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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National Night of Conversation

November 18, 2015
Growing up, I was taught that I shouldn’t use drugs. Even though others in my family had experienced problems with substance use, it didn’t spark the kind of two-way discussion that would have allowed for an open dialogue. Today, things are different; my family and I talk openly about this important health issue. In fact, I have 6 nieces and nephews, and as each one reaches an appropriate age, I share my recovery story and make them aware of the dangers of drug use, the history of addiction in our family, and the importance of making healthy choices. I encourage you to do the same. Talking with your family about substance use can be awkward and uncomfortable. But, parents play a critical role in their children’s decisions to experiment with substances. In fact, research shows that kids who learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs and drink alcohol. So mark your calendar for the National Night of Conversation on November 19. Ready to get started? There are a number of resources available to help you prepare for this pivotal conversation. Today, United States Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., appeared on the Dr. Oz show to talk about the need for the National Night of Conversation. In preparation for November 19, Dr. Oz released a discussion guide to help break the ice and establish trust as you kick off your dinnertime conversation. Additionally, SAMHSA’s parent resources can help you plan for a conversation that will make a big impression. Leading up November 19, let others know that you will be having this important conversation with your family and inspire them to do the same. Post a picture of an empty dinner plate with the hashtag #NightOfConversation on your social media sites. Let’s all come together to speak openly and honestly about substance use.

Addiction Research

November 5, 2015

National surveys have given us with valuable information about rates of alcohol and other drug use, abuse and dependence (SAMHSA, 2013). Much of what we know about addiction, however, has come from information obtained from men and women entering inpatient or outpatient treatment for their substance use problems. (SAMHSA, 2013). While such information is important, it represents only one segment of the much larger group of people with addictions. Many such individuals have never been admitted to a substance abuse treatment program nor have they participated in any kind of addiction recovery support group (White et al., 2013).

In research, this restricted focus on the substance abuse treatment community has been accompanied by an equally narrow definition of treatment “success”, which in many cases has been measured solely by whether a person has relapsed to drinking/drug use or they have remained abstinent. Similarly, epidemiological studies of substance use disorders (SUD) have looked predominantly at remission, examining how many individuals with a lifetime diagnosis of SUD do not meet those criteria for the past year (White et al., 2013). For alcohol use disorders (AUDs) in adults, such remission rates have ranged from 5.3% to 12.9% (Dawson at al. 2008, as cited in White, 2011, p.26)

A recent national survey by the Partnership at and the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) estimates that >24 million adults in the USA are in recovery from SUDs. (White et al., 2013).Their study affirmed how little is known about the demographic, medical and psychosocial characteristics of this larger population of people with addictions.

Faces & Voices of Recovery recognizes there are many paths to recovery, ranging from self-help to formal treatment and it has embraced people with all types of recovery experiences (Laudet, 2011). The organization has been instrumental in spearheading change in how the general public views people with addiction and what constitutes recovery. Their efforts have also had an impact on the research community, with greater recognition of how important it is to include this broader recovery group in future studies.

Our research team at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, VA, hopes to contribute to this effort by making sure members of Faces & Voices of Recovery and the larger community can, if interested, participate in our study of “Genes, Addiction and Personality” (GAP). The study seeks to better understand genetic and environmental influences in individuals with alcohol and other drug use disorders.

Background. As you probably know, alcohol and drug addiction tend to “run in families”. Researchers, including members of our VCU team, have tried for decades to better understand why this happens. This is difficult, because families share both common genes and common environmental experiences that can contribute to familial clustering. To tease them apart, we have used such strategies as twin and adoption studies. Taken together, such studies have found that for alcohol, genetic factors (those passed down from parent to child through DNA), account for about half of the risk for developing an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). Environmental circumstances, both within and outside the family, account for the remaining risk.

More recently, with advances in human genetics, researchers have undertaken projects aimed at identifying which genes influence risk. This has been no small task, because for alcohol and other substance use disorders, we know that hundreds or even thousands of genetic variants are likely to play a role in the risk for developing the disorder. Each of these variants contributes only incrementally to risk, with the environment also playing a key role in the process. Environmental factors can not only increase the chances people NOT at high genetic risk might develop AUD, it can also be protective among those who ARE at high genetic risk. For example, if an individual is never exposed to alcohol due to local laws prohibiting its purchase, they will not develop problems with alcohol, even if they have many of the genetic risk variants.

To complicate things further, the symptoms of addiction differ a lot across individuals with the disorder. The new DSM-5 diagnosis of AUD describes 11 symptoms that range from craving to loss of control to problems at work/school to physical withdrawal. Two people can receive a diagnosis of AUD with no overlap in their symptoms. This variability and diversity has been a focus of more recent research: might genetic factors impact which symptoms a person exhibits? More importantly, if there are such genetic differences, what can we learn about them that might improve prevention, intervention, and treatment?

The impetus for the GAP study came from recent schizophrenia research. Schizophrenia is another condition that is influenced by many genetic variants of small effect (Levinson et al., 2011). Recent research has provided valuable insight for researchers trying to understand the genetic basis of schizophrenia. This research only became possible after survey data and saliva samples for DNA analysis were obtained from over 30,000 people with schizophrenia. With this large sample, the results have been promising, with scientists reporting they had identified over 100 genomic regions that impact risk for schizophrenia. Many researchers believe data from this research is likely to inform the field about new ways to assess for schizophrenia risk as well as develop novel and more effective treatment options.

Our research team at VCU is hoping to undertake the same type of study focused on individuals with addiction. Our goal is to better understand genetic and environmental influences in Alcohol Use Disorders and our first objective is to determine if such a study is even feasible. That is, can we recruit 30,000 individuals with a history of AUD who are willing to complete a brief survey and provide a DNA sample which is central to such research? We think so, but need the pilot data to make our case.

This is an exciting time in the field of addiction, and if our pilot data are promising, the VCU research team is committed to conducting the study. But we can’t make progress without the involvement of individuals entering treatment and members of the recovery community who have struggled with AUD; either now or in the past. If you would like to see if you qualify for the GAP pilot study, please click on the link below. If you have questions, you can contact

We hope that you will join us in this effort to learn more about AUD, with a common goal of improving the lives of those impacted by the disorder and their family members. We also hope the project will provide information helpful to Faces & Voices of Recovery and other organizations committed to advocating and educating federal agencies, policy makers and clinicians as well as the lay public about people with addictions and their long-term recovery.

Dace Svikis, PhD, and Kenneth Kendler, MD

Principal Investigators of the GAP Online Survey

Dawson, D. A., Stinson, F. S., Chou, S. P., & Grant, B. F. (2008). Three-year changes in adult risk drinking behavior in relation to the course of alcohol use disorders. Journal of Studies of Alcohol and Drugs, 69, 866- 77.

Laudet, A. (2013) “Life in Recovery” Report on the Survey Findings. Faces and Voices of Recovery.

Levinson, D.F ; Shi, J., Wang, K., Oh, S., Riley, B., Pulver, A.E., Wildenauer, D.B., Laurent, C., Mowry, B.J., Gejman, P.V., Owen, M.J., Kendler, K.S., et al. (2012). Genome-wide association study of multiplex schizophrenia pedigrees. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 169, 963-73.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2013). Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH, HHS) Publication No. SMA14-4863 Rockville, MD

White, W.L., Malinowski Weingartner, R., Levine, M., Evans, A.C., & Lamb, R. (2013). Recovery Prevalence and Health Profile of People in Recovery: Results of a Southeastern Pennsylvania Survey on the Resolution of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems. Published in abridged form in Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 45, 287-296.

White, L. W., (2012) Recovery/ Remission from Substance Use Disorders: An Analysis of Reported Outcomes in 415 Scientific Reports, 1868-2011:

UNITE To Face Addiction

October 30, 2015

Over several years, I served as Board Chair of Faces and Voices of Recovery. During many retreats and meetings we talked about someday bringing about a great assembly in D.C. My caution always was, when we are truly ready. We got ready. Unfortunately, When the Unite to Face Addiction event happened and recovery celebrants gathered on the 4th, other commitments kept me away. I was certainly there in spirit. Thanks to the Legal Action Center for the live streaming. Thanks to the planning and executing team that made this happen. I saw and felt the energy and joy of that great recovery community. I also heard the echoes of all the recovery rallies held across the nation in September. Though the event dodged the rain, I suspect there were few dry eyes during much of the event.

Significant also was the 600 or more constituents of consequence visiting congressional leaders the following day. We face addiction everyday but we want to beat addiction, overcome addition, and diminish and eliminate addiction. Beat, overcome, diminish, and eliminate. Those are action words. Faces to be seen. Voices to be heard. Action to be taken.

The Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act (CARA) 2015 is the most expansive federal, bipartisan legislation to date for recovery support services, designating up to $80 million toward advancing treatment and recovery support services in state and local communities across the country. The call across the country is to Take Action in support of this legislation. It takes positive action to produce positive outcomes. May I suggest that sometimes even hope needs help?

Through the UnitE event and the growing recovery movement, a significant constituency of consequence is now a recognized reality. We can be a powerful, political, presence if we take action to preserve and promote it. Please pardon the alliteration. Carry the message in your own words but Carry the Message.

Merlyn Karst

Recovery Ambassador

We Wouldn’t Shame Lamar Odom For A Heart Attack. Why Do It For Drug Use?

October 19, 2015

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The Challenge of Grief

October 19, 2015

“I pray to feel my feelings,” the veteran AA told me, “knowing that I will not be abandoned by myself or god.” What a prayer! Stopped me in my tracks. Over the years, I’ve passed it on. Reports are that others find it helpful. We all agree that it’s a challenge.

Do we addicts really want to feel our feelings? The experts tell us that all feelings fit into just four categories: happy, sad, angry, scared. You read that right. Fully three-quarters of these categories are painful.

And happy? One of the severn dwarfs, maybe, but not a known hallmark of active addiction. I’m not sure we believe in it.

Ever defiant, I rejected this schema when it was presented to me at rehab. (Sorry, Howland!) I simply would not accept that our feelings so unambiguously incline to the negative. Where’s the good news of sobriety? Why can’t I be promised continuous happiness in recovery? That might get my addict attention.

Because . . . life’s not like that!

For addicts, relief from feeling (especially those majority painful ones) is the pay off. “Dear Substance-of-Choice, Let me put my feelings on hold.” Yes, it’s a Faustian bargain and we lose: substances stop working before we do, we get sober, feelings come back.


Hence, the feelings prayer.

Back in the 1990s, a British tv movie, The Grass Arena told the story of homeless alcoholics. (Wonderful Mark Rylance – television’s Thomas Cromwell – starred as the true-life protagonist.) There’s a harrowing scene depicting their experience of antabuse, clearly intended as a deterrent. Of course, my filmic fellows drank the whiskey (wouldn’t you?), notwithstanding the inevitable violent illness to come. Still active, I nonetheless recognized the futility of this therapeutic strategm. “Addicts know all about pain, any pain” I told anyone who’d listen. “We’ve figured a way to live with it. With drink. Drink is the priority.”

Carl Jung put it more elegantly: “All neurosis [read: addiction] is the avoidance of necessary pain.” To the alcoholics of television drama, drinking poison with unavoidable and dreadful consequences is preferable to the (necessary) pain we suspect awaits us in sobering up.

When first struggling to come to consciousness, I asserted to my therapist that I hadn’t lost anything through addiction. She put me straight, and quick. “You lost your hopes and dreams.” Oh, that.

Then there was the inventory I set myself: listing the funerals I’ve attended over the years to assess whether I thought addiction was implicated in these deaths. It will come as no surprise that over 95% tested positive. Material for a towering grief.

(Best have another drink, my once-upon-a-time strategy.)

I come from a culture where acknowledging grief is discouraged: Don’t be self-indulgent. That’s just self-pity. Don’t think about that now. She wasn’t a member of your family, why do you care? Leave him alone – he’s just crying in his beer.

And that most damaging injunction to “honor thy father and thy mother” (no grief allowed for the compromised childhood of addiction). If all else fails, the three-fold iron rule of our dysfunctional training: don’t talk; don’t feel; don’t trust. Well, that’s it then.

We now know that our feelings don’t go away. Try as we might, repressed feelings will manifest, just not in healthy ways. If our bodies remember our pain, as they do, so too does our subconscious. There are repercussions. What more universal manifestion of unresolved grief than active addiction?

To complicate matters, I believe from experience that addicts know ahead of time that we’re in for an emotional ride if we’re so foolhardy as to get sober. I read Judith Herman’s book on trauma while I was still drinking – just because we’re addicts doesn’t mean we’re stupid. My takewaway? I would have to walk through my pain to recover. I didn’t think so. Jungian integration could be left to stronger souls; the first time around for all that grief was quite enough for me.

And then . . . you guessed it – alcohol abandoned me. I was devastated. Where now to find relief?

“Get in the middle of the group of drunks and stay there,” I was advised. “You may disappear in the crowd, but you won’t get lost.” “Let us love you until you can love yourself,” is – unbelievably! – a trustworthy invitation. I’ve come to believe that community is the genius of recovery, the community that doesn’t fail us.

I don’t evangelize on behalf of 12 Step fellowships. (For one, it’s against the traditions!) But I do champion the efficacy of their core way of doing business – that is, in group. The great psychodramatist, JL Moreno, essentially founded group work as a forum for mutual healing. He built a life’s work on the premise that, in groups, we co-create the therapeutic environment, we heal each other. Thus, the mechanism of 12 Steps meetings: self-selected individuals united in a common healing purpose. A power greater than any one person in the room. Together, we welcome and manage feelings and the challenges they raise.

Scary? Necessary.

As I write, I’m mindful that it’s the 70th birthday of my friend, Irish visual artist Donal O’Sullivan. He didn’t live to see the milestone. Rather, he reached the jumping off point of which Bill Wilson writes. Literally. Unable to live with or without alcohol, he threw himself into the River Liffey more than twenty years ago. There isn’t a day I don’t miss him. I felt (re)orphaned by his loss. Our lives had partly diverged some time previously; my grief is not generally considered legitimate. But I’ve learned that, as a sober woman, the opinion of others is (blessedly!) no longer any of my business.

I acknowledge my grief; I honor my loss. In community.

With the grace of recovery, I accept life on life’s terms, even when I don’t like it. I share my griefs as they arise. I accept that I’m never going to have had a happy childhood. (Apparently, this is a measure of mental health.) I accept that there’s been enough love to bear my losses this far, that there’s always enough love to carry me forward, that there will be new love to delight.

I don’t abandon myself to addiction today. One day at a time.

This blog post was provided by Ruth Riddick, a woman in long-term recovery since 2003, she is the Founding Director of Sobriety Together™ – Peer Education & Recovery Coaching Services.

On taking our language from In-house to the Outhouse…

June 30, 2015

Years ago, while sitting around the table at a regular 12-Step meeting that I used to regularly attend, I would inwardly cringe when one person in particular at that meeting was called upon to speak: “Hi, my name is Bart and I’ve got a Ph.D… I’m a Poor Helpless Drunk!” I think “Bart” was trying to be clever. Some of the members would laugh a little or chuckle, but even way back then I would wonder how his introduction might have made a newcomer feel. At the time, Bart was sober for quite a few years.

For those of us “In the Rooms”, we sometimes use “in-house” language as a means of self-disparaging humor: “My name is John, and I’m a drunk!” I’ve heard (and made) comments such as this for countless years. Some may refer to their Higher Power as GOD (Group Of Drunks). We sit around the rooms talking about getting “Clean & Sober”. No big deal… everyone does it. As an “Insider”, I can easily get away with using language in such a fashion. I remember while still in rehab hearing a fellow patient jokingly proclaim that a result of the education he received while in treatment: “This place got me a promotion… when I came in here I was just a drunk – now I’m an alcoholic!” We all laughed.

Some of us may use such language with a fair degree of conscious awareness and intentionally poke fun at ourselves: we know we’ve made progress when we learn to laugh at ourselves. For some others – they may not have sufficiently recovered to be aware of the subtle self-deprecating language they still use that reinforces their lingering guilt and shame. “My name is Tymeka and I’m a drunk”, or, ”I’m Michael and I’m an addict.”

However, with the advent of the new recovery movement, the language we use with relative mutual acceptance “in-house” becomes a whole new animal when we take it “out-house”- out to John Q. Public: to the schools, the legislators, the judges, funders, higher education, the media, and elsewhere. It’s one thing to call ourselves an “addict” in the rooms, but when we do this in public settings, it simply reinforces the very stigmatizing concept that we’re now working so hard to reverse. Language DOES matter. I don’t know that we can say this enough – or in enough different ways.

Until we do, we’ll have a very difficult time changing THEIR attitudes, views, and beliefs until we change our own.

This blog post was provided by John Winslow, Program Director, Dorchester Recovery Initiative, a Charter Member of the Association of Recovery Community Organizations (ARCO).

Reflections on Teaching the Recovery Peer Services Model

June 21, 2015

Corresponding to the ten-year rise of a powerful grassroots recovery advocacy lobby, we’re also seeing a growing nationwide network of recovery community centers providing practical and vocational services in an environment characterized by activist Tom Hill as “recovery nurturing.” Meeting identified service gaps, these centers are responding with increased efficacy and sophistication to the acknowledged inadequacy of “treating a chronic disease as if a crisis intervention would be enough.”

Recovery community centers are also pioneering the concept that recovering people ourselves are well placed to provide ongoing support as recovery peer advocates and coaches. Peer service providers, in the language of the centers, work to help remove personal and external obstacles to recovery by making recovery community linkages and serving as personal guide and mentors in the management of individual and family recovery (Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery). In offering peer-staffed support, the centers provide both continuity of care before and after treatment, and a companion service to twelve-step programs.

In promulgating this non-clinical recovery oriented systems of care model (ROSC), the recovery community centers return us to the experiential roots of successful recovery support at the same time as they add value through the expertise of trained peer service providers. These providers, in turn, are building an emerging and evolving credentialed profession bound by formal Codes of Conduct and disciplinary procedures.

As early as the 1990s, George Mason University’s Thomasina Borkman developed a definition of qualifications appropriate to the special responsibiities of this non-clinical model. She writes that people serving as recovery peers “rather than being legitimized through traditionally acquired education credentials, draw their legitimacy from experiential knowledge and experiential expertise.” Experiential knowledge is defined as information acquired about addiction recovery through the process of one’s own recovery or being with others through the recovery process; experiential expertise requires the additional ability to transform this knowledge into the skill of helping others achieve and sustain recovery.

Specialized trainings and certifications offered nationwide prepare peers for voluntary or entry-level employment as recovery peer support providers in their communities. Formal credentialing, requiring further education and supervised work experience, creates additional opportunity for peer vocational development.

As an experienced trainer of the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy, I can attest to the depth and value of the training curricula, not only for the aspiring professional but for anyone seeking to deepen an understanding of the peer services model. Much of the material common to most recovery coach training is based on the work of Harvard emeritus, William L. White, an intellectual leader of the recovery movement, whom we – affectionately! – remember in class as “white guy, white hair, white goatee.”

For the student versed in the clinical treatment role, ROSC presents the very specific challenge of managing role clarity. “Stay in your lane,” we advise: if you’ve begun a working relationship in your clinical capacity (counselor or therapist), do not switch lanes by behaving as a non-clinical coach or advocate. (If a recoveree could benefit from referral to a compatible service provider with different professional protocols, by all means, let’s make the introduction.) Similarly, netiher coaches or advocates, no more than counselors, perform the work of 12-step sponsorship, notwithstanding that individual providers may also be personally experienced in that role. Protecting role boundary integrity is a key service value in the field.

In my teaching experience, I’ve found the video-vignette, The Birth of a New Movement, to be particularly effective in illustrating the recovery oriented systems of care model. This short piece looks at the emergence and mission of the recovery community centers and the support services they provide. Comments by activists such as Andre Johnson and Michael Askew, together with footage showing community programs as far afield as Detroit and Philadelphia, confirm the adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words” – or any number of power-point slides! And, at a tight six minutes, the video-vignette holds the attention.

“All the video-vignettes in the ManyFaces1Voice library are great for teaching,” says Faces & Voices Executive Director, Patty McCarthy Metcalf. I don’t doubt her. They are a terrific resource and available via Vimeo for use in a wide variety of recovery education settings.

Meanwhile, thanks to the advocacy efforts of the grassroots recovery movement, participation in approved training may be state-funded as a pathway not only to meaningful personal recovery but to professional opportunity. The formal credentialing available at state level –for example, the New York Certification Board’s Peer Recovery Advocate certificate (CPRA) – may also lead to medicaid-funded employment under the ROSC model. As the treatment field evolves, additional peer opportunities may be created under both public funding and expanded private health insurance.

As we see in “The Birth of a New Movement,” the success of the non clinical peer services model is valued beyond the recovery community by public officials such as Arthur Evans Jr. of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health. Evans goes so far as to support taxpayer funding of services – such as peer advocates and coaches – that can be shown to result in lives which are personally meaningful and socially productive.

It works when we work it, and it’s a particularly exciting and innovative time for the field. Come join us!

This blog post was provided by Ruth Riddick, a woman in long-term recovery since 2003, she is the Founding Director of Sobriety Together™ – Peer Education & Recovery Coaching Services.

On The Role of Peers in Addiction Recovery

June 10, 2015

Do peers have a unique way of connecting with clients?

As the treatment of addiction moves inexorably toward inclusion in the larger healthcare system, with its standards of evidence-based care, there is also a movement towards the use of peer counselors with “lived experience” with addiction. Are peer counselors able to connect with and help persons struggling with addiction in a unique way? Do the outcomes achieved in employing peers suggest that they should be more widely used, and supported by public funding? Melissa Killeen opens the conversation and highlights a case in which peer counseling played an integral role…Richard Juman

A peer recovery support specialist has many job titles across the United States and around the world. They may be called certified recovery support practitioners, recovery advocates, peer mentors or recovery coaches. They tend to be employed at recovery community support centers, at hospitals, behavioral health agencies or addiction treatment centers. The peer recovery support specialist may be working with substance misusers, traumatic brain injury clients, behavioral health clients or clients that identify with all of these diagnoses. Certified peer recovery support specialists are generally employed by the facilities at an hourly rate for their services; for the client, peer recovery support services are typically free. In this article, I will focus on the peer recovery support specialists working in the addiction field.

Recovery community support centers, financed with state and federal funding, some with funding from churches or individuals, are slowly taking hold and becoming more prevalent. The recovery advocacy organization Faces & Voices of Recovery, developed the Association of Recovery Community Organizations (ARCO) that unites and supports a growing membership of over 100 recovery community support organizations, although there are many organizations which have not yet become members of ARCO. For example, in my neck of the woods, there are currently 12 recovery community support organizations in Pennsylvania and 10 in New Jersey. Recovery community support centers can provide computer training, job interviewing skills training, resume writing, legal assistance, parenting skills training, social services linkages, 12-step meetings and even haircuts! It is important to highlight that these are non-clinical settings. Treatment is not provided – these are healthy places where people with current or past histories of addiction can go as an alternative to hanging out at a bar or on a street corner. Recent research completed by Chyrell Bellamy, MSW, PhD and Michael Rowe, PhD, both assistant professors at Yale University, concluded that working with peers in a recovery community environment may reduce alcohol use, drug use, and criminal justice charges for at-risk populations.

In my view, the most important service that a recovery community support center offers is the assignment of a peer recovery support specialist or recovery coach to work with each client that comes to the center. At the outset, the peer recovery support specialist meets the client and sets up a schedule upon which the client and peer will meet. The format and structure varies widely, with some relationships based on daily phone calls and others on weekly face-to-face visits. The actual length of a coaching engagement will also vary. The McShin Foundation suggests that, as at the community recovery support centers run by the Virginia-based foundation, a 90-day limit is placed on the coaching assignment. However, other organizations, like the Hartford-based Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR), does not place an arbitrary limit on the length of coaching time. Instead, it recommends that standards of goal achievement, like drafting a recovery plan, a relapse prevention plan and/or attaining sobriety goals, be used to determine the length of engagement.

What do peer recovery support specialists actually do for their clients? Here is one example:

In 2013, I helped create the first community recovery center in southern New Jersey, one of only a handful of recovery centers in New Jersey at the time. Heather Ogden-Busch was one of the first people we hired at the Living Proof Recovery Support Center in Voorhees, NJ. At the time, because she had many years of sobriety and experience in sponsorship, she naturally fell into the role of a peer recovery support specialist, or recovery coach. On Heather’s first day at the recovery support center she received a call from a member of her 12-step group. This member relayed the story about another member from the meeting, Beth (not her real name), who had relapsed on heroin. Beth was living in a trailer with her boyfriend, who was also addicted to heroin, and she was not doing well. Beth wanted to stop using. Heather called her immediately.

At the time, Heather was aware that there was some really powerful heroin circulating in the Philadelphia/Camden region. Several young people had overdosed recently, including one of Heather’s sponsees. She relayed this information to Beth, and asked Beth what she wanted to do. Beth said she wanted to get out of her boyfriend’s trailer and go into rehab. She had no job, no money and no connection with her parents, with no possibility of financing a rehab stay. Heather and her colleagues at the Living Proof Recovery Center jumped on the phones to find a detox and a treatment center that would have an opening for Beth.

Within one day, Heather had scheduled an intake appointment for Beth at a detox hospital in New Jersey. Beth would also have a bed reserved for her at a Christian-based treatment center in Brooklyn, NY, if she successfully completed detox. Luckily, Heather knew of another treatment center, also faith-based, in Chicago, with the financing available for the treatment as well as funding for the airplane flight.

Beth was not particularly religious, but knew she needed treatment and agreed to go to detox then to treatment in Brooklyn. Over the weekend, Heather and Beth met together at the recovery center, called the detox hospital and went through the intake process. The same procedure was necessary for the Brooklyn treatment center. Heather and Beth made those calls together. By Monday of the next week, two days after Beth consented to go to detox, Heather had arranged for a sober friend to drive Beth to the northern New Jersey detox hospital. She also had arranged for the same person to drive Beth from the detox to Brooklyn when Beth was discharged.

One week passed, and Beth was being discharged from detox. Unfortunately, the Brooklyn treatment center did not have an immediately available bed, but Beth was next in line for a bed as soon as it was available, in a few days. Beth had to return to her boyfriend’s trailer to wait for the call from the treatment center. Beth did not have a phone, so it was Heather that would field the call from the treatment center. Beth had at least three days to wait and hopefully, remain clean. Heather pulled in all of the support she could muster. Beth had escorts to every NA and AA meeting in the area. Members of the 12-step community drove Beth to Suboxone maintenance appointments. Every night, Heather and Beth talked. Every morning Heather called the treatment center to find out if the bed was available. By Wednesday morning, Beth and Heather were driving up the NJ Turnpike to Brooklyn, and Beth was still clean.

The story doesn’t end there, because the job of a peer recovery support specialist is as important after the client comes out of treatment. Beth was in Brooklyn for 28 days. While Beth was working on her sobriety, Heather was lining up a room at an Oxford House, miles away from the trailer and the addicted boyfriend. Within one day after being discharged from the Brooklyn treatment center, Beth was in an Oxford House, had a temporary sponsor and was enrolled in an intensive outpatient program. Her parents were so proud of Beth’s achievements they had paid for the first two month’s rent at the Oxford House.

Heather remained Beth’s peer recovery support specialist and required Beth to come to the recovery center every day to volunteer. Beth answered the phone, made copies, attended 12-step meetings, and learned about co-occurring disorders. She participated in a resume-writing workshop and a financial planning workshop. Beth got a job as a waitress at a local family-style restaurant that did not serve alcohol and for the first time she opened her own checking account. By her third month at Oxford House, she was able to pay her own rent.

Heather guided Beth to enroll in a co-occurring program associated with her outpatient program. Beth now sees a therapist every week, and a psychiatrist monthly for her psychiatric disorders; because of her low income these services and her Suboxone treatment are free. She came to understand that her drug and alcohol usage was a form of self-medicating her mental illness. Nine months later, Beth remains an active participant in a local recovery support center and she is sober. Every month, her Suboxone dosage is reduced and she will celebrate one year clean from heroin in 60 days. Her goal is to be free from Suboxone and after one year of total sobriety, she can begin the 156-hour training to be a certified recovery support practitioner (CRSP), which is the peer recovery support specialist certification in the state of NJ (

This blog post was provided from The Fix by Melissa Killeen, who is a recovery coach, author of the first book on Recovery Coaching: Recovery Coaching a Guide to Coaching People in Recovery from Addictions and the recipient of the 2015 Vernon Johnson Award from Faces & Voices of Recovery at the 2015 America Honors Recovery Awards Gala.

The Top Five Ways to Sabotage Your Loved One’s Recovery

May 26, 2015

Let’s count down on the top ways you can sabotage a loved one’s recovery, starting with:


“Well, he’ll never get a decent job with that on his record.”
“She might as well go on being addicted, nobody decent will ever want her anyway.”
“Once a drunk, always a drunk.”
Sound harsh? I’ve heard all this and worse from well-meaning family members and friends who do not recognize the possibility of long-term recovery, or are just afraid to hope anymore.


Because obviously your loved one is not capable. So you pay the bills, pick up the kids and put gas in the car. You put your own life on hold while you clean up the messes. You treat your loved one like a little kid while you get him sobered up for work and push him out the door. You shield her from the legal consequences of her using.


Maybe your loved one has gone to treatment, attended meetings, and worked on her recovery. Maybe she has started to change. Remind her of who she really is and where she comes from. If she has family members who also suffered from addiction, say, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Assume the worst. Point out the relapses.


Don’t tell anyone about your “situation.” If someone at work starts talking about their loved one’s addiction, keep quiet. It’s nobody’s business and they don’t need to know. Don’t let the other members of your family talk about it either.


Take note of every screw-up your loved one commits. Don’t forget the vomiting on the neighbor’s car part. Talk about your shame and your ruined life.

My name is Lynn Carlson and I’m a family member of a person in long-term recovery and a Family Member Recovery Coach for Recover Wyoming.

My sister, is a person in long-term recovery from addiction to alcohol.

Not that anybody’s keeping track.

You might think this Sabotage List is a little over-the-top, but I’m telling you, I’ve seen it. Hell – I’ve done most of these things myself.

When my sister was in her active addiction to alcohol, I got this brilliant idea: I would videotape her drunk. Surely when she saw the footage of herself (butt in the air after falling into the bushes) she would be so ashamed she would decide to get sober.

I never actually went through with it – but I wanted to. I would have done pretty much anything if I thought it would bring my sister back from the hole she was in.

Years later, I came to understand that the shame she felt was more extreme than anything I could imagine. When she shed her cloak of shame and worked hard in long-term treatment, and with (I believe) divine assistance, she found long-term recovery.

I did a lot of crazy things to try to manage the chaos that was my sister’s addiction. And in the process I learned. I eventually forgave myself for all of my insane thoughts and actions, because I was doing the best I could.


It can all be done differently, I know this now. Each of the items in this Sabotage List can be flipped.

As family members, friends or lovers of someone in or seeking long-term recovery we can:

We can refuse to look on our loved one as damaged goods. We can visualize and speak often of their promising future in long-term recovery. We can educate ourselves about addiction, participate in the Recovery Movement and share the message that there are over 23 million Americans in long-term recovery. And most challenging of all, we can let ourselves hope.

We can let go of our grip on the reins of our loved one’s life, while taking precautions to ensure the safety of ourselves and other people. We can express confidence that when our loved one takes the right steps to move away from addiction and toward recovery, he will be capable of running his own life. We can allow her to experience the consequences of her actions, because that is a crucial part of her journey toward recovery. We can get on with our own lives, projects and plans – no excuses.

We can recognize the changes in our loved one and embrace them, dealing with any insecurity on our part about how those changes might affect us.

We can stand up and be counted among the millions of people who share our struggle. We can step out of the shadows and share our story. We can seek guidance from our peers: people with lived experience in dealing with a loved one’s addiction. We can offer support to people going through similar challenges. We can let the world know how proud we are of our loved ones and the resilience of our families. We can offer our experiences as an example that shows the promise of recovery.

We can refuse to use shame as a tactic in dealing with a loved one’s addiction. We can replace it with acceptance, hope and love.

If you are new to Faces & Voices of Recovery, welcome. Take advantage of the wisdom and resources offered here.

And from one family member to another, take care of yourself and be patient with your struggles. Most of all, believe in recovery. It’s real.

This blog post was provided by Lynn Carlson, Family Member Recovery Coach, RECOVER Wyoming in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a Charter Member of the Association of Recovery Community Organizations (ARCO).

Stand up, stand out, speak out, and be proud about it

March 20, 2015

I’m Merlyn Karst. After a long and successful career in corporate America and while living in California, I retired in the late eighties. I then worked as a consultant and dealt with my own issues resulting from misuse of the drug, alcohol. This led to my becoming an administrator of an alternative sentencing program dedicated to finding solutions other than incarceration for drug related offenses. I coined a phrase – providing reasons and resources to reduce recidivism. Finding a path to long-term recovery, for others and myself, has provided huge recovery dividends. I saw so much evidence that recovery healed families; it made a profound and lasting impression. I found myself to be a sort of “recovery ambassador. “

After moving to Denver, Colorado, I continued to carry the message of recovery. In 2001, I attended a meeting in St Paul, Minnesota, and those attending set out to put a face on and guide the voices of recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. It began with this statement. By our silence, we let others define us. We determined that we could reduce stigma and discrimination through the impact and positive power of our stories of recovery. We also determined the need to change our language, our labels, and our identity. We needed to be, to act, and to speak out, as persons in long-term recovery.

Recovery is a reality for millions. Remember the over-arching question for many things: Who knew? The answer – too few! Our own organization, Advocates for Recovery-Colorado, was also born then and, with Faces & Voices of Recovery, became determined to educate and inform. Faces & Voices of Recovery is now the nation’s leading recovery advocacy organization with an international reach. The nation should be excited about a new and growing addition to the recovery movement, Young People in Recovery (YPR). It has added their powerful and passionate faces and voices. There are several recovery-oriented organizations and state and national agencies that now recognize and embrace the evidence of the reality of recovery. They also recognize the value of those in recovery as peer-to-peer providers of peer recovery services. Who better to carry the positive message.

Consider this statement statement by Carl Sagan, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” There are 23.5 million persons – young and old – in recovery from addiction. This, to many is an extraordinary claim. We contend that we are the extraordinary evidence. In order to achieve understanding and belief, we need to give much more light and life to the evidence. Millions in long-term recovery are now sharing the power of their stories of lived experience with good health, citizenship, and well-being. A statement to those with long-term recovery is: Stand up, stand out, speak out, and be proud about it. Of course, in early recovery, many seek the comfort and cocoon of anonymity. Eventually, it would be great to let everyone see the butterflies. We are many and we are beautiful.

This blog post was provided by Merlyn Karst, founding board member of Faces & Voices of Recovery and current Board Member, Advocates for Recovery in Denver, Colorado, a Charter Member of the Association of Recovery Community Organizations (ARCO).

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