On self-identification, recovery advocacy and identity

I recently became aware of the blog, Tenured Addict. He has a great new post on addiction, recovery, advocacy and language. It’s a thorough and challenging post on a potentially thorny issue but it’s written in a personal and generous spirit. Here are a couple of pull quotes, but take the time to read the whole thing.

There are important reasons to challenge stigmatizing language. It’s wounding and it can affect people’s decisions in key settings. But the wide-spread notion that language policing helps to eliminate or transform broader social prejudice is pretty dubious. On the second question, many activists have adopted a vocabulary that originated not in our own history and communities, but in the field of psychiatry. Whether wise or not (clearly I have qualms), it is striking that this strategy goes in the opposite direction of other traditions of social justice, such as the LGBTQ movement, which mobilized terms like Gay and Queer to challenge the term “homosexual.” A significant tradition of activism and scholarship warns against the limitations of an individualizing, biomedical model of addiction. Why would we then adopt this same discourse for our self-designation?

On SUDs as a container for recovery advocacy:

I simply wish that we would be far more careful in identifying what we are speaking about and whom we are claiming to represent. Some of our assertions erase the experiences of people that we claim to champion—in some cases, our own experiences. However, I think there is a strain of recovery advocacy where the folding of addiction into SUD coincides with a potentially dangerous and divisive power dynamic. The constituency of SUDs plus “sippers” and their relatives is the perfect vehicle for a self-empowering discourse. It has no sociological unity. It has no epidemiological unity. It has no statistical unity other than the tenuous numbers produced by the fact of agglomeration itself. It certainly has no political unity. In other words, it cannot contest the self-empowering claim to represent it because it does not actually exist outside some dubious statistical slapstick. When groups raise questions about the current discourse of recovery advocacy or observe that their experience is not well captured by its framing, they can be ignored or marginalized. They can be dismissed as—for example—grizzled twelve steppers whose understanding is imprisoned by out-of-date dogma.