I have decided to post this on both blogs I write on, my own and Recovery Review it is a personal reflection on recovery service and related tribulations and what keeps me going. This week was my recovery anniversary. I am getting closer to two thirds of my life in active recovery. I got into recovery at age 21. There was no one around me getting into recovery at that time in my area in my age group. It was not easy, but it has been a high yield endeavor. I faced a terminal illness at age 21 and recovery has improved every single facet of my life.
Early in recovery, I decided that a life of service helping people into recovery was what I was going to do with my time here. I have done a lot of work in the recovery space, from the lowest entry level jobs to running programs, trainer, advocate, educator, and writer. It has been a surprisingly difficult road, with discrimination being the greatest challenge to the work in my view. Despite all the obstacles, it has been the right path for me.
I know now that from the first moments I started to be open about recovery, there were people around me who saw me as flawed. Not a worthy member of the community. I did not fully see it even with my eyes wide open. It is hard to see something so painful, sometimes especially when it is right in front of you. It has taken decades to fully appreciate how it plays out. I think that the first time I realized that there was such discrimination against us was in 1987. I was volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. I hoped it was a safe place. I was vulnerable and in early recovery. There is no discrimination free zone, it happened there as it happens everywhere in our society.
A church deacon was working on the house with me. He asked what I wanted to do with my life. I told him I wanted to help people get into recovery from addiction. He said “those people” were not worth the effort, it would be a waste of my life. I felt deep shame. I knew he was talking about me, even as he did not. It has taken me decades to fully appreciate the pervasiveness of disdain and discrimination in our society. It is ever-present. Work I am currently doing has been dismissed as worthless and attempts in process to dismantle it. It hurts on a level that will be with me until my last breath. A pain scale that words fail.
This week, I had a conversation with a colleague who is experiencing similar discrimination. We spoke about our common experiences. Because of this person’s skin color, they experience it in ways I never will, yet their words resonated with me to my core. Their view was that it comes from the belief if we are treated so very poorly, we will simply quit and go away. This person resolved to never ever give up. I agree. I get knocked down daily, but I get up one more time than I get knocked down, each day. It is the painful and Sisyphean side of recovery advocacy that many of us experience. We continue to stand back up, because bearing such pain and discrimination is actually a lighter weight than walking away as our friends, family and neighbors needlessly die. That would be unbearable. We will never give up; we will never go away. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
On the other side of the ledger of this labor of love is having the honor of deeply listening to people from every different walk of life and working to understand their perspectives and their experiences. That alone has been life altering in so many beneficial ways. I have seen many lives through other eyes. I have a deeper reservoir of empathy as a result. I have also seen so many people flourish in recovery and the positive ripple effect that they have had in their families and communities. I am humbled to have been a small part of their recovery processes. I have even been provided the responsibility at times to take the things I have seen and speak truth to power for people who otherwise would not get heard. Someone did it for me. I pay it forward despite the challenges.
We have a lot to offer, even as we face overwhelming discrimination. I sincerely think America would be a better nation if we pursued and supported a greater focus on long term recovery for persons like me with severe substance use disorders. The primary barrier to doing so is the pervasive societal belief that we are less than others. Not worth the effort. It is entrenched in all of our social institutions. What heartens me is that there are many of us working towards this goal despite these pervasive barriers. History shows us we prevail if we persist. Recovery has given me the ability to get up every day, live my life and carry this message forward with all of my agency. I am grateful for it all.
What are you grateful for today?