Moving Beyond The Limitations of the Word “Recovery” During Recovery Month

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.


From 60 days to Purple Sash

As a 24-year-old with about 60 days drug-free and in the very infancy of my recovery journey, I looked around and studied the crowd gathering at Memorial Hall in Philly’s Fairmount Park.  The recovery house I was residing in mandated that all residents come to this thing called a “recovery walk” before going on our home passes.  To be brutally honest, many of us were just eager to get this mandatory event over with so we could move onto the main attraction of the day – our hard earned and highly coveted weekend passes that allowed us to get away from one another and the recovery house.

As I took the whole scene in, I was surprised by the large number of people gathered there.  I was most amazed by the individuals and families who did not appear to be in a mandated recovery house wolf-pack formation but instead present on their own accord.  I was astonished that these folks actually chose to spend their Saturday morning at this event.  Some people even brought their dogs with them, these adorable little puppies and big golden retrievers with recovery-oriented t-shirts wrapped around their four-legged frames.  As more and more people descended upon the area, I began to get the chills.  I didn’t realize that there were so many people in recovery!  As a man named Vincent Faust led the walkers in a “2005 PRO-ACT Recovery Walks! warmup”, we all hunkered in closer to one another and moved toward the stage.  I recall the electrifying energy being something unlike anything I’d ever felt.  To be part of a crowd of hundreds of people gathered in the name of recovery was indescribable.  To go on to walk side by side people just like me gave me unimaginable hope.  It gave me hope that this thing called recovery works.  It gave me hope that I could live the rest of my life without using alcohol and other drugs because these people were doing it.  It gave me hope that I was not alone.  Ultimately, this hope changed my life.

I returned to the Recovery Walks! the very next year, this time not as a recovery house resident but, instead, as an employee of that recovery house.  I explained to the residents who now griped about having to go to the event that they would be so glad they did.  I stood among them with tears in my eyes as I saw the look on many of their faces – that same look of awe I had the year before.  I also observed that the crowd had grown even larger than the year before, and again I felt that swelling of hope in my heart.  Lastly, I noticed that some people were walking around wearing purple sashes with numbers pinned to them, and I asked somebody what that was about.  “Oh, that’s for the Honor Gaurd.  Those purple sashes mean they have 10 or more years in recovery.”  I smiled and immediately thought to my 25-year-old self,with just over a year in recovery at this point, “Wow, 10 years?  That’s pretty cool.  I’m going to get one of those sashes one day.”

I returned to Recovery Walks! the next year, this time with a job so far beyond my wildest dreams.  I had gone on to work for PRO-ACT, and now I was at the walk as an employee of the very organization responsible for organizing the event.  The walk was, again, even bigger than the year before, and I got to be part of all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes to make it happen.  I now played a part in creating the very same event that had so impacted my own recovery and my own life a few years before.

Year after year I’ve returned to Recovery Walks!, and year after year it has continued to grow and surpass the year before.  The walk has now grown from a few hundred people walking in the shadows of Fairmount Park to over 23,000 people clogging the streets of my city’s center.  I’ve gotten to watch though gratitude tear-filled eyes as that magnificent mass of people gathers in solidarity to show that recovery is possible. I have continued to be blown away by the magnitude of the recovery community and its allies.  And yes, year after year, I’ve continued to eye up those purple sashes rocked by the Honor Guard and whisper to myself  “I’m going to get one of those sashes one day.”

That ‘one day’ has come.

This year, my 10th year of long-term sustained recovery, I will be walking with the Honor Guard in the PRO-ACT Recovery Walks! for the first time.  I will be walking evidence that long-term recovery is possible.  I will be graced with experiencing what it is like to be part of the group leading over 23,000 people through the streets of Philadelphia as we aim to reduce stigma, end discrimination, increase awareness and expand access to prevention, treatment and recovery support services.

As I anticipate lifting that long desired purple sash up over my head and across my chest, I can still see that 24-year-old version of myself.  I can still see that young person with 60 days drug-free who didn’t know if recovery worked, who didn’t know if life was going to be worth living, who didn’t know that there were millions and millions of people just like her.  I still see that 24-year-old version of myself in my mind’s eye and I smile as I think, “Wow.  We got that purple sash after-all.  Now let’s make sure other’s have an opportunity to get their sash too.”


Learn more about Recovery Walks!, register, start a team and begin fundraising today by visiting