Lately, many individuals within the public recovery advocacy space have begun discussing what are deemed alternative pathways to recovery. Famed recovery historian and researcher William White has chronicled the variety of pathways to recovery, and recently in a joint-paper with Dr. John Kelly, discusses the principle of “equifinality”, the notion that the same developmental endpoint can be reached in a variety of ways. This important discussion is not new to what William also denotes as the “new recovery advocacy movement (N-RAM)”, but has been discussed and debated since the 1980’s, if not earlier (evidenced by the work of alternative programs of recovery such as rational recovery, founded in 1986, amongst other popular programs and works). What is new however, is the advent of instantaneous information sharing in the form of digital networking and the growing awareness of recovery being a very public and common happening in the world.
The crux of these present day discussions seem to center around if alternative paths of recovery, or types of recovery, are seemingly as valid as others (commonly viewed as the abstinence-based pathway of the mutual-aid anonymous programs). Many powerful voices of the N-RAM have lent their opinions towards the topic, including Brooke Feldman, Brian Cuban, and a few of my own op-eds, which can be found here. As these opinions are shared it becomes clear that they are divisive among our own constituents, and perhaps rightly so. The process of recovery is riddled in personal experience, often times long-term clinical treatment, and an emotional undertaking that is quite unlike anything else.
As heated as these discussions become, I am constantly reminded of the families of loss, the friends I have seen buried before there time, and the countless friends that work programs of harm reduction, medication assisted recovery, or work towards achieving and thriving in recovery from things such as sex addiction, disordered eating, and primary mental health concerns. The most vocal in these arguments (perhaps outside of those speaking for equity in a definition of active recovery), are often those who have achieved recovery on a mutual aid path. Those on alternative paths seemingly abscond due to shame and stigma, or from the irritation of having to constantly defend the self-identified truth of their new way of living. Ironically, it is those who have achieved recovery in their lives that speak to limit the way others can, or should, recovery in theirs. Arguing for a contrarian concept in this place of privilege, which I do believe being in recovery allows us to state is truly privileged given the alternatives, seems to speak to the equally as large issue in the recovery movement – that of diversity, inclusion, power, and privilege.
It comes as no shock that our recovery communities often skew towards a makeup of Caucasian men. Across the country, discussion of race and gender permeate the rooms of policy makers, employers, educational institutions, and most recently the rooms of recovery. Brooke Feldman, mentioned earlier, has written on the topic. Brooke pointedly calls to attention her privilege of being white and seeking out recovery. Devin Reaves, another national recovery advocate, is speaking on the issue at the upcoming 7th Annual Collegiate Recovery Conference, exploring the lack of diversity in collegiate recovery programs around the country. These powerful voices have begun a conversation that is difficult to have, but ultimately must and should be had to initiate any progressive changes. These types of discussions call into light the privilege that is found in our Country, and how it intersects with the recovery community. Not only do we lack gender and racial diversity in our community, but we also lack any true understanding of how this same type of privilege is influencing our opinions on the principle of “equifinality”.
If we have the privilege of living life in recovery, then is it not our responsibility to increase the opportunities for others to find that type of wellness? Whether we admit it or not, if we are living in recovery then we are in one of the power-positions in the recovery community. Just as we need to work diligently to increase the inclusion of all genders and races in our band of merry individuals, so must we increase the inclusion of all types of recovery. To do anything but, is to commit the same atrocity as not providing for the LGBTQ+, African-American, or any other marginalized population. There are multiple arrays of power and privilege, and this is not to say that the obstacles facing any marginalized group are more important, or less important, than any other.
Any amount of oppression, and let us not dice words this is oppression, is unethical and morally wrong. We must work diligently to be inclusive. When we debate among ourselves, in a vacuum of privilege, those outside of our circles suffer; often with their lives and liberty. We suffer ourselves by excluding those of immense value including those with alternative pathways, different cultural experiences, different gender, different sexual orientation, and a different color of skin.
As a person in this privileged class (I am white, male, and define my recovery in the popular way), I cannot begin to fathom what it feels like to be oppressed. I thought for many years that simply by being in recovery that I was oppressed by those outside of our community. This might be true but it pales in comparison to the discrimination faced by those in our community that do not look, talk, and act the same way as me. I do not have the answers or solution to these problems, but very loudly I declare that I will work on the side of inclusion and liberty and do my best to understand and work with those who strive to be heard.