Random Recovery Reflections

Konstantin Kirilov©123rf

As a writer and recovery activist, I spend considerable time thinking about the growing varieties of recovery experience and the state of recovery advocacy throughout the world. Below are a few brief reflections that may stimulate your own thinking about recovery and recovery advocacy.

Addiction Decompression: As you enter the predatory world of addiction, you must harden yourself for self-protection and survival. The subsequent challenge in recovery is how to re-humanize yourself. The recovery vision is far more than the deceleration/elimination of drug use from an otherwise unchanged life.

Recovery and Freedom: When asked why she used heroin, she replied, “I didn’t use heroin; heroin used me!” Addiction recovery is the transformation of a substance-controlled person (a drug-devouring robot masquerading as a human being) to a free person of substance. Every drug-free breath we take is a celebration and act of resistance—a living refutation of “once an addict, always an addict.” Breathe Deeply!

Boundaries of Recovery: The recovery world is bigger than your recovery neighborhood. Tour some other neighborhoods and you will see the kaleidoscope of colors and patterns that recovery is becoming.

Speaking for Ourselves: We [people in recovery from addiction] do not need others to speak for us. We can share our own stories without the need for professional translation. For generations, others seeking to help or control us spoke on our behalf while we remained closeted from public view. Politicians spoke for us. Physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers spoke for us. Addiction treatment specialists spoke for us. Police, lawyers, and judges spoke for us. The media spoke for us. What they shared were their perceptions and their stories, not ours. We do not need interpreters.

Offering a New Story: It is not enough to declare the old story of addiction (defect of character and moral failure) and recovery (exception to the rule) untrue; we must provide a new alternative story. The new story must be “true” at multiple levels, explaining behaviors that are otherwise inexplicable. The new story must make scientific sense; it must be valid and reliable via testing under controlled and natural conditions. It must make professional sense; it must provide heuristic understandings that can guide effective clinical intervention. Most importantly, it must make common sense: it must provide catalytic metaphors that help affected individuals and families understand and escape the addiction experience.

Recovery Messaging: In music, a “hook” is a riff or a phrase that catches the listener’s attention and makes a song more meaningful and unforgettable. Recovery messages/slogans, like great songs, need a deep hook if they are going to elicit meaningful connections with those seeking and in recovery.

Service and Survival Guilt: We who have survived must channel the silenced voices of those who have died. Through our stories, we affirm their suffering, express their unfulfilled dreams, and expose the conditions that inhibited their capacities to survive and flourish.

Recovery Activism: We can be a witness to what is, or we can be a catalyst of what could be. The difference between an astute observer, but still a bystander, and an activist lies in the decision space between those two choices.

Power of Listening: As recovery advocates, we may find ourselves speaking more and more. Yet we cannot speak truth to power if we stop listening to the powerless. We live in a very noisy culture at present. One thing we can offer through our service is our quiet empathy and our capacity to listen, particularly to those whose voices have for too long been silenced.

Recovery Advocacy and Harm Reduction: Our involvement in harm reduction is a way of saying to those still in the life, “We will do all we can to protect your life. We will do all we can to prevent irreversible damage to yourself and others. We will reduce the obstacles and burdens that could slow your future recovery. We do these things in hope for the day you will join us in our journey of healing and service. Beyond survival is the potential to get well and then get better than well. We may need different forms of supports at different stages of our addiction and recovery careers.” Our role as advocates is to be recovery carriers—agents of compassion—reaching deep into the heart of America’s licit and illicit drug cultures.

In Praise of Not Doing One Thing: Everyone seems to be looking for or claiming a magic bullet to America’s drug-related problems. No such singular mechanism  is possible for such complex problems. What does exist are mechanisms that have positive effects that can be uniquely combined and sequenced for heightened potency based on individual and cultural contexts. It is not a question of either/or as we weigh the value of these mechanisms, but a question of multiple strategies that can produce synergistic and cumulative effects.    

Recovery Science: Science is unique not in its assertion of truth but in its insistence on distinguishing what is true or untrue by systematic observation and experiment. It is also unique, in contrast to political ideology or religious belief, in asserting the limitations of truth—sternly holding today’s truth on probation pending new empirical discoveries. Interest in recovery has grown, but the scientific knowledge about addiction recovery has yet to be systematically synthesized and mined for its implications for addiction treatment and allied recovery support services. Such an effort will likely come through the growth of collegiate recovery programs, university-based recovery studies programs as an area of academic specialization, and the growth of private recovery-focused research institutes. That is the promising horizon of tomorrow’s recovery science.

Recovery Spaces: We need to reach beyond supporting the individual to building community environments in which resistance, resilience, and recovery can flourish. We need defensible, safe, and supportive recovery spaces within every community and within every community institution.

Conflict Pimps and Recovery Hustlers: Beware the conflict pimps whose sole purpose is to enhance their own visibility and economic interests while stirring controversy and undermining whatever proposal is under consideration. Beware the prophet who profits.

Recovery Fanatics: Fanatics who, out of psychological necessity or personal/institutional self-interest, assert their own recovery metaphor as the one and only TRUTH are often at the heart of conflicts between various professional and recovery communities. Joseph Campbell once christened this propensity to force one’s own experience and beliefs on the world as “ego imperialism.” Eric Hoffer, in his book The True Believer, similarly reflected on the danger of the fanatic within mass movements: “he cannot settle down. Once the victory has been won and the new order begins to crystallize, the fanatic becomes an element of disruption. The taste for strong feeling drives him on to search for mysteries yet to be revealed and secret doors yet to be opened. He keeps groping for extremes.”

Caution: We must be very careful that the current weaponization and commercialization of disinformation, distrust, intolerance, grievance, resentment, and hate do not infiltrate American communities of recovery. We must continually re-center ourselves within the historical recovery values of honesty, humility, tolerance, respect, gratitude, forgiveness, service, and love.  

On the Redemptive Power of Hugging: Isn’t it interesting that people who have been so devalued and who so often been made to feel “untouchable” should infuse the ritual of hugging into their fellowship meetings and personal interactions? This is an example of healing touch.

Recovery Advocacy Leadership Vision in 2000: We understood that what we needed at both national and local levels was not charismatic individuals with a messiah complex, but servant leaders who could work for years with humility and integrity to mobilize people in recovery culturally and politically. We were acutely aware of the risks of centralized leadership and aware that excesses of personality could potentially destroy what we were seeking to create. Our early leadership philosophies (“We have no leaders” or “We are all leaders”) served as protection from such risks.   

Recovery Reparations: As people in recovery, we make amends for injuries to others in the name of restorative justice, personal healing, and reconciliation. Should not our country do the same in the name of social justice and collective healing?

Gratitude: When you read one of my books, articles, interviews, or blogs, you honor not only what I’ve created but contribute to the courage and confidence I need to fuel future writing. In that sense, you and I, writer and reader, are co-creators in this movement to broaden the doorways of entry into recovery and enhance the quality of personal and family life in long-term recovery. Thank you for your role in this partnership.