I want to call readers attention to a post on this site that really resonated with me. My colleague, Mr. Austin Brown, posted “Back to Basics 2” on January 20, 2020. If you have not read it, I encourage you to do so. He hits some very important points, you can find his post here.
My intent in writing this is to highlight the points he is making, perhaps only adding some generational context as a person in recovery since the mid-1980s. A formally young person still in recovery.
As a student of history, I know that history can teach us a great deal about the present and how we may successfully navigate pitfalls that have echoed throughout human history. Nothing is new under the sun. In respect to the history of the recovery movement, I have long been interested in the work of those in the initial wave of the recovery movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I had the honor of working with people in my community who saw their friends and family dying during back in that era and decided to not accept the unacceptable. They built programs from nothing because they were needed and nobody else was going to do it.
In that context, this section of Mr. Brown’s post really resonated with me:
“People with substance use issues will always be left behind by the corporations, the politicians, the establishment. This has always been the case. If this crisis didn’t spark revolutionary change, little will. It’s too easy to placate with half measures, too easy to look away, and it is just too easy for a politician to shake your hand, offer some money to the cause, and move on. Moneyed interests are too deeply entrenched in our political system. White suburban victims prompted begrudging overtures masked as genuine concern.”
Unfortunately, the arc of history shows us this in bold relief. We have always been left behind. Yet it also shows us that people succeeded in building programs that saved lives despite these barriers. They built these programs despite, rather than because of the system. The ones I am familiar with (and worked most of my adult life in) were set up to serve all communities – not just white suburbia. What these pioneers built was far from perfect – after all they were built within a system averse to their very existence.
To those pioneers who did this work – I hold out my deep gratitude, because it was one of these public funded programs on the wrong side of the tracks that helped me save my own life in 1986. To the current recovery generation, I would humbly suggest that you spend some time understanding what those who came before us wished to accomplish and learn what worked and what did not go as well as they had hoped. It will save you time and ground you in the reality of the task ahead. Those steeped in history are more likely to build on the work of those who came before them rather than simply tearing down what is there.
The second section of Mr. Brown’s post that resonated deeply with me is this one:
“We need to think deeply about the endgame. Why are we going to dry wells to drink? Why do we insist that behind the next blue-ribbon commission, after the upcoming summit, the next working group, the next trip to DC, that somehow, just around the next corner, the doors will open, and we will get what we need? All we have ever acquired; we have created ourselves- by and for ourselves. We are the revolution. What we have always done is revolutionary. We need to think hard about our roles. How can we best serve those still struggling? Right now.
Naivety may have cost us time and lives. Our belief that the system MUST respond THIS time was perhaps misplaced. We need to consider the facts. We need to look at history.
Average recovering people in our history would not let all that would drag us down be the end of our story.”
It is true that we are in a sea change. As Mr. Brown says so well “the revolution never arrived. Treatment didn’t get easier to access, or better, or longer.” What happens next will be interesting. In my opinion, we will lose a lot of fair-weather friends and those among our own seeking notoriety or personal gain.
What will remain is the Cavalry that has always been here. Us. We are the Cavalry, and we are rushing into the future to save the lives of the next generation. The reason we shall succeed is that we will not take no for an answer, we will not be silenced by the systems and institutions that marginalize us. We will not give up because we are linked to the last generation of grassroots recovery advocates who determined to succeed so we would have a second chance at life.
What we accomplish will not be perfect, but as long as we keep working it will surely save more lives than would have been saved had we simply given up.
So finally, I am in deep agreement with Mr. Brown when he says it is time to shelter in place and do more wherever we are to help people in need wherever we are. I know that whatever happens next, we are the Calvary that the next generation is counting on.
So let’s keep riding on, Cavalry. Those depending on us are just over the next horizon.