“A battle lost or won is easily described, understood, and appreciated, but the moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation, to appreciate it.”

– Frederick Douglass

As I emerged from the cab onto the Mall, in DC, and made my way toward the Washington Monument, the ’60’s classic, “For What It’s Worth” wafted through the air, beginning the soundtrack of this great day.  It was Sheryl Crow doing her sound check, and it was strong.  It’s early; 10 AM, the rally opens at noon and doesn’t actually start until 4, but I had signed up for a volunteer shift and that was my assignment. The looming monument, the large expanse of lawn where there were two other advocacy groups presenting, the palpable energy in the air that is Washington DC, you can feel it and it brought a tear to my eye. The truth is I have barely processed this weekend and need time to digest and then report but deadlines approach. I will say the tear had additional elements behind it, such as:

  • Me and many friends from around the country went from being “drug addicts” to “persons in long-term recovery” and we’re now representing our States at a national rally about addiction recovery! That is such an honorable experience I am both emboldened and humbled.
  • The feeling that DC represents the highest ideals that began with our courageous forefathers, initiates with great minds and hearts such as Franklin, Jefferson, Frederick Douglass and later Honest Abe Lincoln.
  • The energy of DC with all the young people. Scads of 28-32 year olds, some of the best and brightest of their schools, rushing around with an earnestness that charges you up. I went on the next day to meet some of those earnest young people, aides to Congressman/Senators we met with, to do advocacy work. More on that later but first back to the Unite Rally.

The Unite to Face Addiction Rally, Sunday October 4th, was electrifying, well attended, and very well run. I witnessed no glitches and no rain either. Greg Williams, Director of ‘The Anonymous People’ and both catalyst to and major domo over all of this, came out and told the tale of his Board debating whether they should cancel due to the possibility of a hurricane off the coast and Greg reports one of the Board members finally exclaiming, “I used drugs during hurricanes, my life was a bleeping hurricane, there’s no way we are going to let a little rain stop us”.   So it was full speed ahead. There were big screen TV’s for all to see and great sound quality. It zipped along from speaker to band with an emcee comedian who kept it moving and maintained our sense of humor. All the artists were superb, rocking hard for the crowd.  Sheryl killed and made me a fan.  Joe Walsh a Midwest favorite of mine forever; The Fray playing their hit, “How to Save A Life” a poignant essay on suicide.  Steven Tyler, lead singer of Aerosmith, America’s leading rock band, he of the very open embrace of his own addiction recovery, slayed the crowd at the end, and more.  He made a little joke, “Can I get an AAmen!” that the crowd loved.  Speakers included luminaries we know from ‘The Anonymous People’, like Tom Coderre and Patrick Kennedy all the way to the White House Drug Czar, Michael Botticelli and the Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA.

The next morning, we met at the Hill, right next to Congress, for breakfast and advocacy training run by Carol McDaid, addiction recovery specialist of many years. With lots of questions answered, we headed out to our assignments that included meeting with key aides of Sen. Burr, Sen. Tillis and Rep. Holding.  It was me, Karen Kranbuehl, Chris Budnick and Don Teeter, MD from Western NC. Karen is a lawyer working toward her Social Work degree, a perfect combination for advocacy work and Don is a heart-centered, very experienced doctor who found himself transitioning to an addiction recovery practice due to the waves of patients landing at his door.  The aides we met with were to a person interested in our vision, due to their own experience with friends and/or family suffering from addiction and they asked lots of intelligent questions that I found educational. We got a blast of training on how bills actually get made into law.

Let me be frank; my childhood history, my long-standing addiction, my own rationalizations, led me to cultivate a cynicism that was ultimately not healthy to my well-being, nor even honest. The Grace of surrender and recovery washed much of that away. What I say is I’m not a nihilist I’m a realist. The thing is I love my country!  So, so many of our political forefathers, the ones various pundits of differing political stripes love to quote, told us,  “check us regularly, make sure, in the future, they truly represent you/us”!   That means it’s in our best interest to understand and embrace that advocacy is essential to the health of this land. Our task is to distill down, into a manageable plan, what our true human needs are and convey that to Washington and Raleigh.

We know, with data to back it up, that there is a continuum of care supported by a larger web of recovery supports that really works, and is:

  1. Not that expensive! In North Carolina we already have plenty of resources in place, many of the components built.   This is not some huge $ demand being made on the world.
  2. That will, given a chance, actually save money! It will return money to the communities that build this Recovery Oriented System of Care. The data is already there to show this.

That is my message.

This snapshot will bring returns, in so many other ways, beyond the material, that it will actually build a reinforcing velocity, an upward spiral of success. We have the technologies, the understanding to build this. Let us pray we do.