The remaining days of 2020 will be difficult and contentious: a raging pandemic, economic aftershocks, social justice protests, and yet unseen global crises—all hyper-illuminated by the inflammatory rhetoric of political campaigns. What is the call to service for recovery advocates in such turbulent times? Yes, we should keep our eyes on the prize: easing the suffering of people affected by addiction, widening pathways of personal and family recovery, strengthening recovery support institutions, and advocating for pro-recovery social policies—as we always do. But is there now a larger call to service within the story of America? Does America itself need a recovery process, and might we play a role in such collective healing? People in recovery have much to offer at this unique juncture of cultural history. We are experts in brokenness, crisis management, and the processes of healing wounds to body and character. Below are a few reflections on what you can expect in the coming months and some examples of what we may be able to offer as a balm to America’s wounds.
You will witness narcissism writ large (“self-will run riot”) from many quarters—grandiosity, arrogance, self-righteousness, and projection of blame. You will see very little of the patience, humility, acceptance of imperfection, embrace of personal responsibility, generosity, gratitude, forgiveness, and unpaid acts of service that have been critical to our own recoveries. We can exemplify these at a time our country is in desperate need of them.
It will be a fearful, noisy, resentful, angry time, with people loudly speaking over and at each other. We can model quiet empathy and our ability to ask questions in search of information rather than as confrontation. We can model compassion, mindful presence, our capacity to listen, and the childhood lesson of “taking turns” as antidotes to vitriolic speechmaking with closed ears and minds.
You will witness frequent examples of dishonesty, factual distortion, and betrayal of past promises. We can model and extol the musty values of honesty, loyalty, and fidelity (promise-keeping) through our daily interactions.
Self-seeking, wannabe leaders will fuel fear and hate to divide us into “we-they” for their own purposes. We can model the values of tolerance, compassion, love, faith, and hope. We can celebrate our shared humanity and shared fate.
You will see the sustained effects of social isolation and alienation—something we know a great deal about. We can share the transformative power of connection to community. We can share how we were able to achieve together what we could not achieve alone, and how connection is possible even in the most difficult of circumstances, that our most desperate moments were also moments of immense opportunity.
You will hear the sounds of pain and anguish—the aftermath of profound loss and life disruption. We can model hope and the possibility of future joy and laughter at times when these seem impossible.
You will see people simply overwhelmed by what feels like unceasing demands and distractions. We can share the value of simplicity, the power of focus, persistence, and the achievements that can ensue from one step at a time, one day at a time.
You will see all manner of excessive behaviors as people become unanchored from personal and social constraints. As a people who know much about such excess, we can model the value of harmony and balance.
You will see a backlash against calls for social justice. We can model the importance of justice and the healing power of self-inventory, acknowledgement of past and present wrongs, making amends, and larger acts of community contribution.
A wounded America is hurting. Desperately needed ingredients within the heart of American life are waning. People in recovery will help each other through these turbulent times, and we can also serve by injecting into the larger culture those critically missing ingredients. We can be agents of cultural healing.
“We Recover and We Vote” is a leading recovery advocacy slogan. This November we can also cast a vote for cultural healing by selecting leaders who most exemplify the values so critical to our own personal recoveries—including the values of honesty, humility, personal accountability, empathy, tolerance, gratitude, justice, forgiveness, and service. There are more than 23 million American citizens in recovery. What would happen if we and our families and allies collectively voted for these values? We’ve recovered; it’s time for our country to recover.