Recovery History and the New Recovery Consciousness

History of AddictionAdvocacy movements require transforming highly personal stories into the collective narrative of “a people.” Merging the individual stories into a larger collective mosaic allows people with shared characteristics and experiences to see their past and future as part of a larger drama. As Marcus Garvey suggests, individuals become a people only when connected to their shared historical roots.

So when did Americans in addiction recovery first begin to see themselves as “a people” with a shared heritage and destiny? The roots of such consciousness begin in the late 1700s within abstinence-based religious and cultural revitalization movements among Native American tribes, arise anew within the early American temperance societies, and extend into groups formed exclusively for the purpose of recovery mutual aid—the Washingtonians, recovery-focused fraternal temperance societies, the ribbon reform clubs, and groups links to the earliest addiction treatment programs (e.g., the Ollapod Club, Godwin Association, Keeley Leagues). Dozens of such groups predate the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, other 12-Step groups, and their modern religious and secular alternatives.

Much of this history is recounted in three books: Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America, Alcohol Problems in Native America: The Untold Story of Resistance and Recovery (with Don Coyhis), and The History of Addiction Counseling in the United States. Summations of the history of addiction recovery have also appeared in a series of authored and co-authored articles that are available for free download on my website. For readers interested in this history, I commend the following articles:

Addiction and Recovery in Native America: Lost History, Enduring Lessons (With Don Coyhis)

The History of Recovered People as Wounded Healers: I. From Native America to the Rise of the Modern Alcoholism Movement

The History of Recovered People as Wounded Healers: II. The Era of Professionalization and Specialization

Listening To Lazarus: The Voices of America’s first “Reformed Drunkards”

The Role of Recovering Physicians in 19th Century Addiction Medicine: An Organizational Case Study

Addiction and recovery among African Americans before 1900 (with Mark Sanders).

Addiction in the African American Community: The Recovery Legacies of Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X (with Mark Sanders)

Pre-AA Recovery Mutual Aid Societies

Twelve Defining Moments in the History of Alcoholics Anonymous (with Ernie Kurtz).

Faith-based Recovery (with David Whiters)

Styles of Secular Recovery (with Martin Nicolaus)

Early recovery biographies, interviews with recovery advocacy leaders, and key documents related to the history of secular, spiritual, and religious recovery mutual aid groups are available by clicking HERE, HERE, and HERE.

One of the most significant historical trends within the history of addiction recovery is people in recovery beginning to see themselves as “a people” apart from affiliation with a particular treatment or recovery mutual aid enterprise. This rising ecumenical culture of recovery is marked by a new language of self-identification and expression; political mobilization; economic development; new recovery support institutions; and creative innovations in the arenas of music, art, literature, cinema, theatre, and new rituals of celebration and protest. Unraveling and extolling the history of recovery are part of this new recovery consciousness, which is itself a historical milestone. Researching and mining the lessons of history are legitimate forms of recovery activism. How might you help capture or pass on the stories that make up the history of addiction recovery?