow down and take time to feel thankful for what we do have. However, Thanksgiving marks an important season for all of us to take a moment and remember the little things in life—and every little thing we’re thankful for. If you want ideas for how to feel grateful this week, here’s a list of seven things to feel thankful for this Thanksgiving.

1. Sense of Safety
Many people throughout the world and even within the United States do not have a secure sense of safety this Thanksgiving. If you feel safe where you live, where you engage in the community and who you interact with, consider how fortunate you are to not live in fear this holiday season.

2. Good Health
Our health is one of the most important things to recognize and take care of in our lives. Without good health, we can’t move forward with much else. If you wake up this week with air in your lungs, medicine on the shelf and no pain in your body, take a moment to feel thankful for the good health you have.

3. Faithful Family
Without our family, many of us would not be where we are today. Whether you’re single and live miles away from your nearest relative, or you’re married with a house full of children, feel grateful for your family this season, and recognize how they formed you into the person you are.

4. Strong Friendships
Of course, for many of us, our friends are actually more like family than some relatives. Strong friendships get us through the hard and good times, and often shape us into better people. Use this week as an opportunity to consider the impactful friendships you have in your life, and if you have a chance, reach out to those friends and tell them thanks.

5. Loving Animals
Maybe you’re not really a “people person,” but are more of an “animal lover.” Give thanks for the furry—or scaley, slimey or feathery—friends in your life by recognizing all of the love they have to offer this Thanksgiving.

6. Job to Work
We know, we know—jobs can often feel like more of a chore than something to feel thankful for. But, without work, many of us would struggle to feed ourselves, afford a home and even support our families. Many unemployed people long for a job to work, so if you find yourself employed this Thanksgiving season, take a moment to feel grateful.

7. Place to Call Home
Finally, if you have a roof over your head and a place to call home this week, feel thankful. People throughout the world do not have a permanent place or home, so let the feeling of gratitude seep into your heart. Better yet, see who you can invite into your home to celebrate Thanksgiving with this year.

As we go about our lives, we often get caught up in the things we want, and forget about all of the little things we already have. Thanksgiving is a remarkable time to sit down and think through everything we have in life to be grateful for. Use this list as a start, then see how many things you can add. Not only will you have a great Thanksgiving because of it, but you’ll end up feeling happier for weeks to come.

Recovery Celebration and Advocacy in Ghana Africa

November 16, 2018

The rise of an international recovery advocacy movement is, country by country, expanding the physical, psychological, social, and political space in which long-term personal and family recovery can flourish. Earlier posts have highlighted such efforts in Canadathe UKthe Islamic Republic of IranAustraliaJapanthe Philippines, and East Africa. Today, we explore recovery advocacy in the Republic of Ghana in West Africa.

The Republic of Ghana, a nation of more than 25 million people and more than 40 languages, is located on West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea. Like countries around the world, Ghana has experienced significant alcohol and other drug problems. Rising from these problems has been a new generation of recovery activists addressing the needs of people seeking and in recovery from addiction. Leading this effort organizationally has been Recovery Africa, Inc., founded in 2014 after years of groundwork and support from the Hopeful Way Foundation and the sustained collaboration of people in recovery and professionals in the U.S. and Ghana. The Mission of Recovery Africa is to assist Ghana and other African countries in developing organizations that effectively address addiction to alcohol and other drugs across the arenas of prevention, treatment, and recovery support.

Recovery Africa has supported the development of a residential treatment center (The House of St. Francis), a medical detox facility, four Oxford Houses (including one for women), and the expansion of recovery support groups, including AA and NA groups and approaches that draw more directly on African traditions. Recovery Africa has also helped create the Recovery Ghana Consortium, provided addiction-related training to medical and service professionals, and sponsored educational exchange visits to Ghana by students in recovery from other countries. Efforts are underway to encourage development of employee assistance programs within Ghana’s growing commercial sector by linking businesses and recovery community organizations. All of these efforts have garnered support from the Government of Ghana. Support from the U.S. has been provided through relationships with Oxford House Inc., Faces and Voices of Recovery, Dot and John Mooney Foundation, and Healing Transitions as well as through visits by prominent U.S. recovery advocates.

Recovery Africa sponsors an annual recovery walk each year to celebrate recovery, stir hope among those still suffering from addiction, reduce stigma, and offer living proof that recovery is real! All proceeds from the walk support Recovery Africa’s continued efforts in peer-to-peer recovery support, recovery-focused public education, and recovery advocacy. Ghana’s first recovery walk was held in 2015, and more than 350 people participated in the 2018 walk held this past September in Accra with the theme United Against Stigma of SUDs (Substance Use Disorders). Included in the Recovery Walk were representatives from the Ghana Prison Service, Narcotics Control Board, Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, National Commission for Civic Education, other Ghanaian non-profit organizations, and rehab centers that provide treatment and recovery services for the local recovery community as well as local schools, youth groups, and churches. Also participating was Recovery Africa’s primary partner Hopeful Way Foundation and a number of representatives from the American recovery advocacy movement. Videos of the 2018 Recovery March can be viewed by clicking HERE.

If you would like to make a personal contribution to Recovery Africa to support the recovery advocacy work in Ghana, you may do so by clicking HERE. Even the smallest of donations will help expand needed recovery support resources.

The images below convey the spirit of that event and some of the messages conveyed to those observing the walk or seen through quite extensive media coverage of the event.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Recovery Africa, Inc. Board Member Kristen Harper for providing photos from the 2018 Recovery Walk and to Dan O’Laughlin for sharing information on Recovery Africa and the Hopeful Way Foundation.

Please click the link Recovery Celebration and Advocacy in Ghana Africa where you can view additional photos from the 2018 Annual Ghana Walk on Bill White’s blog page.


Posts from William White

Program Oversight Tip Sheet

October 1, 2021

Peer recovery support service (PRSS) programs should have an established, formal recovery community advisory council or community board, in addition to a Board of Directors.

Board of Directors Tip Sheet

October 1, 2021

Building a Strong Governing Board

A peer recovery support services (PRSS) program benefits from having a strong board that is dedicated to the mission of the organization, representative of the local recovery community, and effectively prepared for their governing role.

Marty Walsh US Secretary of labor video

September 30, 2021

What Does the Future Hold for the Recovery Community?

September 9, 2021

Featured Panelists: Christina Love, Dharma Mirza, and Meghan Hetfield


Christina Love, Advocacy Initiative Specialist, Alaska Network on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault (ANDVSA)





Dharma Mirza Equity & Justice Fellow at ARHE & Oregon Measure 110 Oversight & Accountability Council Member

Dharma Mirza (she/her) is an artist, activist, policy advocate, and scholar living in Corvallis, OR. Dharma is a Public Health and Gender Studies student at Oregon State University. Dharma focuses her work and research on harm reduction, sexual health, addiction, public health equity, and the intersections of behavioral health and marginalized health populations. Dharma informs her work through intersectional, feminist, and decolonial frameworks and draws on her own experiences in navigating health/harm reduction services as an HIV-positive, queer, biracial transgender woman, Khwaja Sira (Pakistani Third Gender), and former survival sex worker and IV drug user.

Meghan Hetfield, Certified Addiction Recovery Coach and Certified Recovery Peer Advocate


As a Nationally Certified Peer Recovery Support Specialist and a NY State Certified Recovery Peer Advocate and Trainer, Meghan has found purpose in supporting people in their individual pathways of health and wellness. She is a dedicated advocate for Harm Reduction and ending the racist War on Drugs. She believes that radical compassion is needed to heal each other and meet our fellow humxns “where they’re at” without shame or judgement. Meghan is currently working from home in New York’s Catskill Mountains for WEconnect Health Management as a PRSS where she enjoys swimming holes, mushroom club hikes and cooking all her plant & fungi foraging finds.

Description: Recovery belongs to us all. Leading up to the second summit in St. Paul, MN this October 3-6, 2021 – 20 years after the original summit – what do we expect of our future? Three vibrant leaders discuss their perspectives and hopes for the next two decades of the Recovery Community. Through this moderated discussion, we will investigate the need to end gatekeeping and welcome everyone to recovery by lowering barriers to recovery support, creating inclusive spaces and programs, and broadening our understanding of what recovery means for people with different experiences. As we grow in empathy and understanding, we save lives by adding protective factors and building resiliency. Ever reminding us that Recovery is for Everyone: Every Person, Every Family, Every Community.

Moderated by: Keegan Wicks, National Advocacy and Outreach Manager, Faces & Voices of Recovery

This webinar series is sponsored by Alkermes.

COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs

August 25, 2021

COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs_FVR

Ethics Tip Sheet

April 6, 2021

Peer recovery support service (PRSS) programs require an ethical framework for service delivery. In most cases, simply “importing” a professional code of ethics is not effective. There is a difference between the professional-client relationship and the relationship of the peer leader and the peer being served that warrants an ethical framework specifically tailored to PRSS.

We Have Been (Addiction Lament & Recovery Celebration)

February 25, 2021

Understanding oneself is incomplete when divorced from the history of one’s people. Those with lived experience of addiction and recovery share such a larger history. Over the course of centuries and across the globe, we have been:

Abandoned  Arrested   Berated   Caned   Castigated   Coerced   Confronted   Condemned   Conned   Defamed  Defrocked   Divorced   Deported   Denied Probation   Denied Pardon   Denied Parenthood   Executed   Electrocuted   Electroshocked   Evicted   Expelled   Exploited   Exiled   Feared   Fired   Forsaken   Hated   Humiliated   Incarcerated   Incapacitated   Kidnapped   Kicked Out   Quarantined   Restrained  Ridiculed   Sedated  Seduced  Shunned   Shamed   Surveilled   Tough Loved   Criticized   Colonized   Commercialized   Criminalized   Delegitimized   Demonized   Depersonalized   Deprioritized   Disenfranchised   Eulogized   Euthanized   Glamorized   Homogenized   Hypnotized   Institutionalized   Lobotomized   Marginalized   Memorialized   Miscategorized   Mischaracterized   Monetized   Mythologized   Objectified  Ostracized   Patronized   Politicized   Proselytized   Publicized   Sensationalized   Stigmatized   Scandalized   Sensualized   Sterilized   Terrorized   Theologized   Traumatized   Tranquilized  Trivialized

More recently, through the efforts of recovery advocates and professional and public allies, we are being:

Applauded   Awakened   Celebrated   Defined   Educated   Elevated   Encouraged   Helped   Healed   Enfranchised   Hired   Informed   Inspired   Motivated  Profiled   Reconstructed   Recruited   Redeemed   Rekindled   Renewed   Restored   Represented   Reunited   Supported   Surveyed   Transformed   Uplifted  Utilized  Valued Vindicated   Actualized   Baptized   Decriminalized   Destigmatized   Diversified   Enfranchised   Hypothesized   Idealized   Legitimized  Medicalized   Mobilized   Organized   Prioritized   Professionalized   Radicalized   Randomized   Recognized   Reconceptualized   Revitalized   Secularized   Sympathized Theorized

Through our shared journeys, recovery is gifting us with:

Accountability   Acceptability   Adaptability   Authenticity   Clarity   Collegiality   Community   Dignity   Employability   Fidelity   Flexibility   Honesty   Humility   Integrity   Longevity   Maturity   Opportunity   Possibility   Predictability   Productivity   Prosperity   Respectability  Responsibility  Sanity   Serenity   Sobriety   Spirituality   Stability  Survivability   Tranquility   Visibility   Wellbriety

Is it any wonder given the complexity of these experiences that we struggle in recovery to answer, “Who am I?” We cannot fully understand the “me story” without the “we story.”  Our personal stories nest within the hands of this larger multigenerational and multinational story. Our present circumstances, our shared needs, our individual aspirations, and our future destinies are inextricably linked to this complex, collective past. We can draw upon that past for resolve and inspiration at the same time we rise above it. Personally and collectively, we have fallen, yet like Lazarus, we rise anew.  Personally and collectively, we are moving from pain to purpose.


National Standards of Best Practices for RCOs

February 24, 2021

To ensure fidelity to the recovery community organization model, Faces & Voices of Recovery, RCOs across the nation, and stakeholders have identified the following as national best practices for recovery community organizations.

Recovery Innovations: The Well-Fed Social Supermarket

February 18, 2021

I recently discovered a UK-based project that I found so exciting that I solicited the below blog to share with my readers. To me, the Well-Fed Social Supermarket signals a next stage in the evolution of recovery support services: programs that serve those seeking and in recovery while simultaneously benefiting the larger community. For generations, “service work” in the recovery community has reflected the support we provide each other, our mutual aid organizations, and individuals and families seeking recovery. Perhaps the day has arrived when that service ethic will be extended in new and dramatic ways to larger communities and cultures.

–Bill White


Recovery Innovations: The Well-Fed Social Supermarket

Dave Higham, Ged Pickersgill and David Best


Recovery is a process that is characterised through the acronym CHIME – standing for Connectedness (the importance of social engagement); Hope; Identity (the growth of positive personal and social identities); Meaning (engaging in activities that give value to each day) and Empowerment (often experienced as positive self-esteem and self-efficacy).

For recovery community organisations, supporting people to achieve sustainable recovery is often about finding ways to promote CHIME that are personalised to individual aspirations and goals, and the stage of a person’s recovery. This means creating access to positive social and community resources that can nurture recovery capital.

In the UK, there have been a glut of recovery cafes, some of which have succeeded and others failed, but an increasing quest for diverse programmes and social enterprises that can both bolster recovery experiences while also contributing to the growth and wellbeing of the local community. This article provides a brief overview of the Well and then will focus on its innovative contribution to recovery pathways and community wellbeing.

The Well

The Well is a not-for-profit, community interest company (CIC) formed by ex-offender Dave Higham in 2012. Dave left prison for the last time in 2007 having spent over 25 years in addiction and in that time spent more time in prison than he did in the community. Since leaving prison in 2007 he has dedicated his life to supporting others with drug and alcohol addiction through both voluntary and paid employment. Dave set up The Well with his own money and with no blueprint to follow. Instead, he used his experience, vision and determination to create what has now become a leading provider of recovery services in the region.

Dave set up The Well when he recognised a gap in the provision of services during  off-hours and weekends for those people who wanted to achieve or maintain abstinence. The first hub was launched in Lancaster in 2012, and a further four sites quickly followed in Lancashire and Cumbria (in the North-West of England).The majority of staff at The Well have lived experience of substance misuse and offending histories.

The Well has always been shaped, designed and delivered by the people it serves and supplemented by the assumption that both the person and their family need to recover and are thus welcomed. The Well is also open to people with prescription drug histories, mental health issues and trauma, and nearly all the people served have experienced CPTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The Well is based on the assumption that ‘Where we serve our community, we become active citizens in the community’.

The Social Supermarket

A Social Supermarket has been designed as a positive way of supporting those on low incomes, tackling poor diet and overcoming health inequalities, through the provision of surplus stock sold at heavily subsidised prices.

Since store’s opening in November 2019, Wellfed Social Supermarket has had a footfall of over 5,000 people and has also resulted in 279 referrals into The Well Communities through various mechanisms of support.  The social supermarket has also facilitated (including but not limited to ) delivery of over 1500 hot meals to marginalised families, issued over 150 food bank vouchers, issued 17 free flu vaccination vouchers, delivered 37 emergency food parcels, delivered 242 sets of ingredients and recipes, and assisted families with welfare signposting in respect of white goods.

Well Fed social supermarket secures high-quality short dated food from retail and manufacture supply chains that would otherwise be sent as waste to landfill but is fit for human consumption. We sell this food to customers at reduced prices, typically an average of one-third of normal retail prices. Marketing is carefully targeted at residents on the lowest incomes and thus at greatest risk of experiencing food poverty and related health issues.

The social supermarket model innovates further by working with local agencies to provide a range of on-site support services. These are tailored to members’ needs and help them overcome multiple barriers to getting out of poverty. On-site support, signposting and assertive linkage may include money advice, debt counselling, and courses on healthy eating and cooking on a budget, as well as employability and vocational skills training. The Well-Fed Social Supermarket is a non-profit organisation with all monies re-invested back into the local community.

The Well Communities Social Supermarket is a model which enables residents in Barrow in Furness to access the retail aspect of the social supermarket and our Fairshare Model Food clubs and to be included in The Well Communities  Building Better Opportunities (BBO) Project  which helps members benefit from the employment and business opportunities that are arising in Barrow in Furness both now and through the longer term delivery of the BBO programme.

This is linked to the Well-fed Food Clubs which provide a sustainable alternative to free food distribution and foodbanks. Through a £3 per week payment, members receive approximately £10 to £15 worth of food each week while reducing food waste by working closely with fareshare North West by collecting the food from the regional Hub in Preston. The Well has built up a very strong membership of marginalised families; most of the postcode areas we serve are listed in the indicies of multiple deprivation. Over 30 tonnes of surplus food has been distributed to date.

The whole model is based on looking upstream and looking behind the actual need for discounted food. Each family has difficulties which mean they need to obtain goods due to some form of financial hardship; the intention is to determine such reasons and help in some way to alleviate these problems. These are then linked to in-house support mechanisms which Include assertive linkage to local statutory and third sector organisations.

Building Recovery and Community Capital                                                                     

The Well identifies people’s recovery capital, identifies their  passions, and works with them to create enterprises. They have had several successful enterprise ideas, the first being The Well itself, but they have also had some failures or learning that were not so successful. To get to the successful Social Supermarket idea we went through a process of ideas and attempts, the first being a catering trailer business, where the Well bought and renovated a trailer and employed a member of our community as he had experience as a chef, got a pitch for the trailer, but the marketing strategy of announcing that we were recovering addicts and alcoholics was the wrong thing to do as in the first year the project  was working at a loss. The lesson was that the most important factor about a food trailer is the pitch, and let this business go but kept the company name Well-Fed and started up foodbanks.

The other successful business, “Well maintained” used the employment capital and experience within the Well membership, including carpenters, electricians, plasterers and so on, and renovated our Dolton Road Hub which is now the location for The Social Supermarket.


There were false first steps on the road to creating the Social Supermarket, but the commitment to the principles of peer empowerment, community engagement and CHIME have resulted in a number of successes that contribute to the growth, wellbeing and inclusiveness of the recovery community as an active and vibrant part of the local, lived community. Not all of these enterprises will succeed, but the skill base, dedication and creativity of the recovery community will ensure a net gain and a positive contribution to individual recovery journeys, family inclusion and community connections and growth.

2020 Faces & Voices of Recovery Annual Report

February 13, 2021