Brooke M. Feldman

Personal blogging website. Opinions are my own.

When I was first introduced to the idea “recovery” at the age of 13, there wasn’t a cell in my body that identified with the word.  I was in the first of what would go on to be many institutional stays of my adolescent years.  I received 12-step program literature and worksheets to fill out from my counselor and was told that I must identify as an “addict,” coincidentally another word I just couldn’t identify with for multiple reasons.  I was carted off in a big red van to 12-step mutual-aid meetings in the community that were chock full of adults talking about things I didn’t even understand and certainly couldn’t relate to.  Nothing about any of it felt applicable to me.

As a young person, the idea of recovering from something that I didn’t even see a need to recover from just didn’t stick.

I was early on in my substance using career, and early on in living life for that matter, and anything that was presented from a recovery framework just did not meet and connect with me at the stages of human development and substance use I was at.  Even when removing the age developmental piece of it, the reality was that at the early stages of my substance misuse, the word “recovery” just did not fit.

For those of us living in long-term recovery, at times we can forget what the early stages of our substance misuse felt like.  We certainly nearly never forget what the later stages felt like, but remembering back to the beginning and middle stages can at times allude us.  It is for sure difficult to unknow what we know now and to not connect those early stages to our late stage substance use and recovery knowledge and thinking.  It is important however that those of us who feel called to evangelize the message of recovery take care to never forget about those early stages.  When we forget about the experience of those early stages and fail to recognize when somebody in front of us is dwelling in them, we then render ourselves and our message irrelevant and we become ineffective.

Early stage substance misuse doesn’t just apply to young people.  Across the country, many adults are currently living in that stage as well.  A good number of experts would argue that there are far more adults living in the earlier stages of substance misuse than in the late stage of living with a substance use disorder and in need of recovery.  How amazing would it be if those of us demonstrating and sharing the message of recovery were able to reach and connect with that group of people?  How extraordinary would it be if we found a way to reach individuals and families before they even saw a need or could identify with the word “recovery?”

As we embark this September into Recovery Month and prepare to share the message and hope of recovery with the world, I think it is important that we all consider how to make the messages we share more universally applicable.  For some audiences, our typical message of recovery from a substance use disorder will fit and we ought to share that message as loudly as we can.  For other audiences however, each of us must think back to what it was like when the word “recovery” didn’t even seem applicable to us.  Each of us must consider if our message would connect with that group or separate us from that group.  Each of us should ask ourselves the question: would our message leave people in the early stages of substance misuse identifying with us or would it leave them thinking things like “well, I never did that;” “I’m not that bad;” or “that doesn’t apply to me?”

For me, I think back to 13 year old Brooke and wonder what kind of different outcome would have been attached to her having been met where she was at. More importantly, I think of the countless young people and adults who need to hear the messages those of us in recovery carry but need to hear it in a way that makes sense to them.  I think of how powerful it would be if we could reach people before they even see themselves as in need of “recovery” or “in recovery.”

As we pour out into our communities for Recovery Month events and celebrations; as we share on social media our messages of recovery, I hope we all will pause to think about our own “recovery” message and how we can make it more universal.  I hope we all will think about ways to reach the many who just don’t connect to the word and do not even see the idea of recovery as applicable to them.  We don’t need people to identify with the word “recovery” and claim the “in recovery” status.  We just need people to be well, and we just so happen to carry solutions for achieving that wellness.  Let’s make those solutions digestible for the masses this Recovery Month.

 

Much of my time and energy in life goes toward creating opportunities for and supporting others around finding recovery from a substance use disorder.  It is by far the thing I am most passionate about, and that passion is most certainly driven by my own personal lived experiences of loss and life surrounding addiction and recovery.

Regardless of how many people I may have touched over the years – whether though macro level advocacy, writing and professional work or micro level direct service work and community-based volunteer efforts – it has always remained painfully the same that those I wish to be of service to most of all are often the ones I cannot seem to reach.

“A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”

I would identify myself as neither prophet nor Christian, however this saying from the Bible has always rang true for me when it comes to what I am speaking of here.  When it comes to my ability to support those closest to me in finding recovery, my experience has been that those individuals are pretty much the ones I am least able to effectively support.  One would think that with my knowledge, connections, expertise and experience, I would surely be able to serve as an instrument of service to those closest to me in this world.  Sadly, that just has not been the case, or at least not to the extent that I wish I could be of service.  And while it pains me deeply when any human being is suffering, it of course brings a whole different type of pain when it is somebody I am closely connected to and have had the gift of more intimately experiencing their humanity.

For those of us share the same passion and same work around supporting others with finding recovery, chances are high that we will all encounter this difficult situation.  I wish I could write that it gets easier, however that has unfortunately not been my experience.  It hurts me tremendously each and every time.

For those of us who have dedicated our lives to making wellness and recovery possible for all, chances are high that there is somebody who can be drawn to mind when pondering if there is a ‘the one’ we wish we could have guided into recovery almost more than anybody.  I wish I could write that the pain of not having been able to do so subsides, or that ‘the one’ will always make into recovery eventually.  Sadly, this too has also not been my experience.

What has been my experience is the following: it downright sucks when those we are deeply connected to are struggling and we are pretty much powerless in doing a whole lot to change that.  It downright sucks even more when we are deeply connected to that particular struggle based on our own lived experiences of it.  For me, if there are two things more than anything that have aided me in navigating successfully through these painful occurrences, it is self-awareness and self-care.

Self-awareness is key to my understanding what emotional attachments are present that have nothing to do with the particular individual I am wishing I could support.  Asking myself questions such as “what is this bringing up for me about my experience of losing my Mom to addiction?” and “what am I attaching from my experiences of my own struggle with addiction and finding recovery?” are both personally helpful in raising self-awareness.  Typically, there are a number of emotional attachments from my own past experiences that are at play and something about becoming self-aware of them is neutralizing and allows those feelings to subside.

Self-care is also key in that it is important I take care of myself when experiencing pain – both the pain of the present situation of powerlessness and the pain held in the emotional attachments that got triggered by it.  For me, spending time by a body of water, reading or listening to something I find inspirational, participating in therapy and spending time with people who lift me up are just some of the strategies that are part of my self-care package.  It is important that we all have our own individualized package of self-care strategies to help us get through the pain of not being able to serve those we most wish we could serve.

At the end of the day, all we can do is our best – whether it is with those we are closest to in the world or those whom we just met or may not even know personally.  We can still demonstrate compassion and concern, we can still reach out and try, we can still be a safe space and source of comfort when needed, we can still hold out hope if that person is alive and we can still find ways to transform our pain into a light for the world when that person is no longer with us.  While not being able to effectively guide everybody into recovery can be excruciatingly painful, most especially when it is somebody we are deeply connected to, self-awareness and self-care can go a long way in preserving our passion and keeping us around for the long haul.  If anything, these experiences can most certainly serve as a reminder that we are in fact desperately needed to be around for the long haul.

The last time I saw my Mom was when I was around four years old, and for as far back as I can remember, I always waited and wanted for my her to come back for me.  I thought about her often in a world where I was confronted with reminders of how moms and daughters are supposed to be together, how moms and daughters are supposed to do all kinds of stuff together. I thought about her often in a household where I felt very much like an outsider, hoping that she would come back at any moment and rescue me from what was an increasingly bleak existence. I waited and I waited and I waited. By the time I was 13 years old, I could wait no more.

After a short-lived running away from home escapade one night, I demanded that my father give me my mother’s address so I could go to her rather than waiting any longer for her to come to me. My plan was to ask my Mom if I could live with her. The hope was that my life would then get better.

My father pulled the car over almost immediately, turned around and looked at me and said “I’m sorry to have to tell you this Brooke, your mother died last year.”

Instantly, something deep inside of me broke. Almost as traumatic as the news of my Mom’s death due to a drug overdose was the realization that I had spent the past year believing in the possibility of her coming back for me when that hadn’t even been remotely possible.

Almost as devastating as learning that my mom had died was the fact that nobody bothered to tell me, that if I hadn’t asked, I never would have found out.

I was upset that I had been robbed of the choice to go to her funeral, angry that this information had been wrongly kept from me and shattered from having been so caught off guard.

This painful experience is one that has gone on to impact my life and my relationships in multiple ways. While I have spent more hours in therapy than I can count focused on healing from this trauma, I still have much work to do.

As a result of the trauma I experienced, I have a high expectation of trust in my intimate relationships.  In order to allow myself to be open and vulnerable, I have to feel safe in that my partner will not lie about or withhold information from me that could take away my power of choice, catch me off guard or leave me open to getting badly hurt.  Although I will be continuing the journey of my healing process for many years to come, I imagine that this need for safety in the area of trust in my relationships will always be higher than most. It is part of who I am, and I have grown in accepting and loving that broken little girl inside of me who so desperately needs to feel safe.

I have had my trust betrayed in intimate relationships. I have found myself with partners who, due to their own limitations, just weren’t capable of the level of honesty I needed in order to feel safe. It has been both devastating and a great catalyst for deeper healing when this has occurred.

These days, I continue to address and work through the trauma I’ve experienced as I strive to provide for myself the safety that the broken little girl inside of me needs. Some days, I wonder if I will ever find myself in an intimate relationship where the level of trust and safety I need is present. Other days, I believe that somewhere out there is a person who is capable of the level of honesty and authenticity I so desire.

At the end of the day and most importantly, I continue to work on loving and showing up for that broken little girl inside of me whose world was rocked so many years ago. I continue to nurture her, take care of her and discover new strategies for helping her feel safe in the world. I also continue to grow in taking the risk of believing in possibilities, the risk of believing in things I cannot see.  The act of putting this blog out into the world is in itself one of those risks: the act of believing in the possibility that my sharing this deeply personal experience of mine will somehow touch and help heal someone else.  I very much hope it does just that.  I know the act of writing it and putting it out there has at least helped heal and touch me.

While my ego recoils in pain at the mere thought of you loving and being loved by another who is not me, I hope that you stumble and fall into that love.

While a part of me dies a small death at the idea of your perfect mouth being met by that of another, I hope that your mouths do meet and that they do dance in the sweet bliss of that first kiss.

While it shatters my ego to imagine two hands not belonging to me rubbing your feet, caressing your neck, resting on your thigh or playing with your hair, I hope that those hands do find their way to you and that they do treasure every inch of you there is to treasure.

Yes, a part of me crumbles at the idea of another vessel taking in the narrative of your day, receiving your most intimate thoughts and feelings, experiencing your laughter and tears.

Yes, a part of me shudders at the notion of your affection and adoration, your sweetness and inner beauty, your wisdom and courage being shared with another who is not me.

Yes, a part of me wanted to believe that you belong to me and me alone.

But beautiful soul, if life has taught me anything, it is that love transcends the ego.  If life has taught me anything, it is that love flows endlessly and everywhere, rising up into us at times and having its way only to flow back out again and continue on its journey in the form of someone new.

So yes, while my ego will always mourn the loss of what it thought belonged to it and it alone, know that beyond that worldly layer is the deepest of love for you that wishes you nothing but peace, joy and all the best life has to offer.

And when that love rises up in the form of another who is not me, I hope that you receive it, I hope that you enjoy it, I hope that you nurture it and that you grow with it.  You deserve nothing less, and sweet beautiful soul, I wish you nothing more.

For as far back in my life as I can remember, I have always sought and latched onto ways to escape the world.  I have always felt a sense of life pulling me underwater, a strong feeling of being at risk of drowning at any moment.  To survive this feeling, I have long grasped for ways to come up for moments of air.

I remember at around five years old, I would sneak handfuls of sugar from the sugar jar in the kitchen.  I remember there being a feeling of relief that accompanied that act.  I remember it being more so about the sneaking and getting away with something than it was about the sugar itself.  I remember it being more so about doing something nobody else knew about, more so about the gratification found in being in control of when I had sugar rather than an adult telling me when I could have it.

When I was around 10 years old, I would sneak into the kitchen to grab pieces of bread that I would ball up and consume quickly and mindlessly.  I remember this being something that happened sort of on autopilot at that point, and I recall how I would find myself doing this without having really put conscious thought into it in advance.  I began to gain more and more weight which only compounded the heavy burden of shame I already carried on my back.

When I was around 13 years old, food wasn’t enough to escape the pain and that horrible feeling of life sucking me under.  In addition to continuing to misuse food, I began to self-harm.  Without having even known it was a thing or heard of anybody else doing so, I would cut myself to relief the immense pain I felt inside.  Today my body still carries the scars as markers of those dreadful days.  I also began to use alcohol and other drugs, despite having a mother who had recently died from her own use substance use and knowing the risk of death that substance use brought.  For me, in the use of alcohol and other drugs, I found the air that I long struggled to come up for in a faster, longer and more powerful way that by far surpassed what the use of food and self-harm could provide.  Ultimately the use of alcohol and other drugs became my go-to for air.

Because my alcohol and other drug use would go on to become so devastatingly problematic, it was easy for me to focus on the use of those substances as the issue rather than see all that had preceded it and what was really the challenge I lived with down at my core.  When I would finally enter into recovery at the age of 24 from what had become a life-threatening substance use disorder, I chose complete abstinence from alcohol and other drugs as a key strategy in my recovery.  What I didn’t do was ever address all of the other ways in which I had come up for air, in other words “gotten high,” ways in which I had been doing so long before my substance use had begun.  In turn, my recovery from a substance use disorder journey has at times been littered with a colorful variety of ways in which I have tried to come up for air, to get higher than that feeling of being pulled under water.  Most consistently, my relationship with food has served as a go-to strategy for escaping the world.

With now having 12 years of complete abstinence from alcohol and other drugs, one could easily think that I am well advanced in my recovery journey and that the act of grasping for ways to come up for air or get higher than that feeling of going under is one that is long behind me.  The reality for me however is this: at the time of writing this piece, I only have about two months of having sustained abstinence from binge eating.  I have two short but long months of truly sitting with the feeling of going under and not turning to someone or something to pull me up out of it.  And while for some time now I have been doing the hard work of finally addressing what lies inside me at my core that drives the need to escape, this person with over a decade of time in recovery is in fact in their infancy when it comes to no longer engaging in harmful activities that provide relief and moments of air.

I write this and share it with the world because I have been called “an inspiration” by many and have found myself unwittingly and humbly in a position of others looking up to me.  In turn, I believe it is important for me to be authentic and transparent about all aspects of my recovery journey, not just the shiny and pretty ones but the difficult and ugly ones.  I believe if somebody is going to look up to me, they deserve to know all that I am made up of and they need to know the whole package, not just selected pieces to aspire for.  For me, my recovery is about so much more than abstaining from alcohol and other drugs.  The alcohol and drug use was simply one strategy for coping with a challenge that extends far deeper and for as far back as I can remember, and the substance use was simply one way of many for me to come up for air.

If there is one lesson I’ve learned in recovery that I find important to share with others, it is this: the use of alcohol and other drugs is only a symptom, it is not the core challenge to be addressed.  Perhaps for all of us, what lies at the core looks different.  I know for sure that what compounds that core challenge is unique to each individual.  But maybe for all of us, whether substance use became a strategy for escaping or not, one thing is the same – we all have to truly sit with, go through and address whatever our core challenges may be if we truly want peace, freedom and joy in our lives.  Abstinence from alcohol and other drugs will only get us so far.  Recovery is about so much more than giving up that one strategy for escape, for coming up for air, for getting high.  I look forward to continuing to grow in that so much more.

 

 

 

For many of us involved in addiction recovery advocacy work, somewhere along the way we learned that our stories have power, that our voices have power.  As we have taken our advocacy efforts into the realm of social media, we have witnessed the sheer magnitude of reach contained in a single voice.  With words, pictures and videos rapidly traveling across towns, cities, state lines and oceans separating continents, we see the extraordinary power contained in our voices.  However, as the familiar saying goes, “with power comes great responsibility,” and we must always remember that every time we use our voices, we have the power to either help or harm.

Throughout the course of my own personal growth as an advocate, and with the loving guidance of wise, patient and seasoned mentors, the following are two key lessons I have learned along the way when it comes to the responsible use of power in my voice:

Owning Our Power

It is important to not minimize the power contained in our voice.  While we may not see ourselves as the inspirational and knowledgeable leaders other people see us as, it is irresponsible of us to not recognize that we are in fact often seen in this light.  Minimizing the power we have rather than owning it creates a dangerous space for us to also minimize the potential harm we can cause if we fail to be thoughtful and intentional about the messages we share.  While many of us will find ourselves asking “when and how exactly did I become a person whose voice has influence?”, we none-the-less must own that we do have this power and in turn responsibly harness it.  Once we recognize and own that our voices do have extraordinary power, we can then come from a place that allows us to be more thoughtful about where we direct that power.  It is imperative for the good of our collective efforts that we try our best to always use that power to help rather than harm the goals of the recovery advocacy movement.

Refraining from Impulsive Responses

Advocates in any arena are most often driven by personal passion.  Whether it is through our lived experience as a person in long-term recovery or as a family member of somebody who has struggled with addiction and/or found long-term recovery, our lived experiences are what drive the deep passion we have for advocacy work.  While this passion is certainly a key ingredient for any effective advocate, there are also pitfalls to be aware of that can come along with it.  Perhaps the biggest elixir for these pitfalls is our own innate emotional responses.  At times our emotions will be triggered and subconsciously move us into blindly typing a quick Facebook status message or tweet without pausing to think of the bigger picture or the implications of what we are endorsing with our voice.  At times our emotions will move us to share what could be a harmful picture, article or video without pausing first to do our homework, consider whether this helps or harms overall advocacy objectives and if this is in fact the message we wish to convey.  Using the power of our voice responsibly means refraining from emotionally driven impulsive responses and being intentional and thoughtful in all we put out there.  Again, the key question to ask ourselves is “does this help or harm the goals of the recovery advocacy movement?”

As noted in my previous blog, the advance of social media as an advocacy tool has brought with it many strengths and new opportunities.  With understanding that our stories and voices have power, having new platforms to use that power is a wonderful and amazing thing.  If we can all remember that “with power comes great responsibility,” there is no telling how tremendous a catalyst social media can be for helping our advocacy efforts.

Originally posted on Faces & Voices of Recovery’s RecoveryBlog. Faces & Voices of Recovery is dedicated to organizing and mobilizing the over 23 million Americans in recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs, our families, friends and allies into recovery community organizations and networks, to promote the right and resources to recover through advocacy, education and demonstrating the power and proof of long-term recovery.

Perhaps more than any other sociological advance we’ve seen over the past decade, the widespread use of social media has had a tremendous impact on the New Addiction Recovery Advocacy Movement. The ability to connect across counties and continents has facilitated the transfer of information and fostered opportunities for networking in ways  twonever before imagined. The ability to virtually mobilize and organize the recovery communities online has magnificently spilled out into the physical world at recovery meetings, social events, advocacy days, conferences and massive rallies such as last year’s Unite to Face Addiction event in Washington, DC.

In addition to these two powerful benefits, the ability to put a face and voice on recovery has never before been more real as hundreds of thousands of people each day publicly disclose being a person in long-term recovery for the larger world to see on their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. This public disclosure of recovery status has moved our movement giant steps away from mostly preaching to the choir and out into a place of serving as beacons of hope and sources of inspiration for the greater world to see.

All told, the widespread use of social media has certainly advanced the New Addiction Recovery Advocacy Movement, yet as with all advances, the widespread use of social media has also brought new challenges for us to grapple with. This blog is the first of a series that will explore some of the challenges of social media and recovery advocacy that our community must discuss, struggle with and get to the other side of.

Language
With so many styles and varieties of recovery experiences that are embedded in individual and cultural contexts, coming to a place of one universal, non-stigmatizing and all-encompassing set of words and messaging is no easy task and remains one that our movement still struggles to unite around, spread and sustain. With social media providing a very public forum for self-disclosure and conversations around addiction and recovery, we see at least just as much use of less favorable language as we see individuals using the research-backed Faces and Voices of Recovery messaging. In order to continue moving forward with promoting non-stigmatizing language that will transform minds and hearts, our movement will have to acknowledge all of the factors at play in the variability of language, the real benefits of that variability, the potentially harmful limitations and challenges of that variability and ultimately new strategies for moving language forward.

Pictures
The notion that a picture is worth a thousand words is one that the advance of social media has brought square into the forefront. As we see unsavory and stigmatizing images used by the media for stories about addiction and recovery, how will the recovery advocacy community unite to demand better from the press? As we see an abundance of videos posted that demonize victims of an overdose, how will the recovery advocacy community unite to demand an end to public shaming that only leads to more discrimination, stigma and lack of awareness about the reality of recovery? As we see countless memes using stigmatizing language or poking fun at addiction and recovery, how will the recovery advocacy movement unite to counteract these images with memes that instead use strengths-based language that promotes the universal value and reality of recovery?

The challenges surrounding the language and pictures used on social media are just two of a number of areas we must address as we continue forward movement in the new frontier of social media and recovery advocacy.

Stay tuned for my next blog on this subject which will explore the personal and collective responsibility that comes with advocacy on social media…

Originally posted on Faces & Voices of Recovery’s RecoveryBlog. Faces & Voices of Recovery is dedicated to organizing and mobilizing the over 23 million Americans in recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs, our families, friends and allies into recovery community organizations and networks, to promote the right and resources to recover through advocacy, education and demonstrating the power and proof of long-term recovery.

 

For well over a decade, I have celebrated my “clean” or “sober” date anniversary with more gratitude and joy than my actual date of birth.

I have attached so much meaning to this date, in fact, that on more than one occasion, I even considered getting this momentous milestone tattooed on me; a big ‘ole “July 19, 2005” forever ingrained on my body as a symbol of my new life without the use of alcohol or other drugs.  It seems that at some point early in my recovery journey, I learned to equate the amount of time I accumulated of continuous abstinence from alcohol and other drugs with the greatest benchmark of successful recovery.  While I have long known that recovery encompasses so much more than merely abstinence, I have also viewed my date of initiating abstinence as the foundation from which everything else was built.  It was the most important thing to me in the world and without it, I would have nothing else.  To that end, for over 11 years, I have proudly clutched the date of July 19, 2005 tightly to my chest, determined to never let it go, to never give it up for anybody or anything.

Today, however, I am letting it go.  Today I am giving that date up.

Before I share with you my reasons for surrendering this beloved date, please hear me out on two important caveats.

First, I am not giving up my “clean/sober” date as result of returning to alcohol or other drug use.  For me, being present in my life and managing my wellness and recovery from a substance use disorder will always include continued abstinence from alcohol and other drugs.  My decision to relinquish the tightened grip around my clean/sober date is with no intent or desire to replace it with alcohol or other drug use.  While there are many varieties of recovery experiences, mine will always include a commitment to abstaining from alcohol and other drugs.

Second, I am also not giving up my “clean/sober” date with the hopes of modeling for others that they ought to do the same.  For me, there were many moments in early recovery during which I was largely motivated to not use alcohol or other drugs simply because I did not want to give up that cherished date.  I think there is a tremendous value in this driving force for many.  I also think that there is much evidence to support the dire importance for many people who have lived with a substance use disorder to accumulate continuous time abstinent from alcohol or other drugs.  I am a strong believer in each individual being empowered and supported to decide what works best for themselves.  In turn, in no way do I aim to sway anybody else from celebrating a date or accomplishment that is important to them.  My decision to no longer focus on my clean/sober date is a personal one.  My decision to share this choice and rationale for it with the world comes from a commitment to being authentic and a burning passion to speak my truth through writing.

Now, on to the two main reasons for why I will no longer be holding onto and focusing on my “clean” or “sober” date.

While I have not used alcohol or other drugs for over 11 years, I have absolutely been consumed by another unhealthy addiction that for all intents and purposes has rendered me just as “active” in addiction as a person using alcohol or other drugs. To celebrate my “clean” or “sober” date while remaining consumed by another addiction has led to great cognitive dissonance and ultimately an in-authenticity with myself and the world. 

For many years prior to my using alcohol and other drugs to escape my physical, mental and emotional experiences, and for the entire duration of my time abstinent from those substances, I have lived with an eating disorder.  Binge eating has remained an ever present active addiction in my life, one that ignites the same exact pathway in my brain that alcohol and other drugs did and one that produces the same desired effects of numbing and escape.  While food is legal and cocaine is not, the purpose and outcome of indulging in both is one and the same for me.  While a McDonalds run for enough food for three won’t land me in jail but smoking enough PCP for three possibly would, in the end both are driven by an obsession and compulsion to indulge despite a nagging desire to not.  Both binge eating and substance use have resulted in unhealthy and unwanted consequences in my life.  To focus so intently on a date that marks the cessation of alcohol and other drug use while the use of food in the same manner has continued on does a disservice to myself and to my recovery journey in its entirety.  Although the date on which I ceased using alcohol and other drugs will always be an important one to me, my recovery journey encompasses so much more than that.  Until I stop using everything that ignites that same pathway in my brain, I am not truly “clean” in my heart, mind and soul.

Celebrating the length of continuous time I have been abstinent as the centerpiece of my recovery story is by default non-inclusive of the millions of people who recover through reduction or moderation of substance use. It also devalues the recovery experience of those who have experienced a lapse in continuous time abstinent but who have been no less engaged and/or successful in their recovery. 

I was trained in using recovery messaging that begins something like this: “Hi, my name is Brooke Feldman, and I am a person in long-term recovery.  What that means for me is that I have not used alcohol or other drugs for over 11 years and, as a result, my life, my family’s life and the people I have come in contact with have been transformed in countless ways…” This message of recovery in many ways is important to give in order to instill hope and provide evidence that long-term recovery is possible.  While there is an enormous value and need for demonstrating that recovery is possible and worth supporting, investing in and aspiring for, we miss the inclusivity mark by focusing on time abstinent.  For more people than not, recovery looks more like reduction or moderation of use.  Countless individuals experience problem alcohol or other drug use at some point in their lives but are able to either naturally or with treatment and recovery support services go on to moderate their use of alcohol or other drugs.  To give the impression that recovery requires abstinence not only prevents large numbers of people from engaging in treatment or recovery support services, it also alienates millions of people from the recovery advocacy movement who have found solutions to problem use without the need for abstinence. Although long-term abstinence is the pathway I have chosen and will continue to choose, I never want to alienate those individuals who choose different pathways to recovery.  By no longer focusing on my time of continuous abstinence as the centerpiece of my recovery story but rather more so a part of it, I hope to be more inclusive of the millions of people who have found wellness and recovery without total abstinence.

Also, while sustained abstinence is possible and a reality for many who choose that pathway, we know that some people experience lapses in abstinence for a variety of reasons.  Those individuals who have experienced a lapse are no less engaged in the recovery process than a person with 20 years of continuous abstinence.  With the right resources and support in place, those individuals who experience a lapse do not automatically lose all they have gained in their recovery journey.  To focus so much on length of time abstinent does a severe disservice to those who experience a lapse.  To cultivate an attitude of “starting over” or loss of recovery status by placing such enormous value on length of continuous time abstinent is far from helpful for individuals, families, communities, organizations and policy makers.  This practice is something I no longer wish to inadvertently contribute to by placing such high focus on my own continuous time abstinent.

While I will always have profound gratitude for July 19th, 2005, I am giving that date up as the centerpiece of my recovery and placing it up on the shelf with other personally significant milestones and accomplishments in my life.  Just like all the rest, sustained abstinence is merely a lived experience and personal progress marker, not a definition of my full recovery or who I really am in all of my humanity.  It is also not an indicator of what recovery can and does look like for millions of other individuals and families.

In closing, I recognize that my personal decision and rationale for no longer holding on so tightly to my “clean” or “sober” date is likely to spark mixed reactions among my peers who identify as being in recovery.  If you are somebody who feels resolute in your attachment to and the value of your own clean/sober date, I support you wholeheartedly and do not seek to change your mind.  I cannot emphasize enough how much worth doing so had in my own life for many years.  My only hope is that if you have gotten this far, you were able to receive my current truth and perhaps even feel moved to explore any bits of it that resonated with you.  Thank you for getting this far.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Psychologist Carl Jung once said “the further you go into light, the greater your shadow becomes.”  As a person long drawn to Jung’s school of thought, the concept of “the shadow” has always been intriguing to me.  The idea that each of us has a shadow – a part of our psyche kept hidden away from others, a portion of us deemed too unruly for the outside world yet still ever present right there under the surface – is an idea that has reverberated in me as truth since the very first time I heard it.

As a person in long-term recovery from a substance use disorder, I’ve done a lot of personal growth work around actualizing my potential and living my life in accordance of what I believe to be “good” or “right.”  For a long time prior to entering into recovery, my life centered around anything but what would be widely considered good or right.  It is fair to say, in fact, that my very existence was a walking contradiction of good and right.  Lying, stealing, hurting others, total self-centeredness and utter self-destruction were characteristics and ways of being that steered my ship.  Upon entering into recovery, I quickly learned that if I were to stand a chance at wellness and a meaningful and fulfilling life, the cessation of these “bad” behaviors and the transition from doing the wrong thing to doing the “right thing” would be critical.  In turn, I spent much of the past decade in a consistent and wholehearted attempt to be good and do the right thing.  While this way of being has certainly granted me a meaningful and fulfilling life far beyond what I would have dared imagine, there is one pesky matter that has always hung back lurking in the mist and waiting to be acknowledged.  It is the matter of my shadow.

It is important to note that the concept of the shadow and the ideas of “being good” or “doing the right thing” are universal and far from limited to those in recovery from a substance use disorder.  From a very young age, most of us are taught right from wrong, good from bad.  We learn what is socially acceptable, what is socially appropriate and what parts of us are given a warm welcome from the outside world versus which parts of us are shamed, shunned, made wrong and sent away.  We all grow up developing our persona based on these learned experiences and we all have that pesky matter of the shadow to contend with in our adult years.  Some of us skate through life without ever putting much thought or work into it.  Others of us find that we are left with little to no choice but to put the time, effort and energy into addressing the darker part of us as we grow in awareness of it.

For me, I have only recently begun to realize to what extent my repressed shadow self has an impact on my life and those around me.  While I was handed many tools along the way of my personal recovery journey, from strategies developed in professional treatment settings to mutual aid group involvement and 12-step program participation, I was never quite given the tools to address the matter of my shadow.  In many ways, some of the tools at my disposal were actually more useful in heaping additional piles of persona on top of my shadow self rather than truly addressing and integrating the darker side of me.  I have since come to realize that the darker side of me is as much a part of who I am as is the bright, shining light that the world seems so attracted to.

As I find myself embarking on the next stage of my recovery journey – a journey that in many ways is simply just the human journey – I look forward to reconnecting with all parts of me.  There are lots of pretty, shiny and sparkly parts and there are lots of ugly, darker and not so pleasant parts.  The reality of it all is that the bright shiny light people see and love in me would not be so bright were it not for the depths of darkness that exist in the shadow part of me.  The reality is that the same is true for all of us.  For me, the latest iteration of being “good” and “doing the right thing” is as simple as this: it would be no justice to myself and the world around me to only show the bright light without showing the shadow that inevitably accompanies it.  If I am going to share the light, I ought to share the shadow.  I look forward to doing just that.

 

In the beginning of my addiction recovery journey, I was indoctrinated into the idea that the only way to recover was through lifelong engagement in a 12-step mutual aid group.  I was advised by professionals and recovering people alike that failure to participate in a mutual aid group would lead me to the inevitable ends of “jails, institutions or death.”  With no education provided to me regarding any of the alternative pathways to sustainable recovery coupled by a substantial amount of fear fanned by this message of doom and gloom, I went on to internalize the mindset and spend a good number of years highly engaged in a mutual aid group.  My world was largely encapsulated inside the community of others who were engaged in the same mutual aid group and the idea of stepping outside of it was strongly discouraged.  Although I increasingly grew to crave a full life in the larger community as well as unable to align with many of the ideas and beliefs circulated in the mutual aid group, my fear of the taught consequences of disengagement kept me involved long past the point at which cognitive dissonance began to wear heavily on my soul.

Now, please note that this is in no way an attack on 12-step mutual aid groups.  Many of the tools and strategies I utilize to sustain my recovery were born out of my involvement with the mutual aid group and I have witnessed the extraordinary benefits, both personally and in others, of 12-step mutual aid group participation.  I am a staunch believer in the idea of multiple pathways to recovery and am in no way blind to the value and importance of 12-step mutual aid groups in the lives of many.  I merely believe that there is a place for all pathways at the table of recovery.  I also believe that people in or seeking recovery ought not be limited to just one pathway, and furthermore, people in or seeking recovery ought to be empowered and supported in selecting from the vast variety of pathways available as they see fit for themselves at any given time.  I say “at any given time” because it is natural that growth and evolution may result in a need or desire for different pathways at different times.

For me, I’ve wondered in the glory of 20/20 hindsight vision what my recovery journey would have been like had I been educated earlier on about the many pathways to recovery.  I’ve wondered if I would have succumbed to being driven by fear of the taught consequences if I had known that there was more than just this one way to recover.  I’ve wondered what I may have chosen for myself had I heard people who were not rooted solely in mutual aid group participation share their triumphant stories of recovery.  I’ve also wondered what the world would look like if more people openly shared their experiences of recovery that expand far beyond 12-step mutual aid involvement.  I’ve wondered how many lives would not be lost if there were increased education around and access to alternative pathways more suited for each individual’s needs.

It is important to hear the voice of those who have sustained recovery without utilizing or following disengagement from mutual aid groups.  It is important for the world to know that thriving in recovery is very much possible outside of solely mutual aid group involvement.  While acknowledging that for many, lifelong membership in a mutual aid group is what they find best meets their needs and this ought to be supported, it is important to acknowledge that there are countless others who have rich experiences and plenty of hope to share around recovery taking place outside of lifelong mutual aid involvement.  It is important for each individual to be able to make an informed choice regarding what would work best for them.

For me, my recovery pathway is littered with an array of strategies and tools pulled from a variety of resources.  It has included psychotherapy, mentorship, reading, online support, sponsorship, spirituality, self-help seminars, volunteerism, relationships with other people in recovery, exercise, relationships with people outside of recovery, time spent in nature and past mutual aid involvement.  It is eclectic and ever-evolving, and it has allowed me a life of freedom and without limitations.  My recovery has allowed me to attend weddings, funerals, graduation and birthday parties.  It has allowed me to be a member of the larger community and not live confined to smaller segments of the community.  It has allowed me the ability to decide what is safe and comfortable for myself and to make healthy decisions. It has allowed me to pursue my education, have the job of my dreams and live a life full of meaning and purpose.  My recovery has continued to grow and thrive exponentially despite, and perhaps in some ways even as a result of my own personal mutual aid group disengagement.

We talk a lot about putting a face and voice on recovery.  The beautiful thing is that each face and voice will tell a different tale of what recovery means for them.  And yes, of course for many, mutual aid group involvement is an instrumental part of their sustained recovery journey…but let’s not forget, judge, discount or ignore the significant number of others who have found sustained recovery outside of church basements and walls.  There is much to be learned from this group of people in recovery as well.

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