There are so many tragic stories. Though Carrie Fisher’s death occurred in late December 2016, findings about her death were only recently released. Our Princess Leia could conquer the evil forces from other worlds, but apparently Carrie could not conquer the evil force that was apparently with her. Her mother died of a severe stroke the following day. Double tragedy. Yoda said, “The fear of loss is a path to the Dark Side.” Obi Wan Kenobi most surely shed a tear. Originally, the coroner announced "sleep apnea and other undetermined factors" were the cause of Carrie’s death; however, the autopsy revealed drugs in her system that suggests there were other identified factors. To show her openness about her mental illness, a picture was shown of a person carrying her ashes in an urn shaped in a design like a Prozac pill. With Yoda’s help, I give attention on the most dangerous drug: Alcohol. Yoda might say: Kill you, alcohol will, but first alone will get you it shall.
The Substance Use Disorder (SUD) that is addiction, can affect absolutely anyone—including the rich and famous. In Hollywood, temptation abounds. The drug use permeates celebrity culture is clouded by the glitz and glitter. The majority of it is hidden from the adoring public’s eye. Lots of celebrities have battled alcohol and/or other addictions, but many have succeeded in overcoming it and maintaining their careers. Their stories can inspire the rest of us. We have many faces and voices of celebrities doing just that.
I’m pleased to provide a reminder from history. It is taken from our documentary, The Anonymous People. In May, 1976, in Washington, a group of celebrities from Hollywood along with congressmen, athletes, doctors, lawyers, and maybe an Indian chief, gathered in Washington D.C. There were famous Hollywood names like, Dick Van Dyke, Gary Moore, Dana Andrews, Astronaut Buzz Aldren, and others. The assembly was named Operation Understanding—Recovered Alcoholics Challenge to Stigma. In published of pictures and the printed word, the event garnered publicity and astonished the public. It could have been the beginning of a movement that saved so many lives, so many families, and improved the health and wealth of the nation—instead we got the war on drugs.
The late Senator Harold Hughes was behind the early effort to put a face and voice on recovery. He also led the effort to change the language and identify alcoholism as a disease from which “We Got Well.” William White has continued that battle by writing about changing the language but also about the language of change. The language of recovery is critical to positive change. We need fewer words and newer words in these days of information overload. Again I refer to Mark Twain, who advises us to examine what we think we know that just ain’t so.
Just as the gay community recognized that silence defined them, so did we come to know that about those of us in recovery. It became our foundational guide, as the recovery movement was reborn. This baby continues to grow and become the informed adult. Fifteen years ago, Faces and Voices or Recovery began to create, lead, and nurture the recovery movement. In my years as chair of the board for Faces and Voices of Recovery, we envisioned a great march and gathering in D.C. We had the dream but not the means or the money. In October of 2015, a dream came true. The first-ever rally/event for addiction and recovery awareness was held and featured musical performances by Joe Walsh, Steven Tyler with his Nashville-based band, Loving Mary, Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell, The Fray, and John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls; powerful, inspirational speakers from all walks of life who have been affected by addiction; and remarks by celebrities, elected officials and other advocates. All joined together to change the conversation around, and bring new solutions to, the addiction crisis in America. Solutions will be advanced during the current opiate crisis.
There are many elements involved in the recovery movement. Faces and Voices of Recovery is the parent of the Association for Recovery Community Organizations—ARCO. It can be a leader, guide, and instrument of collaboration among the recovery communities. Our stories of recovery can also inform and encourage the need for attention to prevention. At this time of crisis we need the voice and power of our collective constituency of consequence. All voices will important to bring focus and funding to fight the opioid epidemic and all issues facing those with the mental health issue of substance use disorders. Recovery is precious. Remember always: stand up, stand out, speak out, and be proud about it.