This is part two of a series concerning substance addiction and mental health. It stems from my personal recovery and ongoing experiences interacting with people looking for support, our peers in recovery, and professional care providers.
Last week, I spoke at the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery conference on Multiple Pathways of Recovery, in Groton CT. I was asked to represent LifeRing Secular Recovery in my role as Board Member, Meeting Convenor and Peer in Recovery. I gave two, one-hour presentations and spoke on my early introduction and subsequent failure in recovery and my relatively recent (7.5 years) return, wherein I learned about many of the paths highlighted by the conference.
Like many of the clinicians, peers and family members in attendance, I too was amazed at the variety of recovery resources available when I first learned of their existence. Society in general paints the same one-size-fits-all picture of the limited resources previously available to us. Like many others, it took me a while to fully assimilate the concept that my inability to flourish in 12-step recovery was not an indication of my lack of “really wanting” or “being ready for” recovery nor was it due to some “character defect” (…they seem to have been born this way). When I chose to return; it was with the attitude that I would try to fake it until I made it again, even with the feelings of being an imposter and a fraud I felt previously.
In LifeRing however, it became immediately apparent that for me, there was indeed a better way. I no longer felt like I had to adapt to the cloistered lifestyle that came with all of the jargon, fear-based compliance standards, shaming and the excommunication that I’d experienced in my youth. I was encouraged to find and express my truth on my terms, in a supportive and kind setting that still challenged me to leverage my ability to be “vulnerable” with others. This all happened in a safe environment and serves me still as a means of mutual and self-support. I was never told to sit and shut up, but was expected to speak at every meeting, as a peer in recovery. Needless to say, I latched on and have not looked back.
At the conference
Explaining these experiences and the feelings that resulted has become second nature to me and although at this conference, I was preaching to the choir in many ways, there was still some resistance and misunderstanding among attendees. To their credit, most of those in attendance (95%+ I’d estimate) were peers from a 12-step background. I was impressed with not only their compassion and sense of responsibility to provide the best for their clients, but with their ability to look beyond “what worked for me” or “what in generally accepted” to truly seek to provide solutions, tailor-made to fit their clients.
There were speakers representing other secular organizations and not a few religious ones in addition to the “spiritual-based”, 12-step orgs. Despite some overtly religious overtones and the unavoidable and ever-present 12-step jargon, the mutual respect for the multiple recovery modalities was nothing short of infectious. I was even challenged during one of my presentations by Robert, a peer / clinician who, when I brought up the tendency of service providers and peers to only push for the recovery resources they employed themselves or had been prescribing regularly, correctly pointed out that the recovery landscape is rapidly changing. Changes in compliance concerning the provision of evidence-based methods and the introduction of the Affordable Care Act are causing service providers nationwide, to rethink their range of offerings and to investigate multiple solutions to better serve their now savvy, empowered clients who are acting more like consumers and less like powerless, desperate and morally broken individuals.
I left the conference still feeling enthusiastic about fighting the old regime but with more hope that things are indeed changing organically, for the better. What impacted me most strongly were the video keynote presentation from William L. White, who highlighted the empirical evidence supporting the urgent need for multiple pathways in recovery, and the closing keynote by Tom Hill from SAMSHA, who eloquently described the need to honor the commonalities that we all share in recovery and to be mindful of representing recovery resources on equal ground as opposed to referring to lesser-known organizations as “alternative” or to otherwise downplay their potential efficacy to our peers and clients in recovery.
As always, my hope for you, the reader, is to not just speak out as an advocate for choice in recovery but to, when appropriate, demand a range of services that is appropriate to meet the needs of anyone who finds themselves seeking assistance.