Hope, empowerment, capability, connection and purpose

Hopeworks Community recently listed his core beliefs related to his recovery from mental illness:

The idea was simple. There are a few core beliefs about recovery that make a difference. To the extent you are able to live them your recovery will be positively impacted.

My list of core beliefs was simple:

Life can get better.
I can help make it better.
I can learn the things I need to do to make it better.
I have support. People care about me and what I am doing.
What I do matters. It has meaning and purpose.

Or HOPE….EMPOWERMENT…CAPABILITY….CONNECTION…PURPOSE…

This rings very true for addiction recovery as well. Any practitioner or program that ignores these dimensions is inadequate. Some people will need no assistance with this kind of recovery–if we reduce their symptoms they can take care of all of this on their own without mutual aid or extended professional help. (I’m thinking of people with major depression or a problem drinker.) Others will more severe and chronic mental illness or substance use disorder will need lifelong professional and/or peer support. (Here, I’m thinking of an addict or chronic, debilitating mental illness.)

There’s a lot of pushback on this for addiction. Just this weekend, Anne Fletcher tweeted a dismissive reaction to a Bill White post about developing geographic communities of recovery.

Would she have the same reaction to a post about building communities of recovery for people with chronic and severe mental illness? Would she tweet a response that implies it’s overkill and these people (Who, together, are re-engaging in full family, occupational and community life.) need discover that there’s more to life and they need to get out of some growth-limiting bubble?

There’s been a whole new wave of these kinds of reactions recently. To me, they suggest a couple of beliefs:

  • The failure to acknowledge the different needs of people who have less severe or time-limited problems with alcohol and other drugs versus those with severe, chronic and debilitating addictions. Their reactions often focus on the experiences of the former, framing substance use disorders as a lifestyle choice.
  • The perception that recovery advocates (12 step recovery in particular) can’t tell the difference between these two groups and are bent on evangelizing every problem user into their one and only path to recovery while obstructing access to any treatment or recovery support that isn’t perfectly compatible.
  • That this perceived pattern of behavior undermines the legitimacy of mutual aid groups and the empirical evidence for the their effectiveness and their mechanisms of change.

Hopeworks Community closed with a thought that sums up recovery as a way of life.

But I know recovery is never a thing to have, but a way of doing.

Interesting that there is so much resistance to lifestyle change as an approach to managing addiction while there’s no dispute that lifestyle change is critical to successful management of other chronic illnesses and that peer support is important for successfully initiating and sustaining lifestyle change.

I don’t hear any of these reactions regarding people who join a gym, spend an hour there 5 days a week, start eating healthier, integrate being physically healthy into their identity and develop new social networks around these changes, like, say, a tennis league or a biking group. Why is that? We don’t hear that push back, and we’re not even talking about people who were occupationally, socially, emotionally and familially impaired. And, if some faction of these people exhibited evangelical zeal and insisted this was the only way to be healthy and that everyone needed to do this, would we be so dismissive of scholarly work describing the development of some communities organized around this kind of wellness for really sick people?

1 Comment

Filed under Advocacy, Controversies, Favorites, Harm Reduction, Mental Health, Mutual Aid, Policy, Research, Treatment

One response to “Hope, empowerment, capability, connection and purpose

  1. Web Servant

    Hey Jason,

    You raise some good points here.

    It is important to look at the core beliefs and assumptions underlying the recovery sceptic arguments of the likes of Anne Fletcher.

    Her dismissal of the ideas of recovery communities probably stems from the assumption that addicts just need to return to ‘normal’ society which is not focussed on using, addiction or recovery. The question is does everyone have access to such a society and does it even exist.

    The biggest challenge for many people leaving rehab and return to their communities where using and addiction is the norm and the only relief from that is to access indigenous communities of recovery such as mutual aid groups which may hopefully act as a counterweight. Not everyone can escape to the nice, leafy, healthy, normal communities that Fletcher may come from.

    PS I love the metaphor of the gym for maintaining fitness. I was asked recently why I still go to meetings. I replied that the question was a bit like asking someone who had got fit and healthy why they still needed to go to the gym. You don’t stop going to the gym once you have achieved a certain level of fitness.

    The question reveals another common assumption which is that recovery is simply about stopping using and once you have done that the work of recovery is done, you have recovered.