National Recovery Month celebrates human resilience
National Recovery Month, September, is right up there with Black History Month in its importance to African Americans and deserves to be observed accordingly. Doing so and increasing awareness would be in the interest of communities across the country, since nothing has so ravaged thousands upon thousands of neighborhoods as debilitating and chronic as the plague of crack cocaine.
It is, of course, not alone as a form of chemical dependency, along with alcoholism, heroin, methamphetamine and more. It is, however, the most virulent, having spawned an unprecedented prevalence of gang violence and prostitution that has made family and personal dysfunction a veritable way of life, and fostering, among other maladies, mental illness, domestic abuse, child endangerment and homelessness.
A significant part of the problem is how chemical dependency is perceived. The accompanying behavior, crimes like theft and assault, can turn even family and friends against the addict in understandable condemnation. The American Medical Association, though, recognizes addiction as a treatable disease.
Heidi Kammer, vice president of chemical and mental health at Resource in South Minneapolis, operates a highly successful treatment center. “Often times there is so much stigma concerning substance abuse as well as mental illness. We hear in the media about criminal behavior, but not about the community that finds recovery every day. So many people in our community stay hidden because of the stigma.”
Resource has dedicated the past half-century to helping families and individuals with mental illness and/or addiction. “We serve about 20,000 families,” Kammer explains. “Eighty-six percent improve their health in recovery as a result of services. Recovery is not an episodic thing that begins and ends on one day. It’s really a lifelong journey and a lifelong process.”
Accepting chemical dependency for what it is calls for widespread reversal of society’s attitude toward the disease. The SAGE Journal of Social Work states that “research has shown people labeled with drug addiction are viewed as…blameworthy…compared to individuals labeled…with physical disabilities.”
While drink and drugs are what first come to mind when one considers the word recovery, the month is dedicated as well to recovery from mental health problems. “The more we can and do to put awareness out about how people can and do recover, the more we reduce stigma and create a community that supports recovery.
Colorado Coalition of the Medically Underserved notes that regarding mental disooders, “One of the biggest barriers to people seeking help…is the role stigma plays in their lives. It is what leads people to believe that they are responsible for their own illness or keeps them in denial about it. One in four Americans will be affected by a mental health disorder in any given year, and many more will have a family member affected.”
It is, point of fact, Kammer emphasizes, “a health issue [no less than] diabetes, cancer or heart disease. We have to [accept] mental illness and addiction in the same way we do other diseases.”
It is key that, along with the public at large, sufferers of addiction themselves come to grips with and work to transcend the stigma in order to see themselves as capable and worthy of being helped. The phrase goes, “I’m a sick person getting better, not a bad person being good.”
For a clear demonstration of recovery in action, step onto Franklin Ave. in South Minneapolis any given evening, just after dinner time, standing at Columbus Ave. Look over to the next block at the corner of Chicago and Franklin Avenues.
You’ll see the proverbial dregs of humanity, generally appearing to have perhaps a nodding acquaintance with soap, water and a laundromat, stressed, scuttling in and out of Peavey Park, up and down the street, chasing their next high, making the intersection a place decent people hate to cross, wait for the bus, or otherwise have anything to do with it.
Turn your head, and at the opposite end of Columbus also are addicts — hanging out in front of Resource halfway houses (their vice president of development and communications prefers the term “supportive housing”) following a day of treatment counseling, relaxed in casual clothes, exchanging small talk, maybe horsing around or playing cards in a scenario that wouldn’t be out of place in any self-respecting neighborhood.
That’s the transformative power of prevailing over chemical dependency. It’s what honoring National Recovery Month is all about.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.