Recovery Can Be An Every Day and Every Month Effort
For me, the most important awareness efforts, National Recovery Month, occurs each September and has been part of the behavioral health landscape for over 25 years. According to SAMHSA, over 23 million people in America are in recovery from addiction and over 38% of adults have a loved one who is in recovery from addiction. Millions more are recovering in one way or another.
For many years I have felt like a member of the recovery movement. My voice is not that of a single personal experience, but from the perspective of a friend, a colleague, and most proudly as a parent. I am one of the lucky people who has been blessed with the opportunity to live my life in settings where, in some small way, I have helped people with their journeys of recovery. This was true when I worked at the New York State Office of Mental Health, in my current capacity at Foothold Technology, and in my own home. I say I am blessed because there is nothing better r than seeing a person fight back against the disabling effects of one’s illness and watching him or her stand tall in the community, side by side with everyone else. The struggles, the biases, the stigma, and the pain a person endures to reach that pinnacle called recovery is one of the greatest things anyone can witness. In my own life I have been honored to watch so many fight hard to become a part of the community so many of us take for granted. For some individuals in recovery, the very common practice of going to a store for groceries, or going out to dinner or calling a friend to watch a game often feels far from possible.
As a parent I have watched my son grow from a child who basically had no friends for the first 20 plus years of his life, become a full time productive employee, who owns his own car, makes enough money to soon move out on his own and now even has friends he calls and texts, friends with whom he shares common experiences and activities. As a parent, I know I am lucky and know that not all recovery stories are like my son’s, but he is one of so many who has successfully recovered. Occasional struggles continue, many of which face a 24 year old young man who has not experienced all the same things as others his age, but he has not let it slow his path of recovery.
In my role at Foothold Technology, I’m proud to engage with so many people providing support on the frontlines of recovery. Whether it’s through conversation with case managers at one of the agencies using AWARDS, or with peers supported by agencies like NYAPRS, which held its annual gathering a few weeks ago, I find continued inspiration from those working so hard to fight stigma, provide safe places for active listening and support. I venture to say that each and every one of us knows someone who is in recovery. It could be recovery from substance use, mental illness, from a harmful compulsive disorder, trauma or even from grief. There are great resources available to help each of us learn how to support someone in recovery. I especially like www.recoverymonth.gov, sponsored by SAMHSA and the National Recovery Month Toolkit on the National Council for Behavioral Health website. The toolkit includes tips on how to support someone in recovery from addiction as well as tips for talking with a loved one about substance use.
I encourage you to use the month of September as a reminder to support those people in your life who are working through their own recovery. Use it to renew a relationship with someone who may have slipped away from contact. Although September is recognized as National Recovery Month, and a wonderful time to honor those in recovery, I encourage everyone to acknowledge that recovery is an every month, every day, every hour, every minute effort for those in recovery and ask that we support and celebrate those in recovery every day of the year.
Do you have a recovery story to share? In honor of National Recovery Month, SAMHSA is sponsoring an international essay contest to help promote the power of recovery stories. If you or someone you know is looking for assistance, consider visiting www.recoverymonth.gov where you’ll find SAMSHA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Locator or you can dial SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for information and resources.
This month we celebrate National Recovery Month, a national observance to celebrate the recovery of so many individuals from the sometimes disabling effects of a mental health or substance abuse disorder, and an opportunity to raise awareness and educate. While it might not be one of the most commonly understood awareness months, to me personally, it is the most important one.
My experience with recovery is not one of struggle with a disorder, but my life has been touched by others involved with recovery, both inside my family and out. My journey began as an “outsider” to the recovery movement over 25 years ago when I was fortunate enough to meet people who had dedicated their lives to support the recovery of individuals suffering from mental illness and through my employment. My journey has been personal and public at the same time. Through my employment I was introduced to the “belief” of recovery by Dr. William Anthony, a pioneer of psychiatric rehabilitation and unrelenting supporter of people’s rights to recover. Over the years I was fortunate to learn from such great minds as Dr. Courtney Harding, John Sheets, Harvey Rosenthal, Chacku Mathai and countless others who gave me their valuable time and patience to teach, explain and help me understand the full spectrum of recovery. Each of them taught me so much it would be impossible to identify all I learned, but to each of them, and countless others, I owe a debt of gratitude to all of them for sharing their hearts, minds and souls with me.
Like many others, recovery became very real for me and a very real journey within my own family when we were faced with supporting our son through his time of difficulty. It’s a personal story, but one I want to acknowledge in hopes it will help educate and get the word out that recovery is real. I could spend days thanking those people who were there for us, educated us, gave us hope and supported us. Today I am very happy to tell you that my son’s journey has been, and we pray will continue to be, successful. He is a college graduate, working hard and starting to enjoy life in new ways. He is lucky. There are many others who were not able to make the journey or who are no longer with us today. There are those who still struggle with addictions or illness, but there are also millions of Americans whose lives have been saved through recovery. Most of the times these successes go unnoticed by the broader population. We tend to pay more attention to the negatives then the positives but National Recovery Month provides a vehicle for everyone to celebrate these positives accomplishments.
National Recovery Month is also a time to pause and celebrate individual accomplishments, and a time to celebrate the system accomplishments which make the possibility of recovery real for more and more people. For example, millions of Americans now have access to mental health services they never had before. There is recognition of the impact poor health has on mental health. For many people, mental health services are now integrated with physical health services in ways that ensure access to physical healthcare in stigma free environments. Health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease, which have such negative impacts on persons with behavioral health issues, are now being addressed and people are living healthier and longer lives. By celebrating the successes of those in recovery, we give hope, reinforcement and a positive message that behavioral health is essential to overall health. We know that prevention works, treatment is effective, skills and supports provide opportunity and people can and do recover. Today as we move into our new healthcare era of managed care, we must maintain the strength of the people we support, continue the fight to ensure the recovery movement flourishes and make sure recovery remains central to managed care.
National Recovery Month is an opportunity to celebrate the recovery of those who for so long had a silent voice, who for so long were looked upon as second-class citizens and who were considered weak and unworthy. Today those individuals stand tall as leaders, friends and family members. This month I encourage everyone to continue to fight stigma and continue to educate and bring hope to those that are still in the struggle of recovery. I was blessed with the opportunity to work with people who became my heroes in life, a job where I was able to make at least a tiny impact on the lives of others and one that has given me the opportunity to push the message of recovery. I am forever grateful.
What can you do on a personal level to support National Recovery Month? First educate yourself on the reality of recovery. Look at Dr. Harding’s seminal study on recovery, read the writings of Mary Ellen Copeland, Patricia Deegan, or listen to the words and writings of so many of today’s peer leaders. I encourage you to serve as a believer, a supporter, give hope through your words and actions and be unafraid to stand up and call out injustice. Join me in educating others about the reality of recovery. Together we all can make a difference.