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
Good Afternoon. Thank you for your virtual presence. I am, virtually and otherwise, Merlyn Karst, a person in long-term recovery, as a result, I haven’t found it necessary to take a drink of alcohol for 22 years, my only drug of choice. My standard answer to how much did you drink is—just enough—until it wasn’t.
I found that alcohol is out to kill us, but first wants to get us alone. I retired early and went from corporate executive to consultant while paying the consequences of DUI’s through Nancy Clark’s Alternative Sentencing Program. No jail time and the positive experience led me to stay with the program as administrator for several years. Time in our Recovery Centers, instead of jail, saved lives, families, and productive careers. In sustained recovery, I have had a full and healthy life and have accumulated 88 years of lived experience. After 27 years in Orange County, my wife and I relocated to Denver, Colorado. I immediately pursued activities in the justice system and the agencies serving the recovery community. It led to a meeting in St Paul, Minnesota in 2001. The meeting centered around the fact that by our silence, we let others define us. We needed to put a face and a voice on recovery. With respect for anonymity and its role in recovery, we set forth to develop a language, an identity, and a message so that individuals in recovery could stand up, stand out, speak out, and be proud about their reality of their recovery. Faces and Voices of Recovery was born. It birthed a movement that is now national and international. We adjourned the meeting with the words, from our movement’s leader, Bill White. Let’s go make some history—and so we have and so we are.
I was privileged to be its board chair for the first six years. At the same time, we started the RCO, Advocates for Recovery-Colorado. We featured advocacy and peer supported services and training. We assisted in bringing the Betty Ford Children’s Program to Denver. I learned very quickly the value of an executive director to the growth and success of a national and/or recovery community organization. I praise and appreciate Pat, Patty, Tonya, and now Donella. A few months ago, we moved back to California and Orange County from Denver. Denver was the birthplace of an organization many of you know as The Phoenix, now growing nationally and internationally. Besides renewing a relationship with Nancy and Alternative Sentencing Programs, I made contact with Lauren Deperine, the Director of The Phoenix in Orange County and San Diego. Through Lauren, I was introduced to Donella Cecrle, and through her, Janie Tsao. Our common interest was the development of a Recovery Community Organization (RCO) that could serve the needs and interests of a variety of those principally involved in Substance Use Disorders (SUD). We want to be a catalyst for expanding peer specialist training and support, with an eye to providing career path opportunities. Though Donella, Janie, and I have not physically met until this week, (from 6 feet) The 3 of us have contributed to the ZOOM Boom through countless virtual meetings and attended several trainings and conferences. Following the work of Donella and several others, we are together today to share progress in the development of our new RCO, The Purpose of Recovery. We invite you to be a part of our purpose and promise as we become a collective of the purpose and promise of recovery for all. As our logo portrays, our heart is truly in it. We must always remember, they won’t care about what we know until they know that we care.
Merlyn Karst, Recovery Ambassador