Beyond Treatment: Let’s Not Forget About The Soil

We know that any gains made in treatment often plummet and fall apart when communities aren’t equipped with the nutrients of resources necessary to serve as fertile soil for continued recovery.

Whenever a public health crisis cascades upon us, it is natural that we grasp at the quick fixes and shiny objects that capture our attention. As history has shown us however, these sort of responses rarely yield long-term success and can instead result in a slew of unanticipated consequences that further compound the concern. With increased attention and a much welcomed sense of urgency emerging when it comes to addressing substance use challenges in this country, it is important that we continue to think globally on the issue and not settle for narrow and insufficient resolutions.

One area in which we can direct our focus is in the public perception that treatment is the be-all and end-all solution to addressing substance use challenges. While access to evidence-based, clinically sound, culturally appropriate and readily available mental health and substance use treatment is of extraordinary importance, access to initiating and sustaining recovery is something that extends far beyond merely access to treatment. We must take care to remember, as well as to educate others, that increasing access to treatment in and of itself is far from a comprehensive response to facing addiction and facilitating recovery.

Treatment is but one pane on the larger recovery umbrella that encompasses all of the resources and supports an individual and their family may need to initiate and sustain recovery.

Although it is true that for many folks, having immediate access to quality treatment is an instrumental ingredient in their wellness and recovery journeys, we must not forget that long-term community-based recovery support services are just as influential and necessary when it comes to sufficiently addressing substance use challenges in this country. As a matter of fact, long-term community-based recovery support services that offer peer support in the areas of employment, education, housing, life skills and more are a vital and critical resource if we are ever to see true, lasting opportunities for individual, family and community recovery.

As we continue to advocate for a large-scale response to our country’s large-scale substance misuse and associated costs problem, it is imperative that we do not settle for anything less than what is truly necessary for individual, family and community recovery. While we certainly ought to continue assertively advocating for much needed improved access to quality treatment, we must also speak just as loudly to the need for increased and improved community-based recovery support services.  We must not settle for narrow and insufficient resolutions.  We must not forget about the soil.

Stigma Against Methadone, Suboxone and Vivitrol In Recovery Communities Needs To Go Up In Smoke

The irony is never lost on me when I am engaged in a conversation with a person in recovery who, between deep puffs of a cigarette or long sips of their sugar-filled cup of coffee, believes that the use of medications such as Methadone, Suboxone or Vivitrol excludes a person from being able to identify as being in recovery. If you’re smoking a pack of cigarettes a day or consuming caffeine like it’s your day job but claiming that a person using prescribed medication as part of their treatment for substance use disorder “isn’t clean”, your stance is problematic at best, hypocritical at worst.

Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants.   They are both addictive, mind and mood-altering substances. In fact, smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in this country. So to be using these drugs while stigmatizing, ostracizing and alienating individuals who are utilizing prescribed, evidence-based medication as part of their recovery journey is both foolish and harmful.

There are many pathways to recovery and many definitions of what that means for a given individual. While for some, certain medications may have been misused in the past or the use of them is not a strategy we would choose for ourselves, that does not mean we should impose our beliefs on others. And while for some, choosing to use the most harmful drug in the United States is not something we believe excludes us from identifying as “clean” or in recovery, we all ought to allow each and every individual to identify for themselves what recovery means for them.  With drug overdoses being the number one accidental cause of death in this country, the time is now to be more inclusive and welcoming than ever.

Be The Change You Wish To See: Time For Nation’s Leading Organizations On Substance Use Disorder To Remove The Word “Abuse” From Their Names

“If we truly believe that addiction is a serious health problem, then why do we continue to have departments and centers of substance abuse?” – William L. White

Language is extraordinarily powerful. As our understanding of substance use disorder has continued to grow with research and a greater recognition of the need for better policies to address substance use disorder has continued to emerge, there is no time like the present to revisit the critical and long overdue act of adjusting our language. Not only does our language need to be adjusted within the discourse of our individual conversations; it needs to be modified in the names of the very institutions charged with leading the way.

As renowned addiction recovery author William L. White has written, “Of all the words that have entered the addiction/treatment vocabulary, “abuse” is one of the most ill-chosen.” The term abuse “has long implied the willful commission of an abhorrent (wrong and sinful) act involving forbidden pleasure” and “has also come to characterize those of violent and contemptible character–those who abuse their partners, their children or animals.” To include such a stigmatizing and shaming word in our conversations about substance use disorder is to continue to frame addiction as a moral failing on the part of an individual rather than a preventable and treatable health condition with multiple biological, sociological, psychological, cultural and environmental factors. To include such a stigmatizing word in the very names of our nation’s leading organizations charged with addressing substance use disorder is perhaps even more harmful as it continues to perpetuate this misconception at the highest levels.

When I look at some organizations funded by my tax dollars such as the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Pennsylvania’s Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – the last of which actually uses the web domain of “drugabuse.gov” – I can’t help but feel compelled to demand better. If our nation’s leading organizations that are tasked with addressing the health condition of substance use disorder continue to use the word “abuse” in their agency names and website addresses, how can we truly expect the general public to move its language and perception of substance use disorder away from the idea of abuse?

Change is possible.

In my city of Philadelphia, our publicly funded behavioral health system used to be called the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Mental Retardation Services (DBHMRS) prior to advocates at the national level demanding the removal of the stigmatizing word “retardation.” These advocates in the intellectual disability arena successfully asserted “that the term “mental retardation” has negative connotations, has become offensive to many people, and often results in misunderstandings about the nature of the disorder and those who have it.” Shortly following the implementation of a 2013 federal rule requiring that the word “retardation” be replaced with “intellectual disabilities”, Philadelphia, under the leadership of Commissioner Dr. Arthur C. Evans, changed the name of its publicly funded behavioral health system to the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS). Not only was there a swift change to abolish the word “retardation” but a special emphasis was placed on celebrating the strengths of individuals living with an intellectual disability by making the “d” a lowercase “d” and capitalizing the “A” for the word “disAbility.” Witnessing this extraordinary act of leading by example take place in my city served as proof that with a little advocacy and some public will alongside strong leadership, a small but powerful name change is possible for any organization or bureaucracy.

The time is now to see this symbolic act of leadership take place at the national level when it comes to language surrounding substance use disorder. The time is now that we, those of us who pay for these agencies, demand to see this change. The time is now for our nation’s leading organizations on substance use disorder to alleviate the very word that continues to perpetuate the idea that substance use disorder is anything less than the health condition they are charged with addressing. The time is now to get rid of the word “abuse” for good.

Recovery, Transformation and The Search for Meaning

For many of us in recovery from a substance use disorder, we often cite our devastating experience with substance misuse as the catalyst for self-discovery and the facilitator of our own personal awakening.  We frequently refer to our experience with substance use disorder as a beautiful blessing borne from a horrific curse.  Even those of us who would not identify as spiritual or religious can be found regularly expressing this concept in terms of simply stating that we were catapulted into becoming better human beings.  Somehow, being touched by substance use disorder turned out to be an experience that led us to seek out who we really are and how we can continuously improve the ways in which we show up in the world.  Consequently, not only do we experience an enhanced way of living ourselves but the world around us is exposed to all of the benefits that this enhanced way of living brings.  We become better partners, siblings, parents and children.  We become more engaged and productive members of our workplaces, communities, cities and towns.  We show up as change agents in the world as we take our own personal transformative experience and use it to transform the world around us.

Some say that the human tendency to attach meaning to life events is more of a primitive brain response developed for our species survival than a spiritually significant signpost in our search for who we really are.  Others say that the inclination to find meaning in life is by no means a mere biological function of humanity and that it instead may be the most important act we undertake as human beings.

As I’ve grown over the years, I’ve concluded that both schools of thought can co-exist as correct.  I’ve married the two concepts by considering that perhaps my very survival is hinged on my ability to seek out who I really am and where I am meant to be in this world.  I’ve decided that the profound sense of purpose and fulfillment resulting from finding meaning in life events is in fact a positive thing and a magnificent motivator.  I’ve recognized that finding meaning in life events greatly enhances my experience of life and therefore makes the search for meaning a philosophy for living that is worthwhile to employ.  My life is far richer when I pay attention to the signposts and follow the path to which they point, regardless of the origin of my ability to recognize them and the source of my drive to follow them.  Interestingly enough, I have also found that how I show up in the world for others is significantly enhanced when I follow the road laid out by attaching meaning to life events.  It is fair to conclude that not only is my own experience of life enriched by finding meaning but that how others experience me in their lives is enriched as well.

My experience with substance use disorder, and my ability to have access to what I needed to initiate and sustain my recovery, is a life event from which I find much meaning.  There are countless ways that I have been transformed as a result of this experience, and there are just as many ways that the world around me has been transformed as well.  The ripple impact of one person being able to find recovery and go on to live an enhanced life is immeasurable.  The wave of positive change that one transformed human being can bring into the world is endless.

Whether it is a silly biological tick of the brain that leads me to find meaning or a deeply spiritual alignment with something greater than myself, all I know is this: my ability to find recovery from a substance use disorder has transformed me into a better human being that has in turned transformed the world around me.  When I think of the endless wave of positive change that one individual finding recovery can cause to swell up, I can’t help but think of what the world would look like if we had more of these waves unleashed to cascade through our homes, communities, cities, states, countries and the world.  I can’t help but search for the signposts that point toward the floodgates.

The world needs the transformation that recovery brings.

Multiple Pathways to Recovery: It Is Time That We Lead The Way

Although history has shown us many examples of the oppressed becoming the oppressor, the emergence of this human habit in the addiction recovery communities is one that raises great concern.  Infighting within any social change movement is a common, perhaps even necessary stage, but when people’s lives and well-being are at stake, it seems to me that we ought to shorten this period by taking a step back to regroup and unite.  In addition to there being a clear urgent need to break down all silos and any either/or approaches to recovery, the strengths and skills of people in recovery make us ripe to tackle this human habit with a grace that could be a model for the world.  It is time that we lead the way.

The bottom line is this: there is no one recovery pathway, resource or strategy that works or doesn’t work for everybody.  No resource ought to be excluded if it works for even just one individual and their family, as should none be forced upon those for whom they do not work.  Whether it is Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, Women for Sobriety, Lifering, Overcomers Outreach, Millati Islami, Narcotics Anonymous or any other mutual aid group, there is a place for them all. Whether it is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Enhancement Therapy or Family Behavioral Therapy, there is a place for all evidence-based treatment interventions and promising practices. Whether it is abstinence-based, moderation management, medication assisted or reduction of use, there is a place for all approaches to recovery. Whether an individual initiates and sustains recovery naturally, with no treatment or mutual aid support, or an individual initiates and sustains recovery with a high level of treatment and mutual aid supports, a path ought to paved and room made for any possible course of action an individual selects as best for them.  In order for more people to have access to recovery, we need all of our existing options and alternatives to be equally accessible and supported as we continue to seek out even more.

For those of us who find ourselves fanatical about one particular pathway or overly zealous in our slandering of another, it is time that we do some personal soul-searching about the origins of our attitudes, ideas and beliefs.  For those of us who demonize a particular resource or deny its validity for those whom may have benefited from it, the time is now that we take stock of the possible harm we may be causing.  One recovery pathway will work for one person while another pathway will work for somebody else, and there is place in this world for both paths – for all paths – to coexist peacefully with a little bit of the open-mindedness, ego-management, acceptance, tolerance and love that many of us in recovery have learned to practice.  It is time that we lead the way.

Many Pathways: Parallels Between Spirituality and Recovery

The parallel in division that we see between the multiple spiritual pathways and the multiple recovery pathways is remarkable. Perhaps it is no irony that spirituality and recovery go hand in hand for many people. The notion that there is only one path to reach the same destination is a concept deeply rooted in language and cultural variances. When I consider the rich diversity present in our world, I am filled with an overwhelming gratitude that there are so many different pathways to recovery. I think of how many more lives we would lose if there really was only one pathway to travel on along the journey away from the hell of addiction toward the destination of the beauty of recovery.

With the last name Feldman, people often make the assumption that I am Jewish. While it is true that I have Jewish heritage, I was not raised in the Jewish faith and therefore do not identify as Jewish. Growing up in a non-religious household left the door wide open for me to investigate my spirituality and piece together my own set of beliefs. From a young age, I found myself exploring and picking up little bits of wisdom along the way from religions or spiritual practices such Catholicism, Christianity, Buddhism, Kaballah, Taoism and more. I went from being “saved” by Billy Graham at Veterans Stadium to learning about mindfulness from reading Thich Nhat Hanh. The opportunity to discover for myself what was in alignment with my own inner truth was extraordinarily helpful in recognizing that there isn’t just one right religion or spiritual path for everybody. Instead I found enormous worth in all of the religions and spiritual practices I learned about, and I found even more value in the opportunity to take from them all and weave together a quilt made of threads that contained what felt right for me. I often struggled when faced with dogma or doctrine claiming that one particular way was the only way, and I always knew deep within that this was not true. I was able to recognize that it was impossible for any of these different pathways to be the one and only true path since all of them worked for so many people. I’m forever grateful for having grown up in this lesson because it helped shape my ability to be open-minded and transcend division among pathways.

As a person in long-term recovery from a substance use disorder, I’ve experienced a parallel process much like that of my spiritual journey. With a foundation laid down in 12-step programs, people often make the assumption that I remain solely a 12-step program member. While it is true that I have experience with and have gained great insight, knowledge, tools and support from my involvement with 12-step programs, I do not identify as a member of a single one. I was 13 years old when I was first introduced to addiction recovery through treatment and mutual aid groups and went on to experience many different treatment interventions, mutual aid groups, philosophies and approaches when it comes to addiction recovery. Much like my journey through creating a quilt of my own set of spiritual practices and beliefs, I also came to knit together various threads of ideas, tools and practices to support my addiction recovery journey. Additionally, just as I found in my experience with a number of religions, I struggled when confronted with dogma or tradition claiming that one particular recovery strategy, program or pathway was in fact the one and only true path. I found the same inability for that to sit right deep within me for I was able to recognize that it was impossible for any of these different recovery pathways to be the only true path when all of them or components of them worked for so many individuals. I’m forever grateful for having grown up in the recovery process in a way that allowed for appreciation and incorporation of multiple pathways to recovery that transcends any division.

Consider the following example: There is a convention in Philadelphia, PA that attracts attendees from all across the country. Some attendees will be traveling by airplane, others by car, some by train and still others by bus. Some will travel long distances while others will be coming from only blocks away. Some will listen to music during the trip while others will be reading a book along the way. For every attendee of this convention, each has taken either a slightly or even drastically different pathway to reach the same destination. In the end, all are sitting as one in the same place regardless of how they got there. All are thankful that there was access to many airplanes, cars, trains and buses, for if there had only been access to one mode of transportation, many attendees would not have made it to the convention.

Recovery is like this convention. We want as many people as possible to make it to the destination of recovery and in order to do so, we have to ensure that there is a vast array of resources, strategies, tools, services and supports for individuals to self-select and choose from as they embark on their journey. There is no one right path, there is no one only path – there are many, many pathways for individuals to take. There are a multitude of threads that an individual seeking to initiate and sustain recovery can utilize as they piece together and sew their own recovery quilt made up of what works for them. It is time that we all transcend any division between pathways and instead aim to ensure that all of the different threads an individual may need are made accessible, available and supported so they too may find the beauty of recovery. Just as the convention needs attendees to arrive so it can actually become a convention, recovery needs all those who seeking it to arrive so that our world can truly recover.

Lessons Learned and Building Bridges

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

When we look back on the Civil Rights movement, the formation and rise of the Black Panthers was a critical pressure point in what still exists today as a journey toward true equality for darker skinned Americans.  While much had been gained by the peaceful non-violent approach preceding it, including the dismantling of the discriminatory and heinous Jim Crow system, the Black Panthers movement was founded on an unwillingness to accept anything less than comprehensive equality.  For many, there was an acute awareness that conditions were still far from close to where they needed to be and, in turn, countless individuals, families and communities were suffering.  Led primarily by those most impacted, young black males, the Black Panther stance was a far more assertive and at times aggressive refusal to settle for slow, small gains for equality.  While this approach conflicted with and at times even appeared to undermine the peaceful, non-violent way of doing business, ultimately both approaches were necessary ingredients to facilitating social change.  When looking back, I for one can’t help but wonder: how much more progress could have been made if there had been less division between the two approaches and more of a unified front and greater attempt at working together?

Today we see similar dynamics in the addiction recovery advocacy movement.  For many years, dedicated and passionate leaders in the movement have diplomatically fought the good fight to decrease stigma, increase access to resources and implement effective public policies around substance use disorder and recovery.  The endless hard work of these great leaders scattered throughout recovery community organizations, public offices, advocacy organizations, prevention and treatment provider agencies, private foundations, managed care organizations and more has resulted in significant gains over the past 30 years.  Individuals and families in or seeking recovery have certainly reaped monumental benefits, some of which include hard earned public funding, a surge in community-based recovery support services, a growing base of research driven evidence-based practices, increased access to a more diverse range of resources and pockets of safer spaces to disclose living with a substance use disorder or being a person in recovery.  While the work of our movement’s leadership and boots-on-the-ground soldiers is admirable, commendable and invaluable, some of us find ourselves to feel a growing unrest.  Some of us find ourselves unable to accept anything less than comprehensive equity in resources for individuals and their families living with a substance use disorder.  Some of us find that a far more assertive approach is necessary as we watch more and more of our friends, families and community members dying each day.

As the addiction recovery advocacy movement marches on, I think about our lessons learned from the Civil Rights movement.  I think about how the diplomatic and peaceful approach is necessary and most effective at times, and I also consider how the more assertive, in-your-face, we demand change NOW approach is most necessary and effective at other times.  I think about the wealth of knowledge and insight that can be learned from our movement’s great leaders, and I consider all that our movement’s great leaders can learn from its young army of change agents bubbling up across the country and the world.  Ultimately, I think about how much more progress can be made if we all find ways to minimize any division between the two instrumental social change approaches and seek out ways to build bridges to the other instead.   With great battles to fight in order to ensure that every single individual and their family at risk for or living with a substance use disorder has access to whatever it is they need to initiate and sustain recovery, I think about how our movement needs to find as many ways as possible to unite and move forward.  My hope is that this thinking is embraced by us all, for we truly do have a common goal: making substance use disorder prevention, early intervention, treatment and recovery a reality for all those who need it.

We Are Uber: Peer Support

Uber drivers and peer-based recovery support service providers have a great deal in common.

If you’re interested in providing transportation services as an Uber driver, there are a few mandates you must abide by. Some of the initial requirements include having access to a newer, 4-door model vehicle that is fueled, registered, inspected and 100% fit to drive. In addition to meeting these initial requirements, you are also obligated to maintain and sustain the vehicle’s safety and cleanliness. Regular oil changes, quality brakes, a clean interior, and working windshield wipers are just some examples of the routine maintenance necessary in order to provide transportation services as an Uber driver. The idea is that in order to provide quality transportation services, you must take care of the vehicle being used to deliver them. Failure to sustain the vehicle’s cleanliness could make for an unpleasant service experience for customers, and failure to maintain the vehicle’s safety could put service recipients in harm’s way. A good Uber driver takes care of their vehicle and in turn provides quality services. If the vehicle is in some way compromised, the good Uber driver parks it until repairs are made and it is safe to be on the road again.

When it comes to providing peer-based recovery support services in roles such as a Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) or Certified Recovery Specialist (CRS), we are in many ways like Uber.

The vehicle through which services are provided is actually our very own selves, and choosing to serve as a peer-based recovery support service provider is a lot like choosing to use our own vehicle to become an Uber driver. There are some initial requirements that must be met such as stability in and experience with recovery, empathy and compassion, an ability to articulate our lived experience to others, and knowledge of relevant resources in the community. Although meeting the initial requirements is enough to get us out on the road as peer-based recovery support service providers, maintaining and sustaining the vehicle – the vehicle in this case being ourselves – is essential to providing quality recovery support services. If we fail to take care of ourselves, we are actually reneging on our obligations. More so however, failure to maintain and sustain our vehicle’s wellness will put both those we serve and ourselves in harm’s way. It is essential that we fill up our gas tank and perform routine maintenance on ourselves in order to provide safe, quality services to others. If for some reason our vehicle becomes compromised, a good peer-based recovery support service provider will pull themselves off of the road for a bit as they make repairs and fill up the tank.
For both Uber drivers and peer-based recovery support service providers, the good news is that with regular maintenance, a full tank of gas, attention paid to early warning signs of trouble and a steadfast commitment to providing quality services, we can often avoid having to pull completely off of the road. Even better news is that if we do find ourselves needing to park our vehicle for a bit in order to undergo repairs, there are plenty of resources available to patch us up and get us back out on the road again.

#RecoverOutLoud over Coffee

When stopping at the same Dunkin Donuts I stop at every single day, a lovely lady who works there (and who asks me nearly every single day “how are you?”) asked me how I was doing this morning. I told her that I was at the amazing Recovery Walk yesterday, explained what it was and shared with her that I’m a person in long-term recovery. 
She turned around to check behind her, then turned back around and whispered out the drive thru window “I have eight years” with a smile and a thumbs up.

As I pulled off, I thought about two things. One of them was: you really often never know who is in recovery.

The second thing was: Eight years in recovery is an awesome, beautiful, heroic accomplishment that should not require having to check behind you and whisper about.  

It was a reminder of why I do what I do. I want the lovely lady at Dunkin Donuts, with all of the community-enhancing gifts of recovery that she likely has to give, to be able to better the world by being open about her recovery. 

 I want her to be able to #RecoverOutLoud.

And oh yeah, we’re getting her, maybe her family and hopefully a friend or 10 to next year’s Recovery Walk!

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.”

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Learn more about Recovery Walks!, register, start a team and begin fundraising today by visiting http://www.recoverywalks.org