Recovery Language: Fuel for Positive Change
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?
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