The Family Circus and the Elephant in the Room

The Family Circus and the Elephant in the Room

Each day I receive mind prompts on subjects I feel the urge to write about. Sorting them out for common interest is often difficult. The attention given to the opiate crisis is so welcome. The Chinese symbol for crisis and opportunity is the same. Despite the social and economic costs, this is a time of great opportunity. Attention and funding will serve great purpose if data can guide evidence-based approaches, methods, and models. Though focused on prevention and treatment all approaches must essentially be followed by recovery support services. This will achieve a lasting economic and health benefit. Though opiates are the focus, there should be a broader and positive impact. The fact is that we have to give attention to the other drugs that are legal but create critical physical and mental health and substance use disorders. Alcohol, nicotine, marijuana and caffeine are potentially addictive drugs for too many people. We recognize the physical and mental health issues resulting from substance use disorders created by addiction and the desperate need for hope and help.

We are fortunate that there are millions in long-term recovery from addictions with powerful stories to tell. I was privileged to be a part of the founding of Faces & Voices of Recovery and our plan and purpose developed from a foundational fact. By our silence, we let others define us.

Brooke Feldman, Faces & Voices of Recovery’s blog manager, recently wrote about what we discovered 15 years ago. Under the title, When Families Are Grasping At Straws, Our Recovery Stories Have Power, She wrote: “Many of us in long-term recovery understand the power and importance of putting a face and voice on recovery. We understand that by being a vocal and visible voice for recovery, we demonstrate that recovery is in fact possible for all—even those once deemed the most hopeless and despondent.” My story involves alcohol—my drug of choice. It created physical and mental disorder issues. It affected friends and family. My self-medication seemed to do wonders for me. Others just wondered if I realized or cared about the effect on them. Now in long-term recovery, I know the importance of being a vocal and visible voice. I believe in the power of my story but I also know that my story powers me.

Here is another mind prompt to write about. The UK is giving attention to the drug alcohol. British writer, Mathew Todd, writing for The Guardian wrote: “The physical health risks of drinking are well known. Less discussed are the mental health consequences. These are real and significant, and seem to be getting worse. For there’s still an elephant in the therapist’s waiting room: alcohol. “

In the U.S. while at home in the family circus, the person with the addiction may perform a high wire act and even play the clown while the family ignores the elephant in the room: alcohol. The drug alcohol is cunning, baffling, powerful—and deadly. It is tragic when it takes the loss of a family member to get our attention. Most Americans know someone with a substance use disorder, and many know someone who has lost or nearly lost a family member as a consequence of alcohol misuse. Yet, at the same time, few other medical conditions are surrounded by as much shame and misunderstanding as substance use disorders. Alcohol and other drug misuse and the related disorders are major public health challenges that are taking an enormous toll on individuals, families, and society. It is estimated that the yearly economic impact is $249 billion for alcohol misuse alone.

In this moment of awareness in a crisis, opportunities will be there to make a difference. The power of the stories of recovery will have impact, but so will the power of our constituency of consequence. The constituency is growing through the Association of Recovery Community Organization (ARCO). When we follow through with our powerful vocal and visible voices, those with the power to support our advocacy will see and hear us.