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A female recovery advocate speaking to a crowd for national recovery month

What It Means to Be a Recovery Advocate

Together, We Are the Change

The journey through recovery is not an easy one. Nor is it always easy to embody the ideals of what it means to be a recovery advocate. Recovery month as a whole promotes emerging research in the field. It also celebrates connections between members of the recovery community and the service providers. These are addiction professionals who help guide individuals along the path towards wellness. This September, as we celebrate 32 years of the recovery advocacy movement, we want to take an in-depth look at what it means to be a recovery advocate today. 

At Promises Behavioral Health, we are embodying an important message this year, that “Together, we are the change.” We know just how deeply true it is: those in recovery and those on the other side of it need one another to find fulfillment in their lives and be reminded just how precious it is.

The Real Goal Of Recovery: Sustained Change

Those who have been on the path to recovery that recovery from addiction has no end date. And no one moment where the job is complete. Instead, we’re chasing something different, the all-elusive substance of life change

When you give yourself wholly to it, the recovery journey becomes a new way of life. This means a new way of thinking, and behaving and responding. Living in recovery is about much more than sobriety. The sense of well-being found by those in recovery is offered to those who engage with the process much deeper than just becoming chemically sober. The abstinence of use is not authentic recovery, nor will it last without the other elements to support it.

The Benefits of An Active Recovery Community

Anyone who has personally experienced addiction, whether firsthand or indirectly, knows that, in this journey, seeking outside help is necessary. No one can beat addiction alone, and involving others in the process only supports your commitment to life change. Seeking out and joining a community early in the process provides access to beneficial resources, namely one another. 

When you have the opportunity to be around those further in recovery than you, this provides an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. This close-up view will undoubtedly also humble you in the process. Hearing personal stories from other people with substance use disorders allows you to be more realistic about your own healing needs. 

In the same way, sharing stories about your own recovery journey offers opportunities for multilevel healing as you develop your confidence and feel good about taking those courageous steps to let others see the real you. Sharing stories, advice and experiences with a trusted support team provides multifaceted healing opportunities

In every community, there will always be a set of local advocates who seem timeless in their dedication. Familiar faces at meetings and events, saved contacts to call when the threat of relapse appears and genuine, authentic connections—this is what the recovery community and being a recovery advocate is all about. 

Recovery Advocates

Activists who embody this mission exist in every recovery community. They are often the first line of defense in community awareness and education about addiction, and squashing unhelpful stigmas. 

Five goals shape the mission of the recovery advocacy movement:

  1. Remain hopeful in encouraging the possibility of recovery for individuals living with addictions to alcohol and other drugs, and varied solutions available for treatment.
  2. Share stories of sustainable life change that reinforce the viability of various recovery solutions.
  3. Help shape the public narrative of individuals in recovery and counter any attempts to “dehumanize, objectify and demonize” those living with addiction.
  4. To make quality treatment available on a local or regional level and enhance recovery support services.
  5. To limit barriers of entry to recovery programs by creating and supporting laws and social policies that benefit individuals in recovery.

A recovery advocate doesn’t have to have a personal history of addiction. Nor do they need an official title to engage in work that furthers the advocacy movement. Perhaps they watched someone very close to them battle with addiction.  

Maybe they once struggled with addiction themselves. Maybe it is just a calling for them to help those dealing with addiction and substance use disorder (SUD), and they have an educational background that fits. No matter the individual details, they all strive to save lives by breaking the cycle addiction can have on a community.

Recovery advocates take on many roles within their communities:

  • Direct individuals to the most appropriate resources
  • Provide a nonjudgmental listening ear and genuinely helpful advice
  • Share educational materials with the broader community
  • Organize or take a leadership role in a recovery organization or other community group
  • Stay well connected in the community
  • Inform themselves on the latest addiction research and statistics, and spread awareness

A Listening Ear and A Voice That Matters

Being an advocate means listening to the stories of those who are currently struggling. It also means developing ways to connect with them and amplify their voice. For the individual, the treatment community, and the general public, the work of advocacy begins with the story.  

For the Individual

Hearing these stories in the first person comes with the opportunity to bear witness and provide emotional validation, honoring that individual through the highs and lows of their experience. Listening without judgment is a needed mercy, especially for those facing some of the toughest times of their lives. When someone is seeking help and being honest about their truth, genuine advice and loving support are needed, not judgment. When this is provided, healing can be found.

An example of recovery advocates in action is Kristen Bell and Monica Padman, primary supporters to comedian and podcast host Dax Shepard. In September of 2020, when he admitted to misusing and illegally sourcing painkillers after a 16-year stint in recovery, they chose to support him and work with him through this blow to his pride and identity. 

A few months later, he gratefully states, “I can’t imagine having to admit that to other people and feeling as safe as I did that you guys wouldn’t hate me. I hated me at that point, and so, to be able to tell you guys and feel unconditionally loved and that I would be accepted was really special,” he said in December 2020, speaking of his friends and family when he came forward about his relapse.

Being a recovery advocate isn’t always about responding in ways that are easy. But it is about responding to individuals in ways that are needed. It also means recognizing and validating that relapse is a part of the recovery process. Even when you feel disappointed in that outcome. You must strive to support your loved ones in the time when they need you most.

To Create Treatment That Works

Hearing the perspective of individuals in recovery, including their pain, their challenges and their hope for the future, all provide context for how we need to provide treatment services in ways that matter today. Without listening to the needs of individuals, we run the risk of delivering treatment that is stuck in the past.

Addiction treatment should reflect the needs of diverse populations, address the co-occurring conditions that fuel and escalate substance use, and be relevant to the issues facing people today

To Change Minds

The stories of those in recovery anchor the struggle of addiction in our shared sense of humanity. These are necessary as we shape the public narrative of what it means to live with addiction. We’ve learned that addiction is a disease rather than a moral failing or a lack of willpower. But we must work to make this more public knowledge. We need to continue to update the general population’s understanding of what addiction looks like. 

Other important advocacy work includes using forward-thinking to inform our perspective on the needs of the population, namely harm-reduction strategies; this includes being open-minded about needle exchange programs and maintenance medication tapering programs. It also includes bringing awareness to Naloxone (Narcan). This is a life-saving drug that can reverse opioid overdoses. Getting it into the hands of first responders and loved ones of individuals in recovery can change lives.

While some recovery advocates may find themselves speaking at a local high school or a NA or AA meeting, you can also use platforms already at the ready (social media) to provide educational and informational statistics and share resources with your community.
Whether you are thinking about stepping into a recovery advocate role or seeking to speak with one, contact Promises Behavioral Health to discuss where you are in your recovery. Our professional team is trained to guide you into a program that is the right fit for you. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, call us today.