Response to Mutual Aid

After another week of juggling the rigors of a PhD program, writing and analyzing research, and participating in my fair share of Twitter debates, I am often too jaded or too tired to put together coherent thoughts on the direction of recovery. However, this week was somewhat different. I came across a practical post by Dr. McCartney. Here: https://recoveryreview.blog/2019/11/01/mutual-aid-must-do-better/

McCartney highlights 3 key points from an article regarding professional resistance to mutual aid for pharmacotherapy clients.

  • Encourage the development of non-12-step groups as an alternative to NA (they acknowledge the relative lack of research on other groups)
  • Educate professionals about 12-step groups on the basis that increased staff knowledge is associated with staff recommending attendance
  • Develop a broader approach which increases knowledge, changes staff patient interactions and looks at organisational change.

This first point I have hammered home again and again. I am always confused why those who are resistant to 12-Step groups spend more time in critiquing such groups, rather than building alternative communities. 12-Step recovery is part of American culture, and it is a free public good. While 12-Step recovery is not perfect, and it isn’t for everyone, it is certainly a community that should be respected, and even protected. Especially in a hyper-capitalist society that would like nothing better than to co-opt and profitize free community based solutions to social disease. I wonder at times whether such critics of 12-Step recovery understand that in a capitalists society, 12-Step programs are one of the only free and highly available resources anywhere.

Critics of 12-Step programs should truly seek to emulate such communities if they truly believe in social justice. There are few things as egalitarian, value-driven, singular in mission, and dedicated to helping vulnerable people like 12-Step groups. So whether one objects to the stated goals of 12-Step recovery or not, in order to offer viable alternatives, critics and activists will have to fight the same capitalist forces in order to create alternatives. The only way to do so, seems to be to build communities based on similar traditions, structure, and ethos of 12-Step communities.

Whatever alternative recovery communities are built- They will have to be free, based on consistent values, free from external influence, and driven by altruistic values. They will require traditions, and goals that are centered on human values of freedom and self-determination. If not, they will never spread far enough, and wide enough, to offer genuine alternatives.

I would also add a fourth point to the recomendations offered in Dr. McCartney’s synopsis- Promoting Recovery Science Research

In order to create a science of recovery that is based within the very same values of recovery (honesty, collaboration, openess, selflessness etc.), every proffessional environment that treats addiction must be tracking, writing, and publishing data that consists of recovery trajectories at all stages, and along intrapersonal, interpersonal, and ecological metrics. For anyone who cares about any style or form of recovery, we must begin to develop a culture of assessment within our own organizations if they truly seek to treat addictions and promote recovery.

Recovery science should be organic and grassroots, like the people and communities it studies. And it must also offer an alternative to government, treatment, and pharma funded research. As such, we all have an obligation to participate in some way. This will go a long way to bridging gaps between the professional, mutual aid, and the individual seeking recovery. It must be honest research, based on promoting wellness, and truly concerned with healing, not with funding, anger, or agendas.

In the end, Dr. McCartney is correct, mutual aid must do better. All forms of mutual aid must present themselves as open societies whereby ongoing life-long support is available. Mutual aid organizations must provide what is needed most in our neoliberal world- free support driven by collective community ownership, entrenched in altruistic values. This is the case that must be made to the professionals:

-Most recovery will occur outside the clinical space

-Recovery is a life-long process for those that truly require recovery to live

-Professionals must recognize the limits of what they offer, and how they can help

-Mutual aid must be presented as the next logical step in a recovery journey

-Mutual aid must offer diverse ideologies, widespread access, and be free of undue influence from profiteers and agendized actors

-All mutual aid will have to fight the forces of neoliberal economics which seek to isolate, alientate, and individualize social diseases like addiction, and profitize proprietary solutions to such disease.

-Mutual aid that is altruistic repels the dynamic market forces that destroy community bonds. Mutual aid that is free and community-based IS social justice in it’s PUREST form.

It is time for mutual aid to embrace it’s revolutionary role in assisting vulnerable people struggling with addiction. Everyone in recovery, professional and community activist alike should seek to fight back against the forces that promote dissention, and anti-mutual aid sentiment. Those disaffected by 12-Step recovery should seek to emulate and seek to build communities that are similarly structured, and equally widespread.

Recovery scientists need to focus efforts on the study of long term recovery trajectories as the occur naturalistically in the real world and through both professional and community based organizations. This, above all else, will bridge the gap between mutual aid and the professional sphere. And researchers should utilize counselors, community members, and individuals with lived experience to create and disseminate mutual aid research within the professional fields through workshops and presentations that utilize multiple stakeholders as the voices of such research. I envision a day where counselors and researchers, along with people with lived experience both participate in, but also help present research on recovery, while offering their unique viewpoints on the science as it unfolds.

-Andre Govia

In closing- we must all do better. We must ask ourselves what we are doing, where we are going, what we believe, and reflexively own our experiences. We must all be more cognizant of our own desires, disaffections, and biases. And we must recenter our efforts in what matters most- helping the individual who, at the very writing of these words, is desperately suffering and looking for a way out. This is our focus. We must do better.