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.