On the Truest Form of the Term, Recovery Community


WE NEVER STOP learning because we must do so to survive in our ever changing world.  As a lead advocate, a peer specialist, and a systems thinker–even to consider community level solutions,  I am finding that sometimes language can become a barrier to how we learn and respond to change.  And when walls are formed by how we use language, we can get backed up against them.  This makes responsive local community efforts even tougher!

As a person who tends her own mental wellness and who has lost a son to the overuse of alcohol coupled with his own mental ill-being, I so much want to help bring our community together around solutions that can reduce suicides and accidental overdoses and crisis needs and improve people’s opportunities to choose health and personal growth! Yet I am finding that our communities are informed by trends that keep our suffering siloed.

Yet suffering is not in a silo, and mental suffering can look like something with a psychiatric label or with a substance use label–or both.   But truly, our shared concern, then, is on mental suffering, patterns of it, how our wills are involved in making it worse, and therefore our choices–AND the patterns of a community’s response to it.

So if we in our local community begin to form a “Recovery Community,” as it has become defined only as those with substance use histories and their allies, it is not enough. I have looked up the language. I have hoped to read fact that a recovery community is actually one that supports recovery of people with mental suffering or “dis-ease”  whether or not it is related to addiction.  But clearly, it is not.  Yet for years, I have had a broader perspective on what a recovery community is and who recovery allies are.  Am I just short sited, or far-sighted?  I would hope I can assume eventually communities will support recovery for all, and that society will learn that substance use is in its purest sense a response to mental pain, as is mental ill-being.  Both of these are biological, psychological, social/relational, and spiritual in nature.

Currently, opioid use is governing so much of what is being funded, what is being seen in our emergency departments, and what is becoming the center of so many local community efforts across our state. This is a good thing, but does in go far enough? If we focus so much on solutions that mostly meet the needs of opiate users without regard for their mental wellness otherwise, is it enough?

And what about the role of peer support in our communities? Across the state, do we have the breadth of experiences being attracted into peer support work so that a person who is comfortable understanding the needs and thinking of a person who has a substance use problem also understands how to support someone who may be having extreme mental states, even psychosis, without dismissing this as merely a symptom? Because it is not. Our mental experiences, including intoxication for alteration with substances, are so often how our tender minds respond to traumas that are simply mind-blowing. Research supports this.

So how do we stop separating our potential to recover a full and meaningful life after ill-being, including substance mis-use? It starts with a discussion, and it needs to start now, because otherwise we will have lopsided community responses funded and operating while some go without the support they deserve to reclaim a meaningful life.

AS for our local community in Winston-Salem, I would like to see and strive to have a formal Recovery Community.  However, I wonder what that work to form such a community would look like. Until all of our local citizens who suffer from mental ill-health--INCLUDING those whose dis-ease with life have led them to tragic opioid incidents–are valued as deserving our earnest support, then we cannot truly have a “recovery community” in its sincerest of meanings.


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