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/
In my previous blog, I wrote about the wonder of words. I will expand that to language. William C. Moyers, long-time friend and author, is vice president of public affairs and community relations for Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. He conducted a podcast interview with Dr. Stephen Delisi, Medical Director of Professional Education Solutions. The theme was, Person First Language Reduces Stigma. I am providing some of Dr Delisi’s remarks. He says,
It’s not something that people have always heard about. It is just as it sounds. It is language that is intentionally putting the person as a human being first as their identity before any deficit or illness that they might have. We still often will refer to people as an addict, an alcoholic, or a substance abuser. If you listen, that is not person-first. That is defining the identity of the individual by the disease that they have. It makes a big difference because non-person first blames the individual for their behaviors and implies that they are willfully choosing those behaviors rather than see them as a person first and the behaviors as a symptom of an illness with which they are suffering. Support meetings have other considerations. That is the individual choosing to use the language that is socially normed to that subculture. In those meetings, the use of that language does not have the same connotations and bias and stigmatization.
He speaks of research,
We can draw upon to understand how important this is that the most cited reason why an individual suffering from a substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health is the number one reason they cite for not seeking treatment or leaving treatment is the experience of bias, stigma, and the internalized stigma of shame. The very people we wanna treat—they’re not gonna come into treatment because of the language that we used. It isn’t just words, William. Language has the power to either hurt or to promote hope and healing, and we need to be in the business of educating towards the use of words that promote hope and healing for those who are suffering from these illnesses.
I am a supporter of medically assisted recovery. Dr Delisi points out,
People with opioid use disorder and the recovery community often see that people on methadone or buprenorphine have simply substituted one drug for another. We can change that by referring to these medications as what they are. They are medications for the treatment of opioid use disorder.
We need to educate about the purpose and benefits of these medications that assist in the process of recovery by placing the person first.
Particularly during the pandemic, I have traveled a lot and never left my recliner. Rick Steves Travels in Europe have taken me to many places. I have seen peaks, valleys, streets, and alleys. I’ve been in more cathedrals than I can count. And through it all, Steves always talks about the people, families, and relationships. The language may be different but there is understanding. In the context of this writing, he puts persons first.
Huell Howser is a California legend and is now gone. Under the banner of California’s Gold, his archives provide visits to wonders of California that I never knew existed. During his visits, he points out saying, “Look at this!” The amazing discoveries of the moment are always shared by and with the people involved, engaging the random visitors that include children. He closes with pictures taken with the people he has met and talks about what they have contributed with their stories of history and their own lived experience.
Both Steves and Howser used and recommended tour guides when on their journeys to places they had not visited. Different languages, different cultures, different food. It is all very personal and amazing when it puts persons first.
Incidentally, I also watch cooking shows and they originate from different places. Wonderful, appetizing, though sometimes strange, and prepared by chefs with recipes and knowledge. I haven’t gained a pound. Seems little difference between a Chief and a Chef. Both have skills and recipes for success.
Persons early in their recovery journey may feel they are visiting foreign territory. The Purpose of Recovery recently conducted a workshop on Peer Coaching Overview. In simple terms, coaching is unlocking a person’s potential for personal growth. A Peer Recovery Coach is active and has a year or more of sustained recovery. The coach works collaboratively with peers to help them achieve goals, solve problems, learn, and develop a full life in recovery. One of the features of the presentation was an assessment of one’s recovery capital. I look at this as capitalism with a social focus. They responded to a series of 50 statements. Response to this exercise had two results. Many attendees were pleased and surprised at how much recovery capital they had and two, recognized the opportunity and benefit of accumulating more. More can be learned by visiting TPOR.org.
The recovery journey is difficult and rewarding and is best served through guidance. I call it G.P.S.—Guided Peer Support that puts the person first. Did you know the Three Wise Men used GPS to lead them to their destination—God Provided Star. As Rick Steves says,
Keep on Traveling.
Merlyn Karst – Recovery Ambassador
Factoid: The old children’s proverb “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was used as early as 1862 to refrain people from engaging in verbal bullying. Over time and with experience, we gained a new perspective. I found a poem that perhaps is an indication of reality,
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can also hurt me and sticks break only skin, while words are ghosts that haunt me. Slant and curved the word-swords fall, it pierces and sticks inside me. Bats and bricks may ache through bones, but words can mortify me. Pain from words has left its scar, on mind and heart that’s tender. Cuts and bruises have not healed, it’s words that I remember.
Now, bullying depends on it. A multitude in the population depends on it. Some words have worn out their worthiness and are worthless.
William White wrote,
For more than two centuries, Addicted and recovering people in America have been the object of language created by others. People experiencing severe and persistent alcohol and other drug problems inherited a language not of their own making that has been ill suited to accurately portray their experience to others or to serve as a personal catalyst for personal change. The wrong words stigmatize and dis-empower. In 2001, in St Paul, Minnesota, the group assembled learned that by our silence we let others define us. We gave birth to Faces and Voices of Recovery. Understanding the sound of silence led us to the making of our language and it’s resounding and growing joyful noise about the reality of recovery.
Orange County California’s The Purpose of Recovery organization, TPOR, is offering a series of informative learning experiences through virtual presentations. We have done The Science of Addiction and Recovery and a most recent one was on Recovery Messaging. William White wrote,
Many of us have carried a message of hope on a one-to-one basis. This new recovery movement calls upon us to carry that message of hope to whole communities and the whole culture. It is time we stepped forward. Shape this history with our stories, our time and our talents.
Across the board all the moms and dads mention one golden rule of Inuit parenting. Never yell at a child.
Our movement can’t be successful when led solely by those impacted by addiction and accompanying injustice. We need to share our message and inspire allies and others to come join us in the new recovery movement. The learning opportunities in the Recovery Messaging are the result of years of study, revision, feedback, and evaluation of retention and useful purpose. Among the slides is the information that choosing the language of recovery is key. It is followed by examples titled “Say this, not that.” Examples of current language, alternatives, and reasons. I have focused on a few words. The latest is relapse. I prefer and promote set-back. It leads to a mindful slogan. Get back, on track, and don’t look back. Labels have a sticky side for a reason. stigmatizing labels like “addict” and “alcoholic” stick when identity as a “person in recovery” is positive and appropriate when recognizing substance use disorder.
With others from TPOR, I completed a 10-week CRAFT course, Community Reinforcement and Family Training. It teaches family and friends effective strategies for helping their loved ones to change and seeking to better themselves. Of course, words were involved—words and the nature of response. What to say and when might promote a change of behavior remembering, it’s a process not an event. Use reflection with positive reinforcement and patience and take pride in small changes. I learned of a counselor who suggested 80% listening with reflective and positive attention and 20% “I” centered response, I feel, I see, I hear, to promote understanding and trust. I do not have family issues but as a peer recovery coach, it adds greatly to TPOR and my tool kit.
I read an article about a book titled Hunt, Gather, Parent by Michaelean Doucleff. She visited and wrote about visiting and embedding with families in small villages in Mexico, Alaska, and Tanzania She observed parenting by the moms and dads in the villages. What caught my attention is her statement,
The children’s conduct and behavior was very good. Say what? Doesn’t yelling put more power in words no matter whether addressing a child or adult? In the context of this writing, the words we use to encourage behavioral change should not need volume to communicate. Too many decibels are numbing and dumbing. I like the expression, “He drives words with a velvet hammer.” The voice I hear and the words I hear are mine. I pay attention.
Don Coyhis is President and co-founder of White Bison, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Don is the founder of the Wellbriety movement The book Red Road to Wellbriety is a book of healing that is culture-specific to Native Americans, but it may be used by all people. He and William White have written many words together about addiction and recovery in Native Americans with cultural considerations and challenging the “firewater myth” among them. I love the words I read.
Native purification and healing practices (sacred dances, the sweat lodge, and talking circles). Such elements as teaching metaphors (e.g., the medicine wheel), symbols (e.g., the sacred pipe, eagle feathers), rituals (e.g., sweat lodge, smudging ceremonies. These words say healing to me. Don Coyhis wrote,
Words are important. If you want to care for something, you call it a flower. If you want to kill something you call it a weed. A word to the wise, use words wisely.
Merlyn Karst — Recovery Ambassador
In the old West, when a community was plagued by bad guys, the townsfolk got together and formed a posse and chased the bad guys out of town. Western movies starring the Lone Ranger usually ended with the Lone Ranger riding into the sunset and a townsman asking, “who was that masked man” Any irony in this today? We might define each peer posse as being a group of peers with a common purpose to overcome the “bad guys”— Substance Use Disorders (SUD). First responders respond to the purpose and needs of the moment.
Clinicians and Peer Specialists respond to the purpose and needs of the future and the sustainability of positive outcomes.
It takes passion and courage but they get a big bang for their pluck.
In a previous blog, I wrote, Together We Are Stronger. A voice is a whisper, many voices are a shout. I note that there are many communities, collectives, coalitions, consortiums, and cultures seeking a broad spectrum of choice, chance, and change. With all these words and labels starting with “C”, there must be some relationship to the term “C” — change. It simply means transformation, so “Cs” the day. Between the pandemic and politics, its happening. Indications are that both parties are giving attention to the needs for clinical and peer support rather than incarceration. There is growing attention to the various mental health issues developing and growing due to the negative social impact of COVID-19. These include depression, suicide, addictions, and domestic abuse.
In 2018, mostly in response to the opiate crisis, congress took action in the passage of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act. It includes policies and resources that support people in recovery from addiction across the lifespan. This provision reauthorizes and modifies the Building Communities of Recovery program to include peer support networks. It provides funding for community organizations providing long-term recovery support services related to substance use disorder.
There are opiate funds available. Seek and you will find. Recovery Community Organizations are being formed at a growing rate with knowledge that the pandemic will put new burdens on the community from increased mental health and substance use disorders.
Nothing About Us Without Us. People with personal knowledge of the recovery process and the historical challenges faced by people seeking and in recovery free of conflicted interests are the best suited for recovery advocacy leadership. RCOs can motivate and educate the newly elected or re-elected community leaders. “By repairing past and current harms in our communities, we bring new possibilities to the future.” Community leaders will be true and valuable servants.
The founders launched Orange County, California’s first Recovery Community Organization recently, The Purpose of Recovery—TPOR. Preceding the launch were conferences, trainings, virtual meetings. Legal matters and site visits to providers of Substance Use Disorders. Our focus was on peer support services. It was gratifying to learn about so many humans doing for other humans being. A fun experience for me was a visit to a new resource, Recovery Road providing food, clothing, and a place of fellowship. I loved the sight of stacks of Vienna sausages. Yum. The Salvation Army complex was a wonder of complete services to men and women. It was a community unto itself. It rang my bell. There are many providers and partners with TPOR with mutual opportunity to serve the local communities. Websites, Facebook and social media provide a broad range of information and resources. Working in peer support is an especially rewarding experience. You get to share the tools, skills, and information you have learned to transform your own life with individuals going through similar struggles. Not only do you get to contribute to the lives of others, but you also sustain your own recovery and wellbeing in the process. As more and more learn about the impact of peer support, opportunities, and career paths for peer specialists the support will grow and expand. The growth of peer support has the potential to radically transform the ways we support people in the behavioral health system. All states have a certification program with defined paths to career opportunities. Our California certification entity is CCAPP, California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals. The Association of Recovery Community Organizations—ARCO, provides a broad spectrum of information about Peer Recovery Services and vital insight into the national recovery movement.
Remember, they don’t care what you know till they know that you care.
Merlyn Karst – Recovery Ambassador
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
I woke this morning with one day left in 2020. It was a year that surely altered and illuminated our times. In a recent blog, I referenced Harry Potter’s weird world. If you are familiar with Potter’s world, in 2020, we had our own Voldacovid and all those dementors flying about. We had no magic wands— and the spells were all on us. What to do? Find a task. Find a cause. Find the Joy.
Donella C. and I first spoke on April 9 and imagined and spoke about an RCO or two in Orange County—and the train left the station. In my mind, with Donella as engineer and Janie as conductor, this was the Recovery Bolder Express. Of course, I contributed some experience and communication about staying on the track but mainly loved the ride. Working virtually, We paused at stations for needs and deeds, but our destination was Costa Mesa on October 13, for the introduction of The Purpose of Recovery—TPOR.
TPOR gathered for the first time and met, masked and in person, from 6 feet away in Costa Mesa, California. We found the Joy. As I recall 2020, October 13 was my most joyous day of the year, filled with hope and literal togetherness. TPOR founders had the virtual opportunity to speak of the joy and happiness of recovery as discovered through The Purpose of Recovery. The food and accommodations through the day were outstanding as well as the company who enjoyed them. I closed my eyes, did a review, and called it most memorable and filled with the joy shared by all.
As you know, this train and any different recovery train is no express, just moving, sustained, progress for those continuing the journey. No ticket to ride. Just stay aboard and enjoy what is the trip of a lifetime. I’ll be loving the ride with you and all the fellow riders.
Merlyn Karst – Recovery Ambassador
From a family recovering journey, I have gone through the stage of typical denial, anger, and confusion. When I finally surfaced my head above the dark water, I found not only my loved one but a lot of his recovering peers are also struggling more or less. I found my family members and friends are still confused. It made me keenly aware that there are many obstacles and hidden challenges along the way. It also made me fully recognize the importance of the needed support for you. I guess I can throw a few key words of support, like make connections, families, friends, sponsors, .. and more. But, what strikes me the most is finding truth to ourselves, finding the value you see to yourself, and finding a purpose in your life.
Through this, I found my purpose. My purpose is to support you. And yet, HOW? My little lived experience, without knowing the landscape of what you have gone through, I struggled again. Thanks for a lot of friends and families, I found comfort knowing I am not fighting this by myself. That family peer support allowed me to believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel, that got me through the most difficult time, and allowed me to stand on my own feet right now. I felt the peer support and peer coach that got me through this, ought to be the support to all of you and your families. This is in addition to whatever your current recovering path you are on. Coach is someone with the same lived experience that connects with you to guide you with your own decision.
Then, I look at Orange County, and found no organization offers that. Hence, The Purpose of Recovery is established just to offer that and more of course. So, if this concept is new to you right now because we are the first organization to roll this out, we know there will be more in the future. Thanks for the hard work from the team and special thanks to Merlyn and Donella, we are happy and ready to share our vision with you today. I also want to thank my own family that taught me to be compassion and loving each other from a different perspective. We all know recovering is a lifelong journey. Just to know that we are here alongside you. Again, I am glad you are with us today!
Merlyn Karst - Recovery Ambassador