The 5th Annual Association of Recovery Communities conference (ARCO) was such a whirlwind of true knowledge it’s hard to encapsulate.  I shall attempt to be succinct.

  • With our health systems, including behavioral health, at the precipice of revision, the main point of ARCO was, “There is a way out”.  There are solutions.
  • Recovery: transformational, a real thing, which works and is holistic in nature, is the word that defines that re-vision.
  • “Nothing about us without us” is healthy and an essential paradigm from numerous perspectives. Recovery means I must participate, I must be pro-active in my recovery and health building.
  • Quotes I heard and love: “This may not be evidence-based practice but it sure is practice-based evidence”, Tom Hill.     “The atmosphere we work in is life or death so we work to have fun”, the groovy Honesty Liller, CEO of John Shinholser’s McShin Foundation.

Presenters like Tom Hill from Altarum Institute and Rich Jones from FAVOR out of Greenville, SC gave excellent snapshots of how to build Recovery Community Organizations and Peer Support that link the community together in a healing way. Cutting edge in terms of presenting knowledge and perspective that is THE major component for increasing success in attracting people to recovery.

Every human is an asset, everyone has strengths and as we increase contributions healing begins. It’s not expensive, unlike numerous government offerings we are used to. ROSC recycles community resources. Together, we, the community become the experts. Of course, that includes everyone; non-profits, faith-based, public, private, police, hospitals etc.

Speaking of faith-based, let me tell you a little story.
It was early in my recovery, even earlier in my treatment career, I was going to two different schools, (Substance studies for licensure and Holistic bodywork) plus working, as an intern for my licensure.  (paid, thank God; there’s a topic for another time-we make Masters students do internships without pay?! What a racket!)   Still broke, I took a job as a resident manager of a half-way house, so I’d live rent-free.  Dismas House is a faith-based program that originated in Louisville, KY, and has been working to create effective re-entry programs for offenders since 1964. There’s one in Greensboro. Dismas was the Good Thief, crucified with Christ on Calvary, who Christ told, “Amen I say to you today you will be with me in Paradise”  He’s not named in the Bible but historians assigned him that name after eons of research. Anyway, I lived there in lieu of rent and kept the peace on the weekends. So here’s my point. The way the house was fed, they had a tradition going back to the beginning, of providing dinner by getting churches to bring dinner in 5 nights a week. The commitment was one night a week for twelve weeks. So 5 families, 5 churches covering dinner one night a week each, for twelve weeks. Not a lot of expense or work for the family and big savings on food for the house. Most important were the ancillary benefits.  Families at dinner with ex-offenders week after week puts everybody on their best behavior. Families came in and saw these were real people, with children of their own, concerns of their own, dreams of their own, bills, skills, strengths, some had college, some wanted college, etc. On the other side, ex-offenders eating with Granny who cooked them a home-cooked meal, they were on their better behavior. Oft-times it was retired folks who could afford to devote the time to this. The social graces, especially around food and hospitality are one of the true pleasures of life.

THIS is Recovery Oriented System of Care-ROSC!  Community working together to build bridges and links, creating inclusion on the way to healing.  Members of the house got jobs from church members, they made friends, they lived as people do and their re-entry was made easier. I can list dozens of examples like this, cheap or free to enact yet quite effective. ROSC does not cost a lot.

Another topic for another time, all this does need one thing to be effective: facilitators, navigators, liaison, linkages, case management, call it what you want.

I’d like to close with a section of an interview with William White, from the new book, Many Faces One Voice that sums it up well.  Authored by Bud Mikhitarian, who had a distinguished career in broadcast news and was an integral part of the creation of the documentary The Anonymous People, as a writer, co-producer and sound recordist.  He has written a companion book, the inside story and insights of the movie.

Btw, Bud’s a keynote speaker at the 7th Annual NC ONE Community in Recovery conference in Clemmons, NC November 11-13. Here’s a link to the information.

“And an interesting thing happened.  If you had met me in the early 1970s and bumped into me in a grocery store, I might very well have told you my recovery story.  This was the period of the super ex-addict, dope fiend, folk hero kind of caricature we had, particularly those of us affiliated with therapeutic communities of that time.  And then, as we began to get pushed toward professionalization, I became almost embarrassed by my recovery story and felt it was baggage I needed to shed if I was going to do anything of importance in this field.  Because you would get discounted as a person in recovery, which meant people could put you in a little box and didn’t have to listen to you (emphasis mine).  I spent the middle years of my career building professional credentials and doing professional writing and doing professional research, and I made less and less reference to my recovery status until I got into the late 1990s.

And then, I’ll have to admit there was an epiphany experience I had.  I was going to speak at a professional conference in Dallas, Texas.  By this time I had started volunteering evenings, during my travels, to speak at these little grassroots recovery advocacy organizations that were popping up.  And I visited Searcy W., one of the old-timers in the recovery community in Dallas, Texas, to interview him about the early history of treatment in the Southwest.  And I’ll never forget.  We took a break in the interview and Searcy said, ‘Now, Bill, what’s this research stuff you do?’  And I explained to him that I worked in a research institute and studied treatment by doing treatment outcome studies.  And I was very excited because we had just got a five-year project funded and that we were going to follow people for five years.  Now I’m talking to someone with fifty-four years of sobriety at his point in time.  And Searcy just looked at me and smiled and said, ‘Five years.  Very impressive.’  And then it suddenly dawned on me – the context and to whom I was speaking.  And so I kind of regrouped myself as best I could, and we finished the interview.  But it was an epiphany.

When I was flying home on the plane that night, here’s what I realized.  Because here’s the question Searcy asked me after that.  He said, ‘What does your research tell you about people like me?’  What do you think I had to say from him? ‘We don’t even know you exist!’  We don’t know anything about people in long-term recovery.  We can fill libraries with what we know about the pathology of addiction, and we’re learning a lot about treatment.  But we know almost nothing about recovery, particularly the lived experience of recovery.

On the plan home from Dallas that night I had this powerful experience.  It was this awakening I had spent almost my whole life learning about addiction and I’d learned a lot about treatment.  I’d mastered a fair amount of knowledge.  But, separate from my own experience, from the standpoint of science, I knew very little about the long-term processes of recovery.  I asked myself, with millions of people in long-term recovery out there, why don’t we begin to study the recovery experience?  So I made this promise to myself that for whatever time I had left in my career, I was going to devote it to the study of the solution.  And I said, how can I ask other people to disclose their recovery experience when for years I’ve been hiding my own recovery status?  To be perfectly honest, I was professional ashamed of it and I’d internalized some of the very stigma I criticized.  From that trip on I came back to the research institute at which I worked saying, ‘We have got to study long-term recovery.’  I began to be more vocal about my own recovery.  So again, it felt like I’d almost come full circle to going from where I was in the early 1970s to where I ended up in the early years of this new century.”   p. 114 – 115

“…the time has come when that tired old lie, ‘Once an addict, always an addict,’ will no longer be tolerated by either society or the addict himself.  We do recover.”  NA Basic Text, p. 89

Next acronym for the list: W+L=S (Work plus Love = Service)