As I considered what I wanted to write for this month’s blog I drafted several concepts. Throughout the month, none of the versions felt right to me, and then yesterday, at the end of the Friends of Recovery-NY 2013 Rally for Recovery in Albany, I realized that I was trying to come up with a way to share with everyone who reads my blog why the month is important. Mostly though, I wanted to try to convey some of the joy and excitement that I have come to look forward to in each year’s celebrations.
This year, the leadership at Policy Research Associates, Inc. embraced the suggestion from their Addictions Recovery Resource Group to celebrate Recovery Month. A series of events were organized to increase awareness of addiction recovery and foster more dialog and exchange of information as we strive to better understand recovery and its significance.
As we all know, there is a stigma surrounding addiction. While a significant number of us are touched by addiction in our families or friendships, most are unaware of those around us who are in recovery. For a variety of reasons, many people who have battled addiction and are in recovery, choose to keep that information private. Today there is a growing understanding that there are multiple ways that people can achieve recovery, and some people will choose to share their recovery and others will opt to keep it private. No matter what one chooses, those choices must be respected and honored.
For those who do make the choice to share openly, they face an ongoing stigma that brings with it potential judgment and criticism, but when they do share we are often given a glimpse into the sense of peace that they find on their journey. Because these celebrations have only been happening for a short time, it is easy for those who aren’t actively involved in addictions prevention, treatment, or recovery, to miss out on these inspirational stories. The success stories are overshadowed by the tragic stories of addiction, relapse, and sometimes death that are widely known – Janis Joplin, Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, and Cory Montieth. It is easy to look at these people who seemed to have so much and wonder why they ended up the way they did, and because of the sensationalism of these stories, it is easy to forget the success stories – Robert Downey, Jr., Dick Van Dyke (there is actually a treatment center named after the famous Mary Poppins star here in New York), Steven Tyler, Laurie Dhue, and Bill Moyers son – William Cope Moyers. These are just of a few of the people who have struggled with addiction but found the support they needed to overcome their addiction, and their lives are richer for it. They are the ones who carry the message that not everyone who battles addiction will see their life destroyed or die because of their addition. Their stories also let us know that with the right treatment, recovery can work.
Yesterday, at the Rally, we had over 500 people come from all over the state to take part in the celebration. As I spoke with participants, some of whom have been in recovery for many years, and others who are in early recovery, there was a level of happiness and serenity that is impossible to convey in a blog. It came through loud and clear as people expressed their relief at leaving the weight of addiction behind and the hope they have for their future. One participant spoke of his past as an art professor at NYU – a career he lost to addiction but now, thanks to his recovery, he is rebuilding his career (he was selected as a winner two years in a row in the Annual Recovery Fine Arts Festival) and once again he has a studio where he can work. Another
participanttold the crowd that for the first time in her life she isn’t living with the anxiety and fear that plagued her all her life. There is a beauty in that raw warmth that comes through when you are take part in these celebrations that I can only assume comes from people who have been laid bare, faced their demons, and chose to start over. I am so grateful for the opportunity that I have to share in their celebrations, in their hope, and in their successes.
So I have come to believe that Recovery Month is important because it provides a platform for people in all stages of recovery to come together and share their experiences with the broader community. As more people agree to listen – like the leadership and staff at PRA – greater awareness that recovery does work will emerge and gradually the stigma will begin to lessen. By listening and celebrating, the broader community is offering much needed support to the recovery community, and the recovery community, in turn, gives us a glimpse into their joy at being free from addiction!