Walking the talk of recovery advocacy

walking the talk of recovery advocacy

Thinking about what it means to advocate publicly for recovery. To me, this means showing that recovery is not only possible for persons with substance use conditions, but that given the proper care and support, recovery is the probable outcome for persons with a substance use disorder. As a person in long term recovery, I can’t think of many things that mean more to me than changing our care systems to expand help and reduce discrimination. We can save lives, resources and communities by focusing resources on getting people into and retaining them in recovery.

I think like many people in recovery, I have lost more people I love to addiction than every other way that people can die combined. I have also seen people who seemed to be on the path of recovery fall back into destructive behaviors. In the next breath, I will say that after three decades of working with people with addictions in our public care system, I have seen that people can get better than well – that recovery can lead to dynamic changes and dramatic reductions in criminal justice involvement and the use of healthcare services, increased productivity and civic engagement. I hope we all work together to reduce the former and expand the latter.

Over the last year or so, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to advocate for recovery and how one goes about doing so in a way that helps the community. I don’t hold myself out as an authority on this issue. I am just a guy who has spent a lot of time thinking about the topic and seeing really great examples of what I consider people who are “walking the talk” of recovery advocacy. Unfortunately examples also abound of what my colleague Jason Schwartz wrote about recently in his post titled “Recovery Celebrities?” I really hope other people are thinking about this as well, because a great deal of damage can be done by people with personal agendas driven by ego and aspiration and it really should be discussed constructively within the recovery space.

It is my humble opinion that recovery advocacy is:

  • Consensus building around things that support recovery for everyone at the expense of no other group (do no harm)
  • Modeling what we want people to do (walk the talk)
  • Servant leadership – sharing power, putting the community first and helping others to grow and thrive. In servant leadership, the “leader” exists to serve the people not the other way around.
  • About the community and not about the advocate
  • Understanding the consequences of what is being advocated for to avoid unintended consequences.
  • Never advocating for what we want at the expense of other groups just as we would not want other groups to do so to us.
  • Honoring all pathways of recovery
  • Service with humility and integrity
  • Modeling inclusion, compassion, resiliency and hope
  • “Pulling each other up” in constructive ways so we all do a better job and not get ourselves into trouble
  • Not shaming, belittling or bully people or working behind their back to get our own agendas past

We know that fame and notoriety can be intoxicating. This is a particular risk for people in recovery. Those of us operating in the public space to advocate for others are at greater risk for harm because the work can be intoxicating.  History is replete with examples of public figures in recovery using drugs and alcohol after proclaiming themselves in recovery or some other bad thing like stealing money or getting arrested. This harms all of us.

For readers – please read this post as a humble effort to contribute to the common good, I am not holier than thou, I am simply a person trying to contribute to the greater good. Thoughts welcomed.

4 thoughts on “Walking the talk of recovery advocacy

  1. Nice post – a lot of this stuff came up after the release of the Anonymous People. Folks were perplexed about sharing their recovery and what is appropriate. I liked Chris Budnick’s conceptualization – examining the motives behind your advocacy work. Is it about the individuals, families and communities you serve? Or, is it about you?

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  2. Thanks, Bill.

    As I was reading, I was also thinking about the tendency to see anyone who doesn’t see it our way as ignorant, stupid, or evil.

    We might do well to seek to understand others and avoid ascribing bad motives.

    We can follow Elizabeth Wilkerson’s advice to try to “understand their reality“, or Ta-Nehisi Coates’ advice to practice “a muscular empathy.”

    We can recognize that policy advocacy can begin with good motives and go horribly wrong. Then, forces more powerful than advocates can prevent correction of the policy mistake.

    None of this should prevent or undermine advocacy. We should just avoid deploying the same trap that people with addiction have fallen prey to time and time again–a simple story that casts a villain who does not deserve our empathy, respect and understanding. (We can vigorously oppose someone and grant them empathy, respect and understanding. It might even help us more effectively rebut their arguments.)

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