When a grassroots initiative grows into something with a spirit and momentum of its own, one begins to suspect that this movement might have an especially inherent value, and perhaps–in the case of National Recovery Month–one that was never fully envisioned when it first began more than 20 years ago.
Over two decades ago, a form of Recovery Celebration Month was established, backed by both the government and private treatment organizations. The idea was to celebrate patients’ progress through addiction and mental health treatment and also to award specific rehabilitation staff members whose dedication and attitudes toward their work had shone through.
From such humble beginnings–perhaps a few banners, speeches, cookies, happy tears and applause– the annual September recovery celebration is now a well-known annual event throughout the US. In fact, National Recovery Month, as it is now called, has even spread to other shores, such as the UK, where a loud, proud brigade of recovering addicts mobilize for an annual Recovery Walk and related festivities.
Across the world, thousands of treatment and recovery programs currently take part in the September event, celebrating the great recoveries their patients have achieved. Each year, the topic and tone may be slightly different, but National Recovery Month has steadily grown in significance, splendor and its ability to attract attention. It now offers a full program of events, such as colorful parades, film screenings, art exhibitions, TV programs, sports tournaments, music festivals, pop-up mock-tail bars and more.
Addicts, whether in recovery or currently struggling, can sometimes feel sidelined and abused by the general public; they are often treated as deviants who simply lack the willpower to stop using drugs or alcohol. The truth, however, is that most addicts have grown up in difficult emotional circumstances that have led them onto self-destructive paths. It can feel very validating to addicts on the journey of recovery to have a special time set aside for them by those who understand their suffering. It’s a great marker of being included, heard and understood in society for once.
If you’re a recovering addict, you may feel a certain pride in taking part in the annual event. After all, you worked your mind, body and soul to bits in order to face your demons, so why shouldn’t you feel proud of yourself? Celebrating an achievement as inspiring as reclaiming your life is a wonderful way of showing what the human spirit and therapeutic care can accomplish together.
But there are far more wide-ranging benefits to National Recovery Month than keeping addicts sober and helping them celebrate their freedom from substances. National Recovery Month has a lot more to offer to those in recovery, those struggling with addiction and those in the community.
Addicts who are still suffering can find it almost impossible to believe that they can recover. They may doubt their ability to give up the pipe, bottle or syringe, and they just can’t envision a substance-free world where they could have a happy future. Watching hordes of sober people who are in recovery and are very visibly having fun without substances can send out a powerful message of hope.
Identification is one of the greatest tools in recognizing your own addiction. Many addicts do things and fail to recognize that these are addictive behaviors. When an addict has listened to a powerful story of addiction and redemption and recognized himself and his own actions in that stranger’s story, he may begin to see that there is a way out and take the first step toward recovery by calling a treatment program.
Education is a vital tool in being able to heal addiction and to break the stigma that surrounds it, which so often prevents those affected from seeking help. The public too often falls for stereotypes about who addicts are and what they look like. Having one month a year where addiction is fully on the agenda–where it can be debated in the media, discussed by scientists and thoroughly investigated–can only be a good move forward toward more tolerance, understanding and willingness to see other points of view.
Talking about recovery on a large scale also helps to quash people’s entrenched beliefs that addiction is an unsolvable problem. During September, addiction charities may see donations rise as the general public realizes that there are real solutions that are helping real people. During National Recovery Month, treatment centers can also expect more phone calls from people who understand that there is hope for themselves or for their sons, daughters or partners.
National Recovery Month is also a useful opportunity for drug and alcohol workers to visit schools to help vulnerable people understand the risks of substances. Visits to prisons are also useful to show that, no matter where recovery has taken you, you can still recover and start a new life.
The very existence of a National Recovery Month that engages and excites so many individuals shows that millions of people do recover from addiction or are interested in doing so. It showcases recovery rates in very human terms and highlights the will to make the world a more positive place.
National Recovery Month allows us time to focus on both the scientific and emotional understanding of addiction, to make inroads with positive education, to start productive and inspiring conversations, and to begin to distill the essence of recovery and effective treatment.
Whether you’re an interested scientist, academic or treatment provider, a concerned family member, an addict celebrating your freedom, or someone so inspired by the topic of recovery that you want to volunteer to help the cause, National Recovery Month gives everyone a chance to engage.
Recovery Month helps to create a perfect storm of interest, hope and activity within the field of recovery. And that matters very much when it comes to supporting addicts and finding solutions to overcoming addiction for good.
Written by Beth Burgess