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What it means to be a recovery ally

For a lot of years now, LGBTQ+ communities have popularized the idea that those of us who do not happen to identify as L, G, B, T, or Q, are very welcomed and encouraged to be an ally to those who do. So, while I identify as straight, I choose to work alongside and advocate for social change for my brothers and sisters who face challenges by virtue of not being straight.

In much the same way, I am a “recovery ally.” I do not happen to identify as a person in recovery from addiction, yet I actively support those who seek freedom from it. I recognize that folks in active addiction and those seeking recovery face stigma, oppression, and countless barriers to improved health and a better life.

Being an ally is a personal choice as well as a professional one. It starts with acknowledgement of something that should be self-evident, yet in 2017 is still misunderstood and stigmatized:

Every single respected professional medical, psychiatric, and addiction treatment organization has declared: Addiction is a disease. It is not a moral short coming, nor a lack of willpower. It is not something that only occurs amongst the poor. It is not something that only bad people, poor people, or criminals become.

It’s something none of us are immune to and each of us has the potential to become. (Please be mindful that a lot of us got started on the road to addiction in our doctor’s and psychiatrist’s offices). In fact, we are a nation of chemically dependent people (go a day without coffee or soda and let me know what happens).

Stigma is not rational. I happen to be addicted to two drugs (caffeine and nicotine) and yet in the lens of our culture, I would never be seen as a “drug addict.” I live in a culture that expects me to consume alcohol – a known addictive depressant drug and I frequently have to explain to folks why I don’t drink.

(In 2017, I am still explaining to folks that alcohol is a drug).

Recovery is stigmatized by those who have not experienced it or been close to it. I think this is largely due to the counter-intuitive aspects of understanding both addiction (Why don’t they just stop?) and addiction recovery (How long do you have to keep going to those meetings?)

Addiction is unlike nearly all diseases in that recovery/remission is nearly always attainable, but recovery is an ongoing and life long process that demands a great deal from a person. In short:

Recovery from addiction is quite simply one of the most bad ass things a human being can do.

Anyone who seeks transformation and to better themselves has my support. Anyone who wants to move from harming themselves and their loved ones is a person I’ll encourage and rally around. Anyone who lives in active addiction is someone my heart will go out to and I will only ever look down on such a person with the intention of helping to lift them up.

Judgment and stigma perpetuates social problems. As an ally, I get to be part of the solutions.

One of my favorite things to share with folks is that I get to be a recovery ally as an employer. I am incredibly fortunate to employ people in recovery from addiction. Nobody works harder than someone who had to fight tooth and nail to overcome. Nobody will be more loyal than a person you gave a second chance to.

Being an ally fits into every area of my life. I get to do it as a landlord (folks in addiction often struggle to be allowed to rent quality housing), as a person who volunteers with the Bangor Area Recovery Network (local community support for addiction recovery is hugely important), as an instructor to those who will be entering social service fields, as an addictions counselor, and mental health therapist (sadly, my colleagues in mental health tend to have little or no training in addiction).

I look forward to the day when “recovery” is defined more broadly. I support folks who are in recovery from past traumatic experiences, from self-injury, from eating disorders, and from a host of other terrible things that happen to good people (and are often the root causes of addiction). I also look forward to the day when “ally” becomes synonymous with “person who loves their neighbor.”

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