Reflections on Recovery at the end of the decade

NY Raven

New Year’s Raven – artwork by Julie Miller of Haggis Vitae Studios, used by permission

Sitting here on the last Sunday afternoon of the decade, I find myself reflecting on recovery and where we are at this moment in time. Much has occurred to expand recovery opportunities for every American with a substance use condition over the last ten years. But there remains a great deal more to be done over the next ten.

When I reflect back on what’s been accomplished over the last decade, I think about the words of Don Coyhis, one of our most respected voices. Don is a Native American, a member of the Mohican Nation, and President and Founder of White Bison—a Native American non-profit organization dedicated to sobriety, recovery, addictions prevention, and wellness / Wellbriety learning resources for the Native American/Alaskan Native community nationwide. If you don’t know of their work, please check it out.

Don noted that 20 years ago he was with a group of recovery advocates that gathered to talk about expanding recovery and had come up with an idea that at the time seemed radical. People in recovery would begin to self-identify to the rest of society that they were in recovery and share how recovery had changed their lives for the better. Twenty years later this is no longer a radical idea, and the recovery “brand” is seen as so valuable that other interest groups are latching on to it and working to redefine recovery in more expansive ways. By any measure this idea was revolutionary—making people more open to talking about and seeking recovery.

Ten years ago, peer services for addiction were virtually nonexistent. The development of these services was initiated by the recovery community and was intended to support the recovery community. SUD peer services are being operationalized nationwide ten years later. One might argue that we are risking the loss of recovery community engagement in these services as they become professionalized. We may consider refocusing on why the services were developed by and for the recovery community and save the essence of what they are. My sense is that action or inaction in the short term will be critical one way or the other. Over the long term, I am an optimist. History says that if we fail to keep peer services recovery community-based, people who come after us will try yet again to develop care “for us and by us” as has been the trend over the course of the last century or so.

I am wondering what elements of our collective work will take hold over the next decade.

  • Might it be the developing of an understanding that recovery is a social contagion, and that “seeding” recovery in communities helps heal those communities?
  • Might it be the focusing on the science of recovery and increasing our understanding of how recovery occurs?
  • Might it be working to establish long-term recovery care systems, challenging our care systems to move beyond acute, short-term care models, and actually providing care reflective of what people need to get better?
  • Or some other focus entirely that is hard to envision from where we sit today?

I don’t know the answers to these questions—none of us do. The more central question is where will we focus our collective energy? Time will tell. Each of us has priorities to set and decisions to make.

What will you do to support recovery over the next ten years? Please comment and share your thoughts below.

And have a happy and safe New Year!