Advocacy

Meet Recovery Carrier Robert Ashford

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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

How to Share the Power of Recovery

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I now know that I went about telling my family I was in recovery from alcoholism in all the wrong ways.

No wonder they looked so baffled, confused and even a little angry.

How I wish I had known then about recovery messaging and the power of using the right words and ideas when it comes to speaking to my family, friends, employer and my community.

I thought everyone would be ecstatic that I was no longer drinking.

Turns out it wasn’t quite that simple. Had I made my story about all the good things that were happening as a result of entering recovery and stabilizing my life, instead of focusing on how I would no longer be a train wreck in others’ lives, people may have understood better.

The good news is it’s never too late to share the power of recovery

Does anybody besides the recovery community care about recovery, let alone how powerful it is? As a matter of fact, research by Faces & Voices of Recovery reports that yes, the public does care; in fact:

  • A majority (67%) believe that there is a stigma toward people in recovery
  • A majority (74%) say that attitudes & policies must change

People want to know about recovery! That second stat? That 74% want to see change in policies like access to treatment for people with addiction? I find that so damned exciting!

The thing to remember is there’s a right way and a not-so-helpful way for those of us in recovery to approach the telling our stories.

The not-so-helpful way is to focus on your addiction. In my case, it was me wrongly describing to anyone who would listen how I would no longer be an 80-mph train barreling through my loved ones’ lives. Or me constantly saying things like, “Oh you know, that’s what I did when I’d had 12 Bacardi and Cokes!”

The right way is to focus on the stability of recovery, on the great things that have happened in your life as a result of recovery.

So what does all this mean in the big scheme of things?

Let me back up for a second. When I talk about delivering a message, I’m talking about sharing your story with family, friends, neighbors, the person next to you on the train, your pew-mates at church, the person in line with you at the grocery store, and definitely, the media, if that’s something you’d like to do.

The message is shaped, of course, depending on your audience, but for the most part, it’s the same content.

Do people in recovery want others to know that people with addiction get well?

Again, referring to the Faces & Voices study, 88% of people in recovery believe it’s important for the public to see that thousands of people get well every year. That’s a pretty impressive number for a community that is supposedly anonymous, isn’t it?

Here’s something for you to wrap your mind around: You’re not telling your story for you.

Even when you’re having a one-on-one conversation with your next door neighbor, you’re representing the recovery movement. The chat you have may very well change the thinking and impact the actions of another person attached to your neighbor.

Our purpose is to create opportunities for others by sharing the news of how recovery kicks ass in our lives. @bheretoday (Click to tweet!)

I’ll leave you with this: Five years ago, with 18 years of recovery, I embarked on an odyssey that changed everything about my life except my recovery. All the bold and scary-as-hell steps I’ve taken since late 2009 brought me to an understanding that I must participate in the New Recovery Advocacy Movement.

You see, it’s because of recovery that I participate in recovery. And now my life is all about living the dream so that maybe, just maybe, someone else can too.

Photo courtesy of cohdra

3 Payoffs From Living Your Truth

stern2I was struck by how perfect Unity’s Daily Word was for me yesterday morning.

“If I am ever afraid to follow my heart or speak my truth, I remember strength and courage come from within,” according to the daily reading, “Live My Truth.”

Our morning trek

Jaxson, our new greyhound, and I went for a walk yesterday on a glorious cool, fall morning. We’d gone about a block when we were hailed by a woman approaching from the other end of the street.

“What is that dog’s breed?” she asked. She stopped when she drew even with us.

“He’s a greyhound,” I responded. Jaxson’s brindle coat, graceful gait and easy nature seldom fail to draw attention.

We exchanged names and locations in the neighborhood. Turns out she lives one block over from ours; has lived there for 10 years.

We’re relatively new to our gated community that prides itself on being very “family oriented.” Indeed, the demographics of the neighborhood lean heavily toward young families but there are plenty of senior residents too and some, like my sweetie and I, who aren’t in either camp.

My new friend asked if I played games and if I’d like to join the “women over 40” for game night at the clubhouse on the fourth Thursday of each month. I think she was going to say women over 50 but couldn’t readily decide which decade I fell into.

That was about the time I started to feel uncomfortable with where the conversation seemed headed. I dreaded the inevitable question about by marital status.

Not speaking my truth

I deeply believe in transparency and speaking one’s truth without shame, yet I still occasionally fall victim to my own homophobia.

Why? Because I still stutter-step around these fears: Not being accepted; not fitting in, and of being judged. These fears all point to my perception that I’m not good enough.

To thine own self be true is a phrase I preach but sometimes have trouble following.

Bottom line from the encounter with my neighbor? I was afraid of her reaction upon finding out that I share my home and my heart with a woman.

The deep-seated reason doesn’t matter as much as understanding that nobody should live with the fear of rejection because they have a non-traditional family, wear their hair dyed pink or live with the effects of mental illness or addiction.

Finally, the Pay-Offs to living your truth

Meeting Darlene yesterday morning caused me to really examine my fears. Then I turned them into I AM statements, like, I am a successful business woman (who happens to be gay and in recovery). I am a loving, giving and caring human being who practices tolerance and acceptance with others and myself.

Then, I thought of the three payoffs.

Pay-off #1: Understanding, again from yesterday’s Daily Word: “Each person is one-of-a-kind, and our lives, authentically lived, are our gift to the world.”

Pay-off #2: Grounding yourself in the wisdom of “what you think of me is none of my business.” The first time I heard those words from a therapist more than 20 years ago, I thought I’d won the lottery.

Pay-off #3: I often think about how my partner and I help educate neighborhood residents; how we put a face on “gay” for our friends and neighbors, just as we also put a face on addiction recovery.

Above all, to thine own self be true.

Photo courtesy of Efi21

Meet the Recovery Carriers: All of Us!

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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