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
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/
I completed my 89th year on Mother Earth (32,506 days of life) and decided to share some personal past.
I recently read an Interesting Fact: If you were born in the 1930s to 1945. you exist as a very special age group.
You are the smallest group of children born since the early 1900s. You are the last generation, climbing out of the depression, who can remember the winds of war and the impact of a world at war which rattled the structure of our daily lives for years. I could write pages. Over the years I have written columns but with a rule that didn’t change. Say it on one page. The font must be big enough to read yet what is written about big enough to be informative, interesting, and useful. Sometimes I wrote in rhyme. Here is a verse:
Within ourselves the answers are found, and the courage to change within our reach. When we find the courage and use it well, then lessons learned is what we teach.
One wordy writer used to end with an apology,
Sorry, this would have been shorter if I had more time.
Here is a bit about some early days. I arrived on February 27th, 1932, in a small agricultural town in South Dakota. I was the new deal brought forth by my parents. Life expectancy in 1932 was 60. Franklin Roosevelt was the new deal brought forth for the country. The dust bowl coupled with the great depression made survival the focus. Fortunately, the government provided work programs that restored the dignity of work and saved the economy. I am forever grateful for my childhood. Despite the dust and depression, it was filled with love and promise. the critical value of early childhood education was understood and pursued. I was blessed with public school and church school. Jesus taught and loved me and this I know because the bible told me so. Some years later, I read that before the sermon on the mount, Jesus said to a group of doubters,
If you don’t believe in me, believe in what I teach.
My mom told me she covered my crib with a damp sheet, to keep me cool and dust free. Despite the dust and depression, years were covered with promise. I was cared for and nourished in mind and body. My parents and grandparents had wisdom, patience, and gardens. As a toddler, I tip-toed through the turnips and tomatoes and avoided the eyes of the potatoes. I didn’t like any of them. Liked Snap, Crackle, Pop. A little noise with the nutrition.
The years rushed by. I completed elementary and high school with several students attending all 12 years together. The 50’s brought the Polio virus with recreational shut-down, a fearful public, and behaviors now familiar—isolation and social distancing. I served two years with the military during the Korean conflict and received a university degree under the GI bill. I began my first job with a major energy corporation. Then marriage. Last year, wife and I recognized our 64th wedding anniversary. A son and daughter filled out the family and are now in their 50’s having full and drug free healthy lives and careers. Our daughter and granddaughter live doors away. She is now 18 and a wise and talented young adult with all the excitement and concern this new environment may provide. Previously I spoke of my first job with a major corporation. We moved a lot. I grew in the job and it lasted for a rewarding 16 years. I then joined a Japanese company and served in high executive positions. After 17 years of employment and Japanese/American relationships, I retired early and did some consulting and handled what life dealt. During a rough period, what life dealt changed my life.
In my life alcohol and nicotine were my only drugs of choice. I gave up nicotine over 55 years ago. Though alcohol use is legal and socially acceptable, driving under its influence was not. A DUI arrest and the consequences were costly and brought shame and guilt. No injuries or damages were involved so an Orange County judge thought I would do well In Nancy Clark’s Alternative Sentencing Program. I did well and saw the program having value for me and others and stayed with the program in administration and management for several years. Observing behaviors by drug users, the education gave me a glimpse of drug influence on the brain and resultant behavior. My solid sobriety began Christmas Eve, 1997. In 1998, my wife and I moved to Denver to share family matters. It became the foundational home for my involvement in the recovery movement and over the years, many associates formed, led, and grew organizations in the recovery field. Some identified as Servant Leaders. Faces and Voices of Recovery led the way in the Recovery Movement. I was a Denver Drug Strategy Commissioner and held Committee Chairs and became aware and involved in all matter’s marijuana —medical and recreational. Never tried the drug. Remember, the science of addiction and recovery changed my life. Pot is now legal in Colorado but the process and decisions that made it so were well informed though a bit swayed by the revenue picture.
I first learned of the science of addiction and pursuit of medically assisted recovery from Nora Volkow of NIDA, National Institute of Drug Abuse. I attended trainings on the Science of Addiction and Recovery by Flo Hilliard of FAVOR and others. I got new information and a depth of understanding. It introduced new understanding and reasons for risky, unhealthy, and unexplained behavior. It opened the door for forgiveness. Absence of alcohol and other drugs changed my life over 23 years and gave me new respect for mind and body. Alcohol no longer hijacked my positive thoughts and behavior and —write this down--Don’t Drink—and Thrive! All the choices, chances, and changes provided hope and opportunity. Recovery is an attainable reality for each who seeks it.
It allowed me many more birthdays, including this one. I returned to Orange County in 2019 and with a terrific team built on passion, resolve and purpose, formed an RCO in Orange County, The Purpose of Recovery (TPOR). Our service is caring and broad, including education. Our first virtual educational presentation was The Science of Addiction and Recovery. The whole and elements are available along with a great deal of information on our website, TPOR.org . Facebook is a source for encouraging much personal contact and sharing. It announces birthdays, weddings, special recognitions, and many notable activities and actions. I passed my annual physical with positive results and have received my COVID vaccines. With peaceful heart and quiet mind and with gratitude for family, friends, and fellowships, I will begin my 90th year.. I go to sleep with a classic playing. Tonight it is Ode to Joy.
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