Personally Speaking: Four Ways I Advocate for Recovery

Inspiration for your Journey

You and I and about 25 million more Americans are proof that people can and do recover from addiction. And although most of us wouldn't describe ourselves as recovery advocates, we advance the cause for hope every time we're open and honest about being a person in recovery.

I don't have to tell you that shame and stigma surround addiction like no other disease, creating a wall that prevents people from finding the help they need.

But brick by brick, we can each—in our own way—help to tear down that wall and open the possibility of healing and hope for people who are suffering. That's what advocacy is: Clearing the path for more people to find their way into recovery. And it comes in about 25 million different shapes and sizes—in formal settings and everyday situations—when we let the world know, "I'm a person in recovery."

Betty Ford put a courageous face on recovery in 1978 when, at age 60, she openly sought treatment for addiction to alcohol and prescription medications. Her candor created a national dialogue and lifted some of the shame surrounding addiction, unlocking the door to recovery, especially for women. Inspired by her legacy, here are four ways I'm an advocate for recovery:

  • By telling my truth. For the first 12 years of my recovery, I didn't really talk about my disease outside of meetings. In part, I worried I might be violating the anonymity traditions of Twelve Step recovery if I spoke out. Another part of me felt too ashamed about being an alcoholic—even an alcoholic in recovery—to speak of it. Then I attended a workshop by Faces and Voices of Recovery, the national advocacy organization for the addiction recovery community, and my whole outlook shifted. I realized that hearing other people's stories was what initially got me sober. I understood the impact of speaking my truth. And I learned the importance of saying, "I'm a person in recovery."
  • By re-framing the conversation. Stubborn misperceptions persist about addicts and alcoholics—that we're weak-willed, immoral or even criminal. How many times have you been told, "I never would have imagined you're an alcoholic?" That's why, when I talk about being a person in long-term recovery, I try to go a little further in explaining what, exactly, that means. It means I have a job. I own a home. I pay taxes. I vote. I volunteer. I am a contributing member of society.
  • By staying informed. Marching on Capitol Hill might not be your thing, but don't underestimate the importance of letting your elected officials know you care about addiction and recovery issues. Make that phone call. Send that email. Remember, there are 25 million of us—not to mention our families and friends. That's a lot of influence. And it's easier than you might think to stay on top of the issues. I receive a free e-newsletter from the Hazelden Betty Ford Institute for Recovery Advocacy. It's a great weekly source of information and inspiration to me.
  • By celebrating together. I'm a huge fan of the annual recovery walk in the Twin Cities, held every September as part of national Recovery Month. It's such a healthy, festive, affirming atmosphere. I always run into old friends, and I meet new people, too. There's something incredibly exhilarating about celebrating recovery with thousands of friends and fellow travelers. This year's national recovery month headquarters is Dallas, Texas, where more than 10,000 people are expected at the Rally for Recovery event. I'll be there, along with my colleagues from the Hazelden Betty Ford Institute for Recovery Advocacy who will lead a workshop on "Smashing the Stigma."

Individually and collectively, at organized events or in casual conversations, advocacy is about helping to make recovery from addiction possible for more people.

Nell HurleyNell Hurley is the executive director of national alumni relations for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.
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