North Carolina’s “One Community in Recovery” Annual Conference NUMBER 7 was held in mid November, and as in previous years, each year just gets better than the ones before! Nearly 200 people came from across the state to Clemmons, NC, just west of Winston-Salem, for fresh new understanding, to find friends who share the hope for recovery from mental health and substance use challenges, and just to celebrate together! This year the planning committee was mindful of developing a conference that would appeal to recovery supporters from both the mental health and the substance use experience. We feel we accomplished a good balance with the variety of keynote speakers and break-out session topics. Below are some highlights from the three day event.
Supported Employment Pre-Conference: The pre-conference track on supported employment in North Carolina included spokespersons from the various agencies. The Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model was especially highlighted in this panel discussion because North Carolina has been compelled through an agreement with the Department of Justice to help persons find employment as a means of gaining tenure in the broader community since so many of our citizens have been away from community in adult care homes. One hundred twenty-five people registered for the pre-conference, meaning that we have many providers, administrators, and peers interested in helping more North Carolinians find employment after having had a mental health challenge. Possibly one of the most enduring messages through this session came from Brandon Tankersley, who is now employed full time after having a life-altering accident in his teen years. He believes that we must encourage people not to sit and wait for opportunity to come to them, but to encourage people to be more assertive about their lives, going out and finding the opportunities, then grabbing them! This should be challenge for all of us. How do we support rather than contribute to disabling people in a society where stigma and wrong assumptions drive so much? Let’s be thinking about this!
Full Conference Highlights: The two keynote presentations were vastly different and covered diverse areas and needs, while both contributing to the overall goal of challenging our thoughts about recovery. Thursday morning began with Bud Mikhitarian, a filmmaker and author who wrote “Many Faces, One Voice: Secrets from the Anonymous People. Mikhitarian shared many lessons learned from becoming so intimate in the understanding of people’s experience as they recovered from addiction.
On Friday morning, our thinking about mental illness was challenged by Oryx Cohen, Executive Director of the National Empowerment Center, who shared about his own recovery path and alternative meanings of extreme experiences. What if hallucinations are not merely symptoms of faulty biology? What if they are extreme responses of brilliant, sensitive minds to trauma or confusion in a world whose values are often not very humane? We know from theOpen Dialogue model that Cohen shared about that many people having troubling mental experiences are helped through dialogue which clarifies and demystifies what is truly going on in a person’s mind and brain. Where Open Dialogue defines the public mental health systems in parts of Scandinavia, very little medication is used. This must cause us to re-think assumptions in our society. Cohen’s presentation stirred a lot of dialogue and a desire to work together to advocate for progress!
There is not space to address all the great presentations (more than 20 of them!), and we know that there were almost twice as many great proposals for presenting. Next year promises even more as Recovery is no longer just an idea, but the focus of practice by so many in our state!