Part of me wishes I could be more enthusiastic about this. They all seem like good points to make and I’m sure that they carefully developed using research and focus groups, but there’s something about them that rubs me the wrong way. It sounds like the voice of the victimized. It talks about the right to strength-based services, but it doesn’t speak with a voice of strength. There’s something meek about it. It doesn’t feel empowering.
At this moment in our culture, there seems to be fierce competition for aggrieved status. It seems to be the primary tool for promoting any kind of social change or consciousness raising. Think about it. How many times have you heard someone say, “In our country today, the only group you can make fun of is _______.” You can fill in the blank with evangelicals, atheists, Catholics, obese people, southerners, cognitively impaired, little people, gay people, addicts, etc.
I have two problems with this approach for recovering people. First, I worry that it’s bad strategy. There’s a lot of competition for aggrieved status, the public is weary of this, and it may inspire more eye rolling than sympathy. Second, in terms of my personal recovery, I worry about any message that hints at adopting a victim stance or entitlement. No matter how well grounded, that position seems potentially toxic to my recovery.
If we really are mistreated, and we need to promote cultural change, what to do then? I can’t say that I’m sure as I have not thought too deeply about this. However, I wonder if framing this as a call to action for recovering people would be more empowering and effective–“You have a responsibility to address these barriers for your still suffering brothers and sisters.” Also, not to suggest a single pronged approach, but I’m convinced that the most powerful strategies will focus on reducing “otherness” and increasing “sameness” in public perceptions of addicts. Every time I take addicts to tell their story with churches and other community groups, the response is ALWAYS the same–we’re not who they expect, we’re just like some of their loved ones, they’re often shocked by the sameness and want to do something to help. Unfortunately, that fades quickly. Strategies to capitalize on this window could be important.