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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 01/27/23 – Ripples of Recovery

“Hope is a waking dream.” ― Aristotle

In what seems like a whole lifetime ago in the mid-1980s, I walked into a recovery fellowship meeting. It was not my first time in that room. My first time had been exactly one week earlier, before nearly getting killed driving a car in a blackout and being arrested for a DUI. In the time between, I had “carefully” listened to what people in that room had said about addiction and determined they just did not apply to me. I was too young; they had failed attempts at quitting and moderating and I had a few other “I nevers.” How could I be like them? A week later, a lot seemed different.

My use in that era had gone south on me with hair raising consequences. I was without hope, without direction and sinking quickly. I honestly do not think I would have lived much longer as my luck would have run out. Grateful I did not get killed, maimed, or take the lives of people who crossed my path when I was in the depths of my addiction. I was offered and found way back to life that worked for me. I stopped all use and made a lot of changes. So very grateful.

A few weeks back, I was having dinner with some other people in recovery. The conversation gravitated towards how some people in full recovery in our community were experimenting with use given the reemphasis on moderation. We all knew of instances that ended tragically. Other stories involved persons who moved from recovery to active use who subsequently lost things they loved and found their way back into recovery. Attempts at moderation for those of us with severe SUDs can be life ending. We need to do a better job at understanding those of us with this with this form of SUD.

Surprisingly little long term, broad research recovery has occurred to inform us. A famous unrelated study, the longitudinal Grant Study followed 268 male graduates of Harvard University to determine predictors of long term healthy living. There were inevitable intersections with substance misuse. It found that alcohol misuse was a significant factor in longevity, as well as tobacco use. Both led to early death. The study is still going nearly 80 years later. One wonders what it would have found if conducted on a broader sample than male Harvard graduates in the 1940s.

We need such a longitudinal study on recovery. It can be argued substance related conditions are our leading public health challenge. We don’t know near enough about the spectrum of healing. We have had short term studies like the Life in Recovery study that give us a snapshot of what recovery looks like, but we have not studies pathways to wellness across life spans. I suspect what we learn would be very valuable.

In the absence of good data far too often designed to report a desired result, we argue a lot. There is a long history of internal fracturing in the recovery community, and it tends to send us backwards. In the dynamics of internalized group social stigma, we now see people in recovery from the most severe forms of substance use conditions being maligned by interest groups focused on moderation only pathways of healing. Wellness from a substance use condition sits on a continuum. We could consider reconceptualizing the resolution of substance misuse, but I digress.

The topic of this gratitude post is ripples of recovery. Tonight, I am going to help a fellow traveler celebrate 36 years in recovery in that room I first walked into. He has done some amazing things on his journey. It is a common story. The truth is that recovery is contagious. It spread out in communities like ripples in water. We need to learn how to spread it better and what healing looks like over the long term. I suspect that longitudinal studies focused here would a rich fabric of how each person in recovery not only improves their own lives, but also has a positive influence on their whole community, in what Dr David Best terms the contagion of hope. Science focused here would be a game changer.

At that table a few weeks ago talking with the recovery community members from around the country, the other topic that came up was how we were poor predictors of the fruits of our labor. We all recounted stories of persons we had worked and that what we did had not seem to help them in the time span of our efforts. We all could recall running into numerous people who we had all considered as not making it who later found their way. They remembered us differently, as people who had helped them. They referenced things we had said that made a difference. What gets interpreted as a failure is often a success using a different measuring stick. Another thing we should better understand.

Many of the discussions in the recovery community these days focus on the challenges we face at this juncture. When I ask those who have 50 or 60 years of institutional memory, they remind me that the challenges are not new, and that recovery always finds a way. I have found this true in my own life. Even when sailing into headwinds, the evidence inevitably emerges that despite all the challenges, people find their way into long term recovery. When it happens, it transforms whole communities. As a society, we should commit more resources into identifying what healing in all of its forms looks like over the long term, because from where I sit today it looks amazing. Tonight, I have the opportunity to celebrate such a journey and I am grateful for that.

What are you grateful for today?

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