In this blog, the opiate epidemic calls our attention to loves and lives lost, but also to growing data resources and harm reduction practices which bring new and innovative approaches.
Author Sam Quinones chronicles the history that brought us to this crisis in his work Dreamland—The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic. It opens the vulnerable heart of individuals in smaller communities and provides stories. Included were stories from Colorado, Ohio, and Kentucky. Those stories have the power to persuade us to pay attention. Large quantities of prescription pain meds from pill mills and pain clinics, started by opportunistic doctors, supplied and grew the number of addicts. In one community, a pill-based economy developed. A path to SSI led to a Medicaid card, and pills became currency. Fentanyl use grew. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. Fentanyl is 80-100 times more powerful than morphine, the substance to which heroin metabolizes, and is commonly used as an end-of-life sedative or during operational anesthesia–A lab produced opioid that some user’s unwittingly purchase and use following introduction into a community. Drugs laced with a lab produced chemical that converts euphoria into a death act.
I was prompted by something I read: “We get as sick as our family members. We have people who have given their children Narcan and brought them back and done it multiple times — that is traumatizing.” I had read much about what was really happening in Orange County and the frustration of so many families about what to do. We talked and read about Fentanyl strips and other manner and means of drug testing. On May 20th the LA Times opened with a top headline that said: ”Fentanyl killed their kids; parents call for action.” The article said that many families mobilized after a wave of deaths that began in 2019. High schoolers and collegians were dying from taking Oxycontin or Xanax after ingesting pills laced with Fentanyl. In the same article, I noted these words:
The problem is going to be solved by the grass-roots efforts of affected families.
The article was 3/4ths page long but introduced me to Mike Capelouto, a suburban dad, who discovered his 20-year-old daughter, Alexandra, dead from an overdose. The authorities called the death an accident. That launched a drive to get attention to the specific incident and bring the attention of the legislature to a bill called Alexandra’s Law. It was built on a platform of “Drug Induced Homicide”. It was meant to bring justice to Alexandra and others. It failed to pass.
I lived in Denver, Colorado for several years. I wrote a blog and also columns for the Denver Post Hub. I was on the Drug Strategy Commission and had an interest in harm reduction. I learned of a Vancouver, Canada site that I saw as harm reduction calling for needle exchange, on-site drug use supervision, testing, and counseling. Counseling about a better, healthier life without facing increasing problems with newly crafted and perhaps deadly synthetics. We had introduced a needle exchange, sharps disposal, and other peer supported connections. My relationship with The Denver Harm Reduction Action Center allowed introduction to the legislative body for attention. No final law was passed. The oldest nemesis— NIMBY and Stigma— were hard at work in postponing a passage. The idea is growing and in the face of synthetics and other growing experiments, we lack specific knowledge about what is going on. Testing is always a significant factor and access is critical.
An article appeared in the LA Times concluding that supervised sites for drug use are a good step but not a perfect solution. I learned that we look for progress, not perfection on our individual recovery path. It is important that I have looked to the LA Times for important attention to these matters in just the past months. We are becoming known and listened to. I appreciated a comment made by a regular visitor to a site who said, “We are a community”. When not using, twice a week he assists others to overcome overdoses just as he had overcome overdoses a multiple number of times. Perhaps, no more.
For the Parents: Have a meaningful conversation with your family. Reject the notion that “it can’t happen to you or your family.” Talk aloud about the threat opioid abuse and synthetics bring to your family and close friends. Commit to asking the tough questions. At town halls, prevention activities at schools, community vigils, walks, and fun runs. Get involved and participate. Don’t be shy, for your voice may save precious lives in your own community. Visit drugfree.org for support and information.
Merlyn Karst—Recovery Ambassador
On February 27, I celebrated my 90th year on the planet. In all the years, alcohol was my only drug of choice. It served me well until it didn’t. Active in the recovery movement for many years in Colorado, I returned to California in 2019 and helped to start a new non-profit called The Purpose of Recovery (TPOR). At The Purpose of Recovery we value positive recovery language through our peer support services and community advocacy.
Recently I noted that Alcohol Awareness was being diminished by all else going on and I determined to edit my recovery language to feature alcohol and its effects.
What I noticed is that my language works in any month, whether it is Alcohol Awareness Month (April) or not. Ok, so who do we help (individuals, families and those in recovery) and what do we tell them about alcohol? Particularly, how do we guide their research on talking to kids?
Each April since 1987, the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) has sponsored Alcohol Awareness Month to increase public awareness and understanding, reduce stigma, and encourage local communities to focus on alcoholism and alcohol-related issues.
Most adults in the United States who drink alcohol drink moderately and without complications. At the same time, alcohol-related problems are among the most significant public health issues in the country. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) affects about 15 million adults in the United States, and an estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the nation. Read more here.
A young person’s brain is not fully developed until they reach their mid to late 20s, and any drinking while the brain is still developing can be problematic.
Regardless of age, alcohol lowers inhibitions and impairs judgment and coordination. It can also increase the incidence of aggressive or violent acts. Consuming large quantities in a short period of time — or binge drinking— which is defined as having 4-5 drinks on one occasion and is common among young people — can cause alcohol poisoning and even death. More than 16 million Americans misuse or are addicted to alcohol, which is a legal substance that is widely available and normalized in our society. Prolonged, heavy use of alcohol can lead to addiction as alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism. There is liver and heart disease, and other health consequences such as a weakened immune system and increased risk of developing certain cancers. Accidents related to alcohol use are among the leading causes of death for teens.
Every April the National Council for Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) sponsors Alcohol Awareness Month to increase awareness and understanding of the causes and treatment of the nation’s #1 public health problem: alcoholism. As part of Alcohol Awareness Month, the NCADD says local, state, and national events will be “aimed at educating people about the treatment and prevention of alcoholism, particularly among our youth, and the important role that parents can play in giving kids a better understanding of the impact that alcohol can have on their lives.
Alcohol Awareness Month Resources —NCADD has several helpful resources on its website. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) underage drinking prevention campaign, ‘Talk. They Hear You,’ has talking points and tools for coalitions, parents, and caregivers so they can start talking to their children early—as early as 9 years old—about the dangers of alcohol.
The Alcohol Action Network (AAN) is a project of the American Public Health Association and is a nationwide network of alcohol prevention practitioners and researchers engaging in alcohol policy issues in their states or local communities. AAN was initially established to address the shifting alcohol policy landscape at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to bring prevention specialists together to address policy issues as they arise.
I grew up in South Dakota with the awareness that Sioux Native-Americans were a seen and unseen part of life. A friend, Don Coyhis, is a recognized leader and mentor of the Sioux Nation. He posted the following:
Thinking positive thoughts will flush out negative thoughts. There is not enough room for both. When we do have both, there is an internal argument with ourselves until we decide which one should go. There is only room for one. We change ourselves by being convinced, which means “to be persuaded by argument or evidence. – Don Coyhis
Look forward to becoming a positive thinker and using language that supports others in recovery whether from alcohol or other substances.
You may be surprised when your friends become a “flusher” of negative thoughts too.
Merlyn Karst, Recovery Ambassador
Vim: energy and enthusiasm.
Vigor: mental and moral strength.
Virtualocity: The ability to move about among faces and places for learning opportunities. With vim and vigor, I can always go there, without leaving my chair and absorb things to share. I don’t forget diet and exercise, spiritual imperfection, and knowing real recovery.
Homelessness is an everlasting and baffling problem nationwide, with few answers.
We have softened the language to say the homeless problem is about the “housed and unhoused.” In a recent LA Times article, Soledad Ursula, writing for the California Peace Coalition, said that first, attention must be given to those homeless having problems with drug addiction and untreated severe mental illness. There is a need for statewide funding of, among other things, recovery support services and medically assisted treatment. All to be provided by outpatient and residential care facilities. California’s CCAPP supports Recovery Residences. There is hope and funding for solutions.
I also saw a recent headline in the Times OC that said, Center of Hope to offer services, pathway. Breaking ground January 31, a Salvation Army Project looks to integrate homeless people back into the community. The campus will include an emergency shelter, 72 bed supportive housing facility, a wellness center, a 175 bed drug and rehabilitation facility, and a research and innovation center. They have always been an Orange County asset.
I recall from my years with Faces and Voices of Recovery and State RCOs, examples of sober living models. Early on I met two of the founders of models that work. Paul Malloy, Oxford House, and Jay Davidson, The Healing Place. Jay is author of the book, Miracle on Market, the Healing Place Story. I recently saw virtual presentations on both. I experienced the Oxford House success in Colorado. Just Google them for stories of hope, help, and recovery.
The first Oxford House was opened in Silver Spring, Maryland in 1975 by Paul Molloy. They chose the name Oxford House in recognition of Oxford Group, a religious organization that influenced the founders of AA. As reported, there are over 3,200 Oxford Houses, operating under the Oxford House Model. In the United States and other countries.
Each house is based on three rules: No use of drugs or alcohol and no disruption, and the house must be run democratically. That makes them very good neighbors.
They are self-sustaining sober houses utilizing the Oxford House model. Diverse, with men, women, some women with children. During 2021 more than 50,000 individuals lived in the Oxford House network and more than 80% stayed sober.
Jay Davidson shares his experiences and thoughts about the residential, long-term, social model recovery program he created as co-founder of The Healing Place. A model hopefully sustained and maintained long after he is gone. The program has been proven to be effective. The Healing Place was recognized as a “Model That Works” by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The Healing Place model has been replicated in 14 Recovery Kentucky sites across the Commonwealth as well as sites in Richmond, Virginia and Raleigh, North Carolina. The vision of The Healing Place is that everyone it serves can lead a meaningful and productive life. The continuum of care has expanded from off-the-street, to detox, to long-term and outpatient recovery services. As in the beginning, The Healing Place continues to serve those in need of help regardless of race, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, or economic status. There are more than 6,000 alumni; over 150,000 people served, 8,000+ individuals served annually. Many lead and staff other Healing Places. The Healing Place has also taken the peer-driven social model and created an intensive outpatient program to reach more men and women who are struggling with addiction.
Another person I met early in the recovery movement was Nora Volkow, Director of NIDA. Previously, I wrote that relapse has two parts. Here is a recent quote from Dr Volkow.
Medicine can perhaps learn from the recovery world, where a distinction is increasingly made between a one-time return to drug use, a “slip” or “lapse,” and a return to the heavy and compulsive use pattern of an individual’s active addiction—the more stereotypical understanding of relapse. The distinction is meant to acknowledge that a person’s resolve to recover may even be strengthened by such lapses and that they need not be catastrophic for the individual’s recovery.
She commented on the current overdose statistics, saying,
We need to change the way we think. As our definitions of recovery continue to evolve, those who work to treat substance use disorders- and evaluate said treatment- need to do the same. I do see some very positive aspects that we’ve all learned through the COVID pandemic, and one of them is being able to recognize how extraordinarily important it is for all to have social contacts, to have communities, to have friendships, to reach out to help others. we will be able to overcome it. Because in situations of stress, we have the capacity to come together and that coming together brings the best in all of us. And it is that that will lead us to a better tomorrow, as we overcome the COVID pandemic, but also the opioid crisis.
I leave you with these thoughts:
Learning gains brilliance and produces resilience. Respect the connection between head and heart. Sober living in Habitation brings about good habits, rehabilitation, and real recovery.
Merlyn Karst, Chair & Recovery Ambassador
The Purpose of Recovery
In order to write a worthwhile little, I have to watch, listen and read a lot. I look for other’s words to capture, contemplate, and pass along. I saw a quote from Oprah that said “The world is upside down”. The context related to a tragic incident of lawlessness but had broad application. Perception is in the eye of the beholder. Drugs drive crime in multiple ways. I thought of a familiar statement and changed it to fit the moment. Ask not what drugs will do for you, but what you will do for drugs. For the addict, the answer is “almost anything.”
I remember the corner drug store. It had comics, ice cream sodas, and a variety of interesting items. Oh yes, and drugs. All secure, and the unmentionable items were in the unmentionable cabinets. No “corner drug stores” today but now there are drug corners with young entrepreneurs. There are many jobs available but just as many barriers to access and an easy and perhaps only path is selling drugs. It brings cash and survival. The cartels are also busy recruiting. Illegal activity may grow but the threat of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration has diminished. Making the risks worth those taken.
I write during the holiday season. Incidentally, I was reminded that the three Kings journey to Jesus’s birthplace used the first GPS—God Provided Star. In this season it’s hard to find a reason to be jolly when the halls are decked with melancholy. The public is fearful and fatigued. But there are positives. We are so much better off than a year ago. I like the statement “we have many more tools in our tool bag.” The virus is going through predictable cycles with variants perhaps more contagious but much less threatening. Delta is hanging in there, but Omicron fits the cycle. Vaccines are effective and progress for more and better ones are coming, along with better therapeutics. For the needle adverse there may be pills. There is confusion and chaos in communication. Mark Twain said, “It ain’t so much the things that people don’t know that makes trouble in this world, as it is the things that people know that ain’t so.” During the knowing and unknowing, the task is finding balance between living the life we wish it to be and what it is. There is also an alcohol and other drugs epidemic. Much attention and funding has been given to opioids in recognition of the thousands reported deaths and widespread use of Narcan to save thousands of more lives.
I repeat another quote; “We have many more tools in our tool bag”. There is medically assisted recovery, there are many paths to recovery, peer services, methadone take-home, community awareness and support, and harm reduction. William White’s paper, Random Recovery Reflections is a must read. He writes on recovery advocacy and harm reduction as follows:
“Our involvement in harm reduction is a way of saying to those still in the life: We will do all we can to protect your life. We will do all we can to prevent irreversible damage to yourself and others. We will reduce the obstacles and burdens that could slow your future recovery. We do these things in hope for the day you will join us in our journey of healing and service.”
In another William White paper, titled Recovery Representation Revisited, are these words:
“What are the most important national, state, and local decision-making venues related to alcohol and other drug problems? What institutional bodies address the intersection of AOD problems and policy/legislation. Are the voices of recovery representatives present at these decision-making tables? A long-term goal of the RCO is to expand the range of recovery representation across spheres of community influencer and to expand the menu of representation activities.”
My organization, The Purpose of Recovery, a non-profit Recovery Community Organization (RCO) is quite new. A Foundation provides the funding foundation for essential administration, operational, and governance factors that allows focus on providing services and being known. Other funding sources and donors become an active and focused part of providing more direct benefits at little or no cost to those served. We produced the first Recovery Rally in Orange County with 52 partners. We are a member of Faces and Voices of Recovery’s Association of Recovery Community Organizations, (ARCO); Associated with The California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP); and belong to an Orange Country collaboration of SUD and mental health providers. Within all is a constituency of consequence.
The Recovery Movement has come a long way. I mentioned having many tools in the tool bag. Along the way, we have had many tool makers and they crafted programs based on science, stories, and the accumulating knowledge. At the virtual Leadership Summit, William Moyers led a panel reflecting the origins, happenings, and experience at the historic Summit in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2001. It had three goals: (a) to celebrate and honor recovery in all its diversity, (b) to foster advocacy skills in the tradition of American advocacy movements, and (c) to produce principals, language, strategy, and leadership to carry the movement forward. Those goals have been more than met through the times and challenges.
I leave you with the words of an old song. Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and don’t mess with mister in-between. Let the politicians work diligently at finding the in-between. For this Christmas, the government’s big stocking has been sewn shut at the top. Enjoy better times ahead with a Well and Happy New Year!!
Merlyn Karst, Recovery Ambassador
I write this as we celebrate another special holiday. Thanksgiving. It is indeed a grateful deed.
Though we should give thanks for many things each day, we single out this day to express gratitude. It is a time of family, fellowship, food, and fun—as it should be.
For those of us in active and sustained recovery it is a special day to give thanks. Family dynamics may differ, cultures play a role, but at the core is thankfulness and gratitude with family and friends. Those who experience the fellowship of AA recognize that the two most favored subjects for meeting discussion are gratitude and acceptance. My activity in mindfulness always includes both. At this point, I will add a bit of humor. Discussing politics at a family gathering can result in saving money on Christmas gifts. Considering inflation, it could benefit.
The pandemic changed this holiday event in so many ways. Gratitude was limited to thoughts of survival and “I don’t have it—yet”. However, we could come together virtually and maybe be more forthcoming and open with feelings. No masks to show frowns and hide smiles. We talk of turkey, gravy, dressing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Seldom is it said: “and alcohol”. Alcohol is legal, cheap, available, and acts as intended and more. We do know that alcohol causes more family turmoil, distress, and death than the other drugs. Alcohol kills slower, but Fentanyl has now entered the picture which is quickly deadly, and family gatherings need to share this information. Addicts must take risks to avoid “dope sickness.” There can be controversy but if balanced with care and concern for each other, there can be help, hope, and healing where needed. All were present as my brother, brother-in-law, and I accumulated over 100 years of sobriety.
I am grateful and accept the science of addiction. It explains the why of “why doesn’t he/she just quit.”
To know and understand the role of the brain in alcohol and other drug use is vital to living life with health and well-being. Naloxone (Narcan) is defined as an opioid antagonist and defies death from overdose. I am grateful and accept the knowledge of the many paths to, of, and in recovery from substance use disorders. I am grateful and accept the knowledge of the elements of harm reduction and medically assisted recovery. Both are a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. Just as the many paths to and of recovery do, it broadens the spectrum of chance, choice, and change and serves persons and families. In early recovery, the first steps are investigation and contemplation. Now there is more to contemplate. Another word to contemplate is one I just learned--gradualism. The goal can be abstinence but a commitment to a process and toward progress should prevail.
William White has written countless papers over the years. A most recent one is titled On the Shoulders of Giants, which honors the addiction treatment and recovery advocacy pioneers and profiles 35 people upon whose shoulders the infrastructure of our field stands. Among names I recognize are Bill Wilson, Jimmy Kinnon, and Jean Kilpatrick, founders of AA, NA, and Women in Sobriety, respectively. There are the more recent prominent pioneers such as Lillian Roth, 1910-1980, and Jason Robards, 1922-2000, who Bill says,
Challenged prevailing stereotypes about addiction and addiction recovery through public disclosure of their own recovery stories.
Names I learned early on were the policy advocates who politically nurtured the birth and evolution of modern addiction understanding (e.g., Marty Mann, 1904-1980, Senator Harold Hughes, 1922-1996, Senator Paul Wellstone, 1944-2002). I met Senator Wellstone and Betty Ford. I have maintained connections and associations “Beyond Betty” over the years. They include the Betty Ford Center, Hazelden, and the Children’s program. Bill White, whose shoulders I have perched on, said with gratitude to the many of those,
Who stretched my mind, mentored my work, and showed me by their example how to conduct one’s life in this unique service ministry.
I am personally grateful and so should the millions in active and sustained recovery be what for may be termed the grateful deeds of the pioneers and present advocates in the recovery movement.
There is no vaccine for addiction. However, choosing a path to recovery and choosing to be vaccinated for COVID both lead to health, well-being, and peace of mind. Both serve the person, family, and community.
November is gratitude month and as it ends, we look forward to the next holidays. Though some don’t do deities, there is a Christ in Christmas. It is a time of caring and sharing. As I once read and wrote, before the sermon on the mount, Jesus was reported to have said;
If you don’t believe in me, believe in what I teach.
One of those teachings called for us to love one another. Happy Holidays, from The Purpose of Recovery Team.
Merlyn Karst — Recovery Ambassador
We celebrated September as Recovery Month. For me and others, October has been Discovery Month. In that regard, I am reminded of the quote from Albert Einstein,
Condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance.
We have heard the expression mind over matter. The science of addiction tells us that the brain is very active in determining the best ways to handle pleasure and pain. For pain it wants less of it and for pleasure it wants more of it. The brain’s receptors are tuned to how the chemical dopamine is produced and the best neuron pathways from which to receive reward. As addiction progresses, it blocks other functioning pathways to the other parts of the brain. It guides reason and rationale in harmful ways. Cravings crowd out thoughts beyond the many ways to sourcing dopamine. Mind over matters seems not to matter.
The Purpose of Recovery, a recovery community organization (RCO) has presented monthly workshops, the most recent was titled, Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP). The workshop describes mindfulness as “not getting lost in our thoughts of the past, anxieties about the future and not ‘being happy’ all of the time but rather learning to be with the entire spectrum of our emotional experience.” A pretty good offset to mindlessness and a demand to avoid being on autopilot—stay tuned to the present moment. Breathing comes naturally but being aware of every breath is calming and reassuring. During mindfulness, there is an audience of one—you. I choose to seek a quiet mind, peaceful heart, and purpose.
I found the discussion about relapse gave me a new perspective. It breaks down relapse into the lapse and then the relapse. Lapse is what happened after the initial drink or substance use. It may be followed by shame, guilt, and remorse—if we let it. However, there is this, “well I’ve done it, I might as well….” Now, it’s “relapse.” So how do we prevent “lapse?”
Prevention ultimately talks about triggers. In my understanding, a trigger only has a function if there is something to trigger. A clouded mind with cravings, discomfort, and restlessness, may be considered loaded. Curiously, I found this statement useful;
We encourage curiosity about our experience and our reaction and encourage a curiosity about cravings.
In today’s world, science provides some answers in Medication Assisted Recovery (MAR). Be curious about this and disregard some unwarranted stigma. Another hard thing to realize is that thoughts are just thoughts. We are advised to stay present in triggering moments and recognize high risk situations. I believe the word relapse is shaming and prefer setback. One can get back— on track—and not look back. Use the word that suits you but practice mindfulness in either or other words. The workshop was recorded and can be accessed here.
Mindfulness sets us up to learn.
There is a term “old school.” I’m old but I have been schooled in the here and now. As a member of the founders of Faces and Voices of Recovery, I was pleased to attend their 20th anniversary in a virtual celebration and leadership conference. The 2001 Recovery Summit marked a clarion call to shift the center of the alcohol and other drug problems arena to a focus on the lived solution for individuals, families, and communities. It marked the passing of the recovery advocacy leadership torch from an earlier generation of advocacy organizations. Now there are many torches in many hands lighting the many paths to recovery out of darkness. Associations and collaborations emerge from the shadows.
CCAPP (California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals) held the California Addiction Conference in late October in Newport Beach. The Purpose of Recovery (TPOR.org) was a sponsor, contributor, and many TPOR team members attended. The speakers were prepared professionals and presented information, statistics, and future projections to inform and motivate. Phil Rutherford, CEO of Faces and Voices of Recovery and others gave considerable focus to diversity, equity, and inclusion. I took copious notes of discovery. A historical moment: “Too many notes, dear Mozart, too many notes’ is what Emperor Joseph II supposedly said after the first performance. Mozart’s reply, “Just as many as necessary, Your Majesty.”
Pete Neilson, CEO of CCAPP was animated, informative, and personal, and gave me insight to harm reduction, a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. Just as the many paths to and of recovery do, it broadens the spectrum of chance, choice, and change. I learned a new word from Pete— gradualism. It expresses the realistic and practical side of harm reduction. It also adds credence to my support of medically assisted recovery to allow the return of rationale and reason.
I repeat, curiosity will lead to healthy, helpful, and hopeful learning.
I heard a statement, “What the people need is a good listening to.” John Steinbeck wrote about storytellers and their importance to some semblance of well-being in the California camps and the gatherings during the depression, drought, and dust bowls— the “dirty thirties.”
And it came about in the camps that the storyteller grew into being, so that the people gathered in the low firelight to hear the gifted ones and the people listened, and their faces were quiet with listening.
Oh, and there was music. So many western songs have sweet and sorrowful lyrics. My latest find was this lyric,
and once upon a time, You turned the water into wine, An’ now, on my knees, I’m turning to You, Father, Could You help me turn the wine back into water?
Wishes and worries don’t change the past. Be in the know and now.
I leave you with this thought. Being ashamed brings regret and remorse. Being shamed brings resentment and retribution. Words matter.
Merlyn Karst, Recovery Ambassador
On September 25, with the initiative of The Purpose of Recovery, the first annual Recovery Connection Rally in Orange County was held at Kiwanis Land Park in Garden Grove. The temperature was in the 70s — a day to be lived in comfort and joy. It was a memorable occasion for all of us. September is National Recovery Month, begun in 1989 under the name of Treatment Works! Now in its 32nd year, the theme is RECOVERY IS FOR EVERYONE: Every Person, Every Family, Every Community. With registration necessarily capped at 500, a host of Community Partners showcased the broad spectrum of resources available to those seeking help and hope.
The hundreds of attendees enjoyed music, line dancing, speakers, and a lunch of hot dogs, cheeseburgers, grilled cheese, chips and drinks. Kids were bouncing, having snow cones, and their faces painted. With all of that, the biggest take-away was new knowledge, friendships, and fellowship. As an introductory speaker, I shared the following remarks. Read on and be present in heart and mind.
As a person in active and sustained recovery for more than two decades. I enjoy the benefits of that reality. The primary benefit is longevity. My next birthday will be my 90th. I woke this morning seeking a peaceful heart, a quiet mind, and a purpose. My path to recovery began almost 30 years ago. My recovery paths took me to Colorado and then back to California. When The Purpose of Recovery’s idea for this rally was born several months ago, there were many unknowns’, not the least of which was what place and space. We thought somewhere between a big back yard and Orange County Fairgrounds. Here we are, in Kiwanis Land Park, on a beautiful September day. Welcome. We have so many to thank as we planned and prepared with the pandemic present and the many unknowns. It would have been easy to say fuhgeddaboudit. But like on our paths to recovery, with knowns and unknowns, you persevere and move forward. Beyond our committee, we were joined by Mitch Cherness and the Orange County Collaboration. I met with Billy O’Connell, Huntington Beach this morning. I particularly want to recognize our community partners. As with the first of anything, one is not sure of what to expect. Their presence showcases the resources available in Orange County for recovery support. Thanks to so many for their preparation, presence, and purpose here today. I reserve some heartfelt thanks to all of you for being a part of this amazing event. It will be a good experience in support of our second annual recovery rally next year! The great thing about recovery—IT HAPPENS, every day, every month, every year. Many are here to celebrate recovery and others are here to find out what the celebration is all about. Please visit with our community partners for insight, assistance, and understanding. Whatever the reason for your presence, I invite you to find some joy, gain wisdom and knowledge, and pass it on.
I was privileged to be a founding member of Faces and Voices of Recovery which began 20 years ago in St Paul Minnesota. In a few days, it will celebrate 20 years with a virtual conference. In 2001, a group of us came to St Paul to construct ways and means of establishing a presence and putting a face on recovery. We needed voices with common language in recognition that by our silence we let others define us. Through discussion and planning we establish foundational messaging aimed at reducing stigma and discrimination. We set out to change the language and eliminate labels. Labels have a sticky side for a reason. I have eliminated relapse from my language and call it set-back. It allows one to get back on track, and not look back. Note how I introduced myself, not as an alcoholic, but as a person in active and sustained recovery. We were challenged to return to our communities and begin the work. I lived in Denver at the time, and we started Advocates for Recovery—Colorado.
Labels have a sticky side for a reason. I have eliminated relapse from my language and call it set-back. It allows one to get back on track, and not look back. Note how I introduced myself, not as an alcoholic, but as a person in active and sustained recovery.
I now live in Orange County, but Denver held its 19th recovery rally this year. As lived experience is foundational to peer recovery services, I will share some Denver highlights. It is the birthplace of The Phoenix Multi Sports and of Young People in Recovery, now national organizations and both are present here today. I became acquainted with the LGBT community—now there are more identities. I was not a member but a friend and ally and at one rally, we recognized an LGBT leader as the Recovery Advocate of the Year. He now heads Embark/Peer Coach Academy-Colorado with broad recovery services. I had the experience of watching the emergence of their movement and the advent of pride and purpose. To support our recovery movement, I believe those in sustained and active recovery should stand up, stand out, speak out, and be proud about it.
Here in OC, we have established the first Recovery Community Organization, The Purpose of Recovery and initiated the advent of this rally. On September 1, TPOR was a sponsor and participated in the kickoff of recovery month at the Capitol with Calrecovery and CCAPP. Our team is present here today to meet, greet, and answer questions. Our website can be reached at TPOR.org. Again, thank you for your presence and attention. Be a sponge, soak up fun, joy, and knowledge and go forth and squeeze it out among persons, family, and community. Remember, they don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care.
It has been said, the toughest lessons to be learned, is, what bridges do we cross and which ones do we burn. Let’s make connections and bridge the gap to recovery.
Merlyn Karst – Recovery Ambassador
September is National Recovery Month, begun in 1989 under the name of Treatment Works!
Now in its 32nd year, the theme is RECOVERY IS FOR EVERYONE: Every Person, Every Family, Every Community.
Each year we take the opportunity to celebrate the millions of Americans who are in recovery from mental and substance use disorders. Formally the province of SAMSHA, National Recovery Month is under the auspices of Faces and Voices of Recovery. Faces and Voices will be heard and seen across the Globe in Celebration of the Reality of Recovery in all its forms. California kicks it off from the Capitol steps on September 1st. Our new RCO, and first in Orange County, The Purpose of Recovery, will be there.
The following is a brief review of some origins and history of the Recovery Movement. In this, I include the names and words of others’ whose passion and purpose gave birth to a campaign to put a face and a voice on recovery. I learned from the words of William Cope Moyers that he and Jeff Blodgett met with leadership of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and presented an idea to build connections through building alliances. Its Leadership Forum recognized the worth and wisdom to generously fund and launch the Alliance Project. More than two years’ work was done by the Alliance Project and its affiliated sponsors. They provided focus and channels for a growing advocacy force among individuals recovered from addiction, their families, and allies. I was privileged to be a part of an Alliance Project conference with plots and plans. I first met White Bison’s Don Coyhis there and learned the lesson of connection and unity from his ball of yarn. There were focus groups and a national survey by Peter Hart & Associates called the Face of Recovery. The Paul Samuels Legal Action Center offered to assist with the issues of stigma and discrimination. Johnny Allem, who had headed The Society of Americans in Recovery, (SOAR), contributed much. All activities set the stage for the 2001 Recovery Summit and incubation of what has become The New Recovery Advocacy Movement. (NRAM).
In October 2001, at the invitation of RWJF and with support of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), nearly 200 of us assembled in St. Paul, Minnesota. The assembly was called The Faces and Voices of Recovery Summit. It met with 3 goals to be considered:
1. To celebrate and honor recovery in all its diversity
2. To foster advocacy skills in the tradition of American advocacy movements
3. To produce principles, language, strategy, and leadership to carry the movement forward.
An important consideration was the need for Unity of Action and Purpose by all recovered people – regardless of recovery path and inclusive of every path – and was regarded as essential to success. Impact on the American public is directly related to unity of message within the recovery community. Carol McDaid, who followed me as Board Chair of Faces and Voices of Recovery, reflecting on the Summit said,
Looking back, I think we took unity for granted. History is clear. We have never gotten anywhere without unity of purpose. It is my sense that some of that unity has been lost along the way… It is certainly not too late to focus efforts on unity and I think it is vital that we do so.… when we fail to do that, we are not taken seriously and all the resources that could save lives and build recovery community flow elsewhere.
William Moyers, in an interview said,
I think we have missed an opportunity to grow the movement through more philanthropy
I believe our prospects have improved greatly with the growing number of Recovery Community Organizations (RCOs) and the obvious economic and social impact on persons, families, and communities.
I agree with William White who said,
There was electricity in the air from the moment we gathered, and I distinctly remember thinking at one point that what we were doing could mark a new chapter in the history of addiction recovery—a line in time between that in the future would demarcate ‘before’ and ‘after’. You see, many of us knew of each other but we had never gathered as recovery advocates. The energy generated by finally placing so many of us in one place was amazing. That energy and its resulting shared vision is what I most remember…there was a calling for us to move beyond clinical models of care to models of community organization and cultural revitalization. All these influences stirred within the pot of the 2001 Recovery Summit. And we also knew we were there to accept a torch passed to us from recovery advocates of earlier decades.
I found the words of others’ fascinating, enlightening, and worth attention. I recall spending time with Susan Rook and credit her with the words “By Our Silence, We Let Others Define Us”. Senator Paul Wellstone was our keynote speaker and said,
This is the beginning of a civil rights movement.
The analogy to rights movements through America’s history rang throughout the three-day meeting. Jim Ramstad, our legislative champion, was present. It was a magical three days as afterwards we set out to make some history. Fact is it almost didn’t happen. Turbulent times.
As the last day came to an end, William Moyers said,
I realized we had pulled it off, we had conducted the summit in between the 911 attacks and the start of war. It was in the nick of time, and we managed to get it done. We are STILL HERE!
Faces & Voices of Recovery was born and will celebrate its 20-year anniversary in October in St Paul. William White quoted author and Pulitzer winner, Barbara Tuchman as saying,
The most difficult task of the historian is to capture the contextual roots and cultural significance of vibrant social movements while they are “still smoking”.
An interesting statement, given the events of the last few years.
We are soldiering and smoldering on and fanning the flame of the reality of Recovery. We stand up, standout, speak out, and are proud about it.
Find the Joy—and celebrate.
Merlyn Karst —Recovery Advocate
The prime source for quoted interviews is found at https://recoveryreview.blog/
Infrastructure is in the news. It’s about what it is and how to fund it. It appears there is some agreement on “hard” infrastructure spending. There are two matters of infrastructure under consideration. One is physical which we know as roads, bridges, transmission lines, etc. I read a statement that said,
Infrastructure refers to any facility we expect but do not think about—we take it for granted—because it works for us in the background.
I might add to this—until it doesn’t. The other, social infrastructure, covers a range of services and facilities that meet local and strategic needs and contribute towards a good quality of life. It includes health provision, education, community resources, etc. Important to all is the human component--knowledge, skills and abilities. All need funding and it is hard to understand the computations in trillions and billions.
In a blog from July 2018, I wrote these words…
The roads we had traveled, and the journey of hopelessness was non-directional, filled with ruts, detours, and potholes. We faced barriers to progress because of stigma and discrimination. Our new roads and bridges led to help, hope, and healing with a positive view that we could change America’s conversation and its experience with addiction.
I use some of this infrastructure language to relate to the broad issues of overcoming substance use disorders and associate mental health issues.
What are the many roads to recovery, which bridges do we cross and which ones do we burn, how do we transmit the messages and provide the knowledge, skills, and abilities to attain and sustain active recovery?
How do we provide the assurance and evidence to potential funding sources that our recovery organizations can best serve these public needs efficiently, economically, and with positive results? We have opportunities for funding through actions by congress to provide for an investment in recovery support on a scale never before seen.
The Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act (CARA) became law on July 22, 2016. CARA’s evidence-based programs have received strong federal investment. CARA 3.0 builds on the original CARA and CARA 2.0 by increasing funding for prevention, education, treatment, and recovery. Coupled with policy changes to strengthen the federal government’s response to the ongoing crisis, CARA 3.0 authorizes $785 million in dedicated resources to evidence-based prevention, enforcement, treatment, criminal justice, and recovery.
A commitment of $200 million would build a national infrastructure for recovery support services to help individuals move successfully from treatment into long-term recovery. Creating this national infrastructure would build connections between recovery support services and networks, including treatment programs, mental health providers, treatment systems, and other recovery supports. Funds may also be used on efforts to reduce stigma associated with substance use; to develop recovery wellness plans that address barriers to recovery, including social determinants of health; and to use telehealth to support recovery in rural and underserved areas.
Another $50 million is authorized in grants for peer recovery services to provide continuing care and ongoing community support for individuals to maintain their recovery.
These organizations are nonprofits that mobilize resources within and outside the recovery community to increase long-term recovery and that are wholly or principally governed by people in recovery who reflect the community served.
Notably it is coupled with $55 million for training and employment for substance abuse professionals, including peer recovery specialists, $300 million to expand evidence-based medically assisted recovery (MAR), and $30 million for deflection and pre-arrest diversion programs in the criminal justice system. There is much more. Just google CARA 3 legislation.
The title of this piece is Funding is Fundamental. The word fundamental has Latin origin and means foundation. In other words, the thing that is built upon. Over time, Faces and Voices of Recovery and the RCOs have been building to better serve and is continuing to build forward better. We have done it efficiently, economically, and with data supported evidence of success in showing the reality of recovery. Note that funding will have new emphasis on old words, like access, under-served individuals and communities, diversity, and equity. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is focused on advancing racial equity issues in the approach to drug policy. It is seeking input on how our future proposed policies, budgets, regulations, grants, or programs might be more effective in advancing equity.
There is an old saying “follow the money” I suggest that we don’t just follow it but help direct its destination. We might usurp the intention of the serenity prayer. The purpose would be to give courage to those reluctant to change perspective, accept the challenge of grant applications, and grant us the wisdom to obtain grants. It suggests to me that though blogging is useful, one might apply the writing skills to grant writing.
Merlyn Karst — Recovery Ambassador
An Ode is poetic praise. Owed is a debt recognized. Freedom is due both. My favorite Ode is Ode to Joy.
We celebrate July fourth as independence day. The liberty bell is cracked but freedom still rings. We owe much to our liberty and freedom, and unless impugned and diminished, they are being regained and appreciated. The Statue of Liberty invites with these words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free”. The peril, pain, and persistence of the Pandemic is passing. The masses can now huddle (and hug). We no longer need to show our frowns, but hide our smiles behind a mask. We look for positive paths forward. No way becomes ‘yes way’; and ‘no, I can’t’, and ‘yes, but’ becomes ‘yes, I can’. Flip the memory switch to the positive. Recall the pleasant parts and diminish past problems. Use the positive virtualosity gained. It’s a ‘yes, can-do’ exercise. Sometimes it is hard to think positive thoughts. Go to your heart as they are often hidden there. However, here is some important information that will still require attention.
Before and within the pandemic and under the radar exists an ongoing epidemic of addiction and overdose from alcohol and all illicit drugs. Its impact has grown dramatically, with startling numbers of deaths. Those who have successfully overcome substance use disorders (SUD) and achieved active and sustained recovery owe a lot to freedom.
Those with freedom from SUD and the freedom to live a life of well-being and happiness, yes, can help others find that freedom.
Today there are many paths to recovery, with medically assisted recovery, treatment, and Peer support services. Individuals have the freedom of choice and assistance to choose wisely, to survive and thrive.
In a recent Bill White blog titled Recovery Song (Dragon’s Lullaby) I read the words, “I imagine a person battling a dragon, throwing pebbles at the beast to no avail, and then finding a melody that did not kill the dragon, but for some precious moments. Put it to sleep.” words attributed to Stephanie Chang, NCSU, Social Work 516 (Addiction, Recovery, and Social Work Practice). What it described to me was medically assisted recovery. While the dragon sleeps, the free-thinking person quietly goes about seeking support and guidance to paths to recovery. The Bill White blog is more than worthy of time and attention. * See is the link below *
I was pleased to read about advocacy and legislative efforts to reform the “50-year-old drug war” laws. I would like to take some liberty (no pun intended) with Bobby Darin’s Simple Song of Freedom. Some lyrics from the refrain, “Come and sing a simple song of freedom. Sing it like you’ve never sung before. Let it fill the air, tell the people everywhere we, the people here, don’t want a war. Just take the liberty to add a word. Tell the people everywhere we, the people here, don’t want a drug war. There could be a lot of ‘don’t wants’. We have a new perspective on the words lock down and lock up. In either case, freedom is lost to pursue reasonable and effective solutions to problems plaguing the public in general. Within the cancel culture is the imperative to cancel addiction. ‘Will you?’ requires skills of trust and persuasion and ‘You will’, requires threats and intimidation. We have to advocate with a ‘will you’ approach. These words from Hazelden/BFC Foundation,
Recovery advocacy represents a hope-powered community. Our lives prove that recovery is possible, and our stories inspire action. Recovery advocacy is about replacing misinformation with understanding, misperception with empathy, and denial with hope.
My early experience with advocacy was flying to Washington DC on July fourth. Approaching Ronald Reagan airport along the Potomac, the fourth’s fireworks were visible through a left side window. What a feeling. The freedom to fly and the blessing of liberty. I was to meet the Secretary of the Interior, to advocate on behalf of those who wished to have more access and use of public lands for recreational vehicles such as snowmobiles and wheeled vehicles. The case was made to be mindful of sound reason, rationale, and responsibility with recognition of conflicting views and using ‘skills of trust and persuasion’. The Secretary, a good steward of the lands, listened, understood, and agreed to support.
We need to be skilled advocates and there is much to learn and there are many provisions for learning through resources like Faces and Voices of Recovery Advocacy Toolkit.
Kermit the Frog told us in song that there are many songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side —that someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection. May I suggest that Recovery is the Rainbow Connection for loving, living, and dreaming in its reality. White’s blog (see below) is titled, Recovery Song, Dragon’s Lullaby. We have Frog’s lullaby. It’s magic.
Merlyn Karst - Recovery Ambassador