12 Steps

Meet Recovery Carrier Robert Ashford


I’ve had the pleasure of working with Young People in Recovery (YPR) and getting to know several young people who not only live successful recovery lives, but also dedicate much of their time to advocating for recovery. This month’s Recovery Carrier epitomizes the meaning of both. Only 26 years old, Robert Ashford has poise, determination and a singular vision envied by people twice his age.

This is the 10th post in this Recovery Carrier series.

William White defines recovery carriers as “people, usually in recovery, who make recovery infectious to those around them by their openness about their recovery experiences, their quality of life and character, and the compassion they exhibit for those still suffering.” (www.williamwhitepapers.com, 2012)

Before we talk about recovery advocacy and recovery carriers, let’s talk a bit about the current recovery movement and what it looks like to you. 

I believe this is actually the third recovery movement. If you look at history, there was something missing in the first two and is the reason why those movements died out (described in detail in the documentary The Anonymous People).

The first two movements were not grassroots—this one is—and the first two didn’t have young people. HRDA_HS-1aving young people as a part of the movement and getting more young people engaged, the movement will sustain itself. Guys like me can still be involved 50 years from now, but we need young people continuing to show young people that recovery is a good thing.

Not only are young people creating sustainability because we’re going to be around longer but we’re allowing people to not spend 20 or 30 years in active use because they’re seeing people like themselves recover.

I think we’re in a perfect storm to finally get it right.

When you hear the term recovery carrier, what does that mean to you?

I think of a virus. If I have this thing, am I carrying it to other people? I think back to Day 57 of my recovery when I found out about Young People in Recovery (YPR), became empowered in my recovery and realized the importance of not only telling my recovery story but what that could do for others.

People have to know the message of recovery, that it’s not just abstinence. I’m a whole-hearted believer in all pathways to recovery. There are a lot of roads that lead to Rome. You just have to find the road for you. It doesn’t matter which road you pick.

Telling people—especially young people—that there are tons of different options, gives them hope because they don’t know that. Having addiction means you lose your humanity, which means you’ve lost your hope. Carrying the message of recovery means you’re giving young people hope again and helping restore their humanity. Or at least you’ve started the process.

Are you a recovery carrier?

Yes because somebody was for me. If I hadn’t become empowered by YPR, if I hadn’t gotten the message of recovery—what it meant and what it could be—then I wouldn’t be here today. It is as important as my 12-step program. I’ll say that flat out.

(To read more of Robert’s interview, click Robert Ashford 10-14.)

Photo courtesy of hotblack

Recovery Language: Fuel for Positive Change

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Last week I posted about the power of recovery. This week, let’s dig a little deeper to focus on the language of recovery and how it is power fuel for positive change.

Greg Williams said in a recent interview with The Bubble Hour:

“I deeply, deeply believe that changing our language will change everything. Public policy is driven by public perception and public perception is based on how we think and how we talk about people.”

Why is language important?

Words matter. Anytime you start a sentence with I am, you define yourself by the words that finish the sentence. @bheretoday (Click to Tweet)

Say these two sentences aloud:

I am a recovering addict.

I am a person in longterm recovery.

Two things about the first sentence: 1) “Recovering” implies that a person continues to use drugs or alcohol, at least in the public’s mind, and 2) “Addict” is a negative, stigmatized word.

However, the second sentence–I am a person in longterm recovery–is considered person-first language. Plus, shifting from recovering to longterm recovery, moves public assumptions from current use to past use.

Believe me, this is not just about semantics or “tomato/tomahto.”

Recovery Community Messaging Training produced by Faces & Voices of Recovery emphasizes that we have to define our recovery because the public doesn’t understand it.  We need to say “longterm” because we need to describe that our recovery is ongoing.

When should you use recovery language?

Anytime, anywhere because the more you talk about recovery in a positive light–and share how recovery has improved your life–the recovery movement takes a step forward.

According to the Messaging Training, some words with a negative connotation are:

Survivor, addict, alcoholic, self-help, abuse or abuser, as in she abuses alcohol or he is a drug abuser.

Also, and this may surprise many people–you shouldn’t refer to addiction as a disease or as a health problem because that sets you up for a debate and takes the focus off recovery.

As you think about the circumstances where you might share your recovery–with family, workmates, neighbors, or in the media–consider this a reminder that you won’t break 12-step traditions about anonymity so long as you don’t refer to your 12-step affiliation. If you have any question at all about anonymity and advocacy, there’s a wonderful pamphlet that will answer all your questions.  Click here.

Create positive change

Ultimately, this new language and the telling of our stories will catalyze local and national change. The problem we’re addressing, as seen by the recovery messaging training, is four-fold:

  • Need more opportunities for people to achieve long-term recovery
  • Need more effective treatment and recovery support services
  • There are discriminatory policies
  • The public and policymakers don’t know about the reality of recovery

However, proper messaging by a growing group of individuals will address the solution:

  • A strong national recovery movement organized at the local, state and federal levels
  • Putting a face and a voice on recovery to break down misperceptions that will change attitudes (stigma)
  • Advocating to change policies (discrimination)

I’ll leave you with a thought from William White, author and recovery advocate:

I urge you to participate in these discussions and debates about language. This is not about superficial political correctness. It is about the future of recovery in America. It is time we embraced a new language that helps us talk about how we heal ourselves, our families and our communities. It is time we as a country abandoned a rhetoric that declares war on our own people.”

Photo courtesy of xenia

Are You Praying to the Devil?

Sunset Fire Cloud shadows MGD©

For those of us who enter recovery through 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, or through treatment centers steeped in the 12-steps, we’re told that we’ll come to believe in a power greater than ourselves (Step 2).

That is, belief will come as a result of allowing concepts like powerlessness and unmanageability into our foggy brains.

Later as we work through successive steps, sponsors and others tell us that we get to choose our concept of a higher power. We can even name it, if we want (I eventually chose GUS for God-Universe-Spirit).

You may have struggled, like I did, with the whole “God thing,” based on childhood drama around the church. Now, my mission here is definitely not to diss anybody’s past or present beliefs. I will say, however, that in more than 3,500 12-step meetings when the topic of God is raised, I’ve listened to people inevitably talk about the challenge of aligning their childhood idea of God with their recovery concept of God.

If you stick around the rooms of recovery long enough, you’ll find out two things:

1. Although most people call God, God, nobody really cares what you call your HP.  2. By and large, everybody who holds an HP close to their heart, believes that HP is an all-loving, all-caring, all-nurturing entity.

So here’s a question, if you believe that God (insert your term) is absolute love, complete goodness and wants only the best for you, what happens when crappy stuff happens?

Does the devil answer prayers?

I’m a huge fan of Rev. Ed Townley, a Unity minister in North Carolina, who writes a daily message by way of email. Last month, he wrote about a woman who was down on her luck. From his post:

“There was a general energy of sympathy and self-recognition in the room. But then she said something that made me sit up sharply. ‘I pray. Of course,’ the woman said, ‘but even then, I have to be careful. I believe that sometimes the devil answers prayer!'”

Like Rev. Ed, my beliefs are rooted in New Thought, meaning we are all expressions of God’s divine love and that God has no opposing team headed up by the devil.

Thoughts are prayers

It’s easy to credit God with providing supreme direction when things are going well. You should give yourself credit too because chances are you’re a positive thinker, a glass-half-full kind of person.

In the spirit of New Thought beliefs, those positive thoughts are prayers. Called affirmative prayer, you hold what you desire close to your thoughts, or as we say, “thoughts held in mind produce after their kind.”

Obviously, positive thoughts do have an opposite but the principle remains the same. When we focus on negativity, when we adopt a “yeah, but” attitude because we’re sure the worst thing will happen, we are siding with the devil.

How you ask? As Rev. Ed says, by misusing our power.

“We make choices that create fear instead of love,” he explains. “And then we use those fears that we have created to justify the creation of more fears, until our minds are filled with a whole mass of negative energy that believes in itself.

“We bring more of that fear into tangible expression,” Rev. Ed continues. “So in a very real sense, we could say that Satan is answering our fear-based demands for more negativity.”

The moral of this story? Stay positive or you may find yourself praying to the devil!

Photo courtesy of MGDboston

Meet the Recovery Carriers: All of Us!


Here we are at the end of Recovery Month and try as I might, I can’t determine a single person for this month’s Recovery Carrier designee! I’ve met too many cool people, both online and in person, who are championing the cause of recovery to be able to name one. So, I’m breaking with tradition and bestowing Recovery Carrier status on anyone who keeps the torch of recovery burning.

Today’s post is the ninth in this Recovery Carrier series.

William White defines recovery carriers as “people, usually in recovery, who make recovery infectious to those around them by their openness about their recovery experiences, their quality of life and character, and the compassion they exhibit for those still suffering.” (www.williamwhitepapers.com, 2012)

Daunting but worthwhile task

If we apply Bill White’s definition of Recovery Carrier, then the simple act of reading this post and then talking about recovery to anyone (with infectious enthusiasm!), you are a Recovery Carrier. Congratulations! You now belong to a league of people who is clawing its way into the rational thinking of the general public, and by extension, elected officials.

Real change that encompasses a unified voice of recovery, one that speaks the language of hope and possibilities, is our goal. We strive to share our positive voices–all of us who say, “I am a person in long-term recovery,” and then share what recovery means for us–with all who care to listen. One day we will be looked upon with the same compassion as are those who deal with diseases like cancer, COPD, diabetes and ALS.

There is always hope.

A collection of Recovery Carriers

Following, in no particular order of importance, are the people and groups who embody the heart and soul of the New Recovery Advocacy Movement. They, along with previous month’s Recovery Carriers, forge a solid girder for recovery.

I’ve forgotten someone, I’m sure, so please include your additions in the comments section below.

1. Tom Coderre and his appointment as senior advisor to the administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

2. The announced intent to merge by Faces & Voices of Recovery and Young People in Recovery–can you imagine how cool that organization will be?

3. Recovery high schools like Archway Academy in Houston and the brand new University High School in Austin

4. Greg Williams’ (The Anonymous Peoplenew project, Generation Found

5. Michael Botticelli, a person in long-term recovery has been nominated by the White House to serve as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)

6. The second edition, released this summer, of William L. White’s Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America

7. Anybody who participated in a recovery walk/rally (There were almost 1,000 across the nation this year.)

8. The National Alliance for Recovery Residences and the standards it sets for sober living homes

9. Therapists and counselors who strive to find unique ways to work with their patients and families, like Stephanie Coker and Lane Ingram, who incorporate laughter and improv comedy into their practices

10. My recovery writer colleagues who regular spotlight the phenomenon we call addiction recovery (See Recovery Carriers tab for individual contributions.)

11. Collegiate recovery groups like Eagle Peer Recovery at the University of North Texas

12. Mindfulness in recovery with the encouragement of yoga, breath work and other tools to engage a holistic approach to recovery

13. Peer-led recovery service organizations and nonprofits like SoberHood, which was recently awarded a multi-year SAMHSA grant to facilitate peer recovery services in Texas.

There you have it, my Lucky 13 List of Recovery Carriers. Please add your own to the list and help make Recovery Month 2014 a sturdy platform on which to build our recovery future.

Photo courtesy of o0o0xmods0o0o

Book Review: Coyote Spirit


I have to say that I was intrigued by the email a few months back asking me to review Dave Mampel’s book Coyote Spirit: The Improbable Transformation from Minister to Clown.

Reviews take time; I don’t speed-read and my skimming skills are not very good because I get drawn into good stories. Plus, I figure anyone who pours his or her heart into writing a book, not to mention dealing with the technical details in today’s online publishing world, deserves my full attention.

So I don’t do many reviews, but as I said, this pitch intrigued me. I’m a sucker for a story about finding one’s passion because implicit in that story are the gritty details of shedding the skin of a former life. I know a little bit about doing just that five years ago.

An improbable transformation

I wanted to review Coyote Spirit during National Recovery Month because Dave is a person in long-term recovery, a fact that is only one of many similarities we share. Recovery is an uCoyote Spirit_covernderlying theme in Coyote Spirit; recovery from addiction as well as recovery from living life for someone else.

Dave’s story of discovering the reasons why he followed his father into the ministry caused me to ache with understanding. For those of us who grew up with dreams of being artists, musicians (Dave wanted to be a rock star.) or writers, when the cold reality of a childhood event or trauma occurs, we are forever changed and those dreams seem to die a little more each day.

When eight-year-old Dave’s father nearly died after an accident in 1969, Dave writes, “The silly, whimsical kid I once had been descended like Persephone into the underworld and gave way to a child who was serious, even brooding.”

At 14, when Dave started using drugs, he began a decades-long swivel between responsible caretaker and creative rebel. Oh how I relate to feeling like two different people living in the same body!

The courage to change

It’s one thing to hope and wish and long for your life to change. It’s quite another thing to make the change happen. In my case, I had to face the hurt feelings and anger around my decision to radically change my life. I had a lot of accusations thrown at me about my selfishness, how I was only thinking of myself.

I believe we’re given many opportunities in life to shift to an unexpected path, and yes, the shift can mean heartache to others. But we can’t possibly see the bigger picture; all we can do is trust that GUS (God-Universe-Spirit) intends happiness and blessings for all of us. What if my hurtful decision today opens a door to your future happiness?

We simply cannot live our lives for other people. Reverend Dave took a huge leap of faith with his transition to a 20-plus-year career as Daffy Dave the clown. His is a beautiful and tender story of what so many of us in recovery strive for: to thine own self be true.

As Dave writes, “All I had to do was made the fundamental decision inside myself to begin the journey, to pay attention to my best lights, ideas and hunches and to be fully aware of the blessings that came to me from heeding this authentic vocational path.”

To all the seekers out there, have fun with Dave’s book. For all those who enjoy a coming to life story, no matter your age, enjoy!

You can find Coyote Spirit: The Improbable Transformation from Minister to Clown on Amazon.com or Smashwords.com.

P.S. Dave has agreed to give away two copies of Coyote Spirit. To qualify to win, leave a comment on this page or on the B Here Today pinned Facebook post. The contest will remain open through the end of Recovery Month.

Photo courtesy of Sgarton