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.
More Recent Posts
Patty McCarthy Metcalf, Face’s and Voices of Recovery’s Executive Director, invited me a few months ago to contribute a blog (I did) and from time to time to write about FaVoR’s history. There is a lot of it. I was privileged to serve as Chairman of the board for six of the early years, so there is a lot to write about but there are important episodes. I was prompted by something I read to write this blog.
James Fallows, wrote an article for the March Atlantic Monthly, titled Can America Put Itself Back Together? He said, “Many people are discouraged about America, but the closer they are to the action at home, the better they like what they see. … in scores of ways, Americans are figuring out how to take advantage of the opportunities of this era, often through bypassing or ignoring the dismal national conversation.” In face of this, the New Recovery Advocacy Movement (NRAM) provides a positive presence and unity at the national level. We can state that our action at home takes place through the Recovery Community Organizations (RCOs) with all of their supportive activities.
In 2001, in St Paul, Minnesota, our founding campaign group recognized the value of putting a face on recovery and the difficulty of getting beyond anonymity and the prevailing existence of systemic stigma and discrimination. In putting forth a voice of recovery, we needed attention to the language and the message. Bill White, our recovery movement mentor, led us in this consideration. One of the activities for the group was to form a choir. We weren’t very good until we determined that the answer lay in singing from the same songbook. That meant, singing the same words, the same melody, in harmony, and with the passion associated with an anthem. The positive messages to be received like music to the multitude of ears. The anthem could be titled, “Recovery is a Reality.”
It has been a dramatic evolution, aided by the growth of the movement at the grassroots. More of the 23.5 million in recovery are standing up, standing out, speaking out and being proud about it—using assemblies and social media to take the message to the nation and the world. The movement now has a critical element, Young People in Recovery (YPR), where peer-to-peer support is powerful.
We learned early on that our biggest asset would be the power of our stories
In Fallow’s article, Phillip Zelikow, a professor at the University of Virginia and a director of a recent Markle Foundation initiative called Rework America, said, “There are a lot more positive narratives out there—but they’re lonely and disconnected. It would make a difference to join them together, as a chorus that has a melody.” Sound familiar? Our stories of recovery are the positive narratives out there. Without our many fellowships and per support, we would remain, lonely and disconnected. “ I pointed out the importance of a chorus that has a melody.
Our challenge in St Paul was to go and make some history. We have and are continuing to make history. Let’s be proud when history notes that through the difficult process of overcoming addiction, we overcame.
Founding member of Faces and Voices of Recovery
and Advocates for Recovery-Colorado.
America Honors Recovery Award recipient—2008
New Recovery Advocacy Movement Basics
Definition- The New Recovery Advocacy Movement (NRAM) is a social movement led by people in addiction recovery and their allies aimed at altering public and professional attitudes toward addiction recovery, promulgating recovery-focused policies and programs, and supporting efforts to break intergenerational cycles of addiction and related problems.
Historical Context- The NRAM rose in the late 1990s in reaction to the increased demedicalization, restigmatization, and criminalization of alcohol and other drug (AOD) problems and the resulting cultural pessimism about the prospects of long-term addiction recovery. New grassroots recovery community organizations (RCOs) across the U.S. were aided by seed grants from the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment’s (CSAT) Recovery Community Support Program (RCSP). The RCSP meetings served as an incubator for the gathering of local RCOs and recognition of the need for a national recovery advocacy movement. The Alliance Project of the Johnson Institute hosted an October 2001 Recovery Summit that marked the creation of Faces and Voices of Recovery and the formalization of a national infrastructure for the NRAM. The subsequent cultural and political mobilization of people in recovery and people personally affected by addiction was enhanced by a the growth and diversification of recovery mutual aid groups, a new generation of recovery advocacy literature (Let’s Go Make Some History: Chronicles of the Addiction Recovery Advocacy Movement; Alcohol Problems in Native America: The Untold Story of Resistance and Recovery; Many Faces One Voice), a landmark documentary film (The Anonymous People), and a national recovery rally in Washington D.C. (Unite to Face Addiction).
Why “New”?- References to a “new” recovery advocacy movement pay homage to earlier advocacy movements, particularly the past work of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) and the Society of Americans for Recovery (SOAR), and signal the rise of new ideas and strategies that distinguished the NRAM from earlier movements aimed at addressing alcohol and other drug problems in the United States.
NRAM Organization- The heart of the NRAM is the more than 100 grassroots RCOs operating in local U.S. communities. The national infrastructure, from its beginnings, has been a collaborative one. Key partners in this collaboration have included Faces and Voices of Recovery, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Young People in Recovery, Unite to Face Addiction, and Legal Action Center. People in medication-assisted recovery have been represented by The National Alliance for Medication Assisted Recovery, Advocates for Recovery through Medicine (ARM), the National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment (NAABT), and Stop Stigma Now. Local RCOs are now represented by theAssociation of Recovery Community Organizations. New recovery support institutions—a key product of this movement—are represented and supported by such organizations as the National Alliance of Recovery Residences, the Association of Recovery Schools, and the Association of Recovery in Higher Education.
NRAM Funding Organizations- Within the national recovery advocacy movement are funded by a mix of governmental and foundation grants and the private philanthropy of people in recovery and their allies. Local recovery community organizations are funded by a mix of federal, state, and private grants and contracts (mostly for the delivery of recovery-related professional and public education and peer-based recovery support services) as well as through the private philanthropy of local citizens. The work of the NRAM is also supported by a new generation of private advocacy organizations and foundations organized by persons blessed by recovery or who have lost family members to addiction.
Movement Goals-The founding goals of the new recovery advocacy movement were to: 1) portray alcoholism and addictions as problems for which there are viable and varied recovery solutions, 2) provide “living proof” of the diversity of those recovery solutions, 3) counter any actions that dehumanize, objectify, and demonize those with or recovering from AOD problems, 4) enhance the variety, availability, and quality of local/regional treatment and recovery support services, and 5) remove environmental barriers to recovery by promoting laws and social policies that reduce AOD problems and support long-term individual and family recovery.
Kinetic Ideas- The core and evolving messages of the NRAM include the following:
Addiction recovery is a living reality for individuals, families, and communities.
There are many (religious, spiritual, secular) pathways to recovery, and ALL are cause for celebration.
Recovery flourishes in supportive communities.
Recovery is a voluntary process.
Recovering and recovered people are part of the solution: recovery gives back what addiction has taken from individuals, families, and communities.
Recovery is contagious and can be spread in local communities by increasing the density of recovery carriers and expanding recovery landscapes (physical, psychological, social, and cultural spaces) supportive of addiction recovery.
Movement Strategies- The major strategies of the NRAM include:
Building strong, grassroots recovery community organizations (RCOs) and linking these RCOs into a national movement to develop recovery leaders, offer opportunities for the recovery community—people in recovery, family members, friends, and allies—to express their collective voice on issues of common concern, respond to community-identified recovery support needs, and provide a forum for recovery-focused community service.
Advocating for meaningful representation and voice for people in recovery and their families at local, state, and federal policy levels on issues that affect their lives.
Assessing and responding to national and local needs related to the adequacy and quality of local treatment and recovery support services.
Educating the public, policymakers, and service providers about the prevalence, pathways, and styles of long-term addiction recovery.
Developing human and fiscal resources by expanding philanthropic and public support for addiction treatment, recovery support services, and recovery advocacy and by cultivating volunteerism within local communities of recovery.
Creating recovery community centers that make recovery visible on Main Street and provide a setting for the delivery of non-clinical, peer-based recovery support services, supports, and activities.
Celebrating recovery from addiction through public recovery celebration events (e.g., marches, rallies, concerts) that offer living proof of the transformative power of recovery.
Supporting research that illuminates the pathways, processes, stages, and styles of long-term personal/family recovery.
Accomplishments- The major achievements of the NRAM as of 2015 include:
Mass Mobilization: A national recovery advocacy constituency has been mobilized through creation of more than 100 local RCOs, recovery-focused social media outlets, recovery messaging training, multiple recovery summits, and the ritualization of local and national recovery celebration events with ever-increasing numbers of participants. Particularly distinctive has been the leadership roles that women, people of color, members of the LGBT and other historically marginalized communities, and members of diverse recovery communities have played in assuring the cultural inclusiveness of the NRAM. Scientific surveys have been conducted on public attitudes toward addiction recovery and on the demographics, experiences, and opinions of U.S. citizens in recovery.
Policy Victories: Policy advocacy efforts have contributed to a) passage of Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act and the Affordable Care Act, b) mobilization of bipartisan support for Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015 (CARA), c) removal of key discriminatory laws and regulations affecting people in addiction recovery, d) elevation of recovery as a new organizing paradigm at ONDCP and SAMHSA/CSAT and within state planning/funding authorities, and e) the first inclusion of recovery within the National Drug Strategy.
Professional Influence: Major developments include a) increased recovery representation within AOD-related policymaking and governance bodies; b) professional consensus conferences on the definition of recovery and on extending the benefits of addiction treatment via recovery support services, c) progress in purging stigmatizing language (e.g., abuse, clean/dirty, alcoholic/addict) from the addiction field’s language of professional discourse, d) sustained pressure to extend acute care models of addiction treatment to models of sustained recovery management (RM) nested within larger recovery-oriented systems of care (ROSC), e) legitimization of recovery as an important arena for scientific investigation, to include an increase in scientists specializing in recovery research (e.g., Best, Davidson, Dennis, Galanter, Godley (M), Godley (S), Humphreys, Jason, Kaskutas, Kelly, Laudet, McKay, Mericle, Pagano, Polcin, Scott, and Tonigan), f) increased recovery focus within peer-reviewed scientific journals (e.g., special issues of Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, Journal of Groups in Addiction and Recovery), g) expansion of funding streams to integrate pre-treatment, in-treatment, and post-treatment recovery support services (e.g., outreach, recovery coaching, ongoing recovery check-ups) within clinical models of addiction treatment, and h) progress in the tri-directional integration of harm reduction services, clinically-directed addiction treatment, and recovery support services.
Expansion of Recovery Support Institutions: Expansion of a) RCOs, b) recovery community centers, c) recovery residences, recovery high schools and collegiate recovery programs, d) recovery industries, e) recovery ministries, and f) recovery cafes and other social venues.
Expansion of Culture of Recovery: Promulgation of recovery-focused language, symbols, rituals, art, film, theatre, music, and social media.
NRAM as International Movement-The international spread of the recovery advocacy movement is evident in the rise of recovery advocacy movements and organizations in Canada, the UK, South America (e.g., Brazil), Africa (e.g., South Africa), Asia (e.g., Japan), and Australia.
Movement Challenges- The long-term cultural and professional influence of the NRAM is unclear. The NRAM will face many of the challenges faced by other social and health care transformation movements, including cultural backlash, professionalization and commercialization of indigenous support, and highly publicized episodes of emotional/sexual/financial/ideological exploitation of service recipients prior to development of ethical standards of practice and effective structures for selecting, training, and supervising those providing peer-based recovery support services. That said, the NRAM has the potential to dramatically alter public and professional perceptions of addiction recovery and forge fundamental changes in the design of addiction treatment and the nature and magnitude of recovery support services available to American citizens.
William L. White is an Emeritus Senior Research Consultant at Chestnut Health Systems / Lighthouse Institute and past-chair of the board of Recovery Communities United. Bill has a Master’s degree in Addiction Studies and has worked full time in the addictions field since 1969 as a streetworker, counselor, clinical director, researcher and well-traveled trainer and consultant. He has authored or co-authored more than 400 articles, monographs, research reports and book chapters and 18 books. Bill’s sustained contributions to the field have been acknowledged by awards from the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, NAADAC: The Association of Addiction Professionals, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and the Native American Wellbriety Movement. Bill’s widely read papers on recovery advocacy have been published by the Johnson Institute in a book entitled Let’s Go Make Some History: Chronicles of the New Addiction Recovery Advocacy Movement.
Addiction is a deadly epidemic affecting every community across our great nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more Americans die each year from drug overdoses than in car crashes. While Faces & Voices of Recovery leads the way in raising the profile of the recovery community by demonstrating and celebrating long-term recovery, we are also compelled to tell the stories of lost loved ones, to put a public face on addiction.
2015 has also been a year of change at Faces & Voices of Recovery. While the organization has made considerable strides in strengthening our structure and governance, we also suffered a terrible setback by the sudden death of our beloved friend and Director of Operations, Jerry L. Gillen.
Jerry died of an accidental drug overdose within days after our phenomenal annual awards gala, America Honors Recovery, in July. Although those close to him knew some of the details, none of us knew the official cause of his death until just recently after his family had been informed by the medical examiner: a lethal combination of heroin and methamphetamine.
I am sharing this with you, our members, with a very heavy heart. While we debated about whether we would share this sensitive information publicly, in the end, the importance of the work and our mission was the deciding factor. We must not allow the shame and stigma that has historically kept our friends and families shrouded in a cloak of secrecy to regain any traction. We are a recovery movement founded on the value of sharing our stories to help the public better understand addiction and recovery. We work hard to eliminate negative public perception and to reduce the discrimination that keeps people from seeking recovery or moving on to better lives once they achieve it. We are reminded how precious life and recovery are and of the reality of relapse in the chronic nature of addiction.
Jerry Gillen found a better life in recovery. We will remember him as a tireless recovery advocate, a compassionate friend and a dedicated, loyal and skilled professional. Jerry had a natural ability to make everyone feel welcome, whether on the phone or at a Faces & Voices event. He was an incredible event coordinator and a trusted colleague; he was a fast-talker and he had an uncanny sense of humor. Jerry made us all laugh; he loved his Potbelly milkshakes and his Dr. Pepper; his favorite source of self-care was shopping at DSW to buy more shoes! Jerry was deeply committed to the mission of Faces & Voices of Recovery; he was like family to so many of us who knew him well.
When tragedy hits home we MUST do more to make long-term recovery possible for even more individuals and families. We MUST continue to mobilize and organize to raise the profile of the organized recovery community and help more people find recovery by demonstrating that over 23 million Americans from all walks of life have found recovery. We MUST continue to promote widespread understanding that long-term recovery is a reality and a process that takes time and support.
Faces & Voices of Recovery is dedicating 2016 to Jerry Gillen as the “Year of Recovery.” It will be a year of celebration of our history and for all of our leaders, staff, board members and supporters who have touched Faces & Voices of Recovery over the years. It will be a year of new friendships and new faces emerging within the organization and within the recovery advocacy movement.
Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year!
Yours in recovery,
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.
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 Drugfree.org 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 GAPonline@vcu.edu.
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:
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.
“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.
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.
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).
Posts from William White
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.