Scotland’s second national recovery summit took place in Glasgow at the end of last month. The event was hosted by the Scottish Recovery Consortium, a small charity funded since 2010 by the Scottish Government to promote the implementation of our drug strategy The road to recovery. A total of 420 people registered for the free event, which was hosted by a crew of 40. People gave their time and talents to make it happen and the Scottish Government’s drugs policy unit sponsored the event.
So, what is a recovery summit? For us the summit is a ‘walk your talk, practise what you preach’, encounter between tribes of recovery, their friends and allies in treatment and public life, and people in power who are new to the whole idea of recovery.
A recovery summit is not a conference. It is a place and time where the informal and formal networks connect, engage in dialogue across round tables, drink coffee, eat lunch and inspire each other. We appreciate each other’s contributions. There are no speeches, just ‘seeds’ – small nuggets that stimulate thinking about our next steps individually and collectively.
It is not particularly about my or your individual recovery. The beating heart of the recovery summit is the altruistic dimension of recovery. To paraphrase President Kennedy: ‘Ask not what recovery can do for you, but rather ask, what you can do for recovery.’ Now this is a no-brainer for people in long-term recovery. Recovery communities and mutual aid members are past masters at Zen koans [parables], like ‘you can’t keep it unless you give it away’. Increasingly we find that paid staff at all levels of public service delivery are also seeing it this way.
On the day of the summit our focus on grassroots and bottom-up approaches to recovery in the community and in treatment came of age. Grassroots activists chaired and hosted the event. The minister for community safety and legal affairs, who holds the portfolio for the recovery policy in Scotland, made her contribution and then took to the dialogue tables to share and learn from the collective wisdom in the room. Alcohol and drug partnership leads were alongside local recovery activist groups from all over the country. Four mutual aid fellowships (SMART, CA, NA and AA) public information committees presented in the studio parallel sessions, and even our healing room was staffed by qualified alternative therapists in recovery. Rank and file treatment workers pondered together with recovery college graduates, heads of major national organisations, police, prison officers and recovery elders.
First names only. No job titles and please, no hierarchy and status, which can get in the way of us finding what unites us as humans. Dialogue begins around questions that really matter to us – what have you contributed, what are you noticing and what do you imagine? From there the sparks fly, the ideas emerge and each of us forms a next step commitment to building recovery. Longer tea breaks and a good lunch break allow the conversations to continue naturally. Our working assumption is that the wisdom is in the room. You are invited to the recovery summit intentionally, because you already contribute to building recovery or because we need you to contribute!
The recovery summit is a catalyst, an alchemical melting pot if you will. We are a small country, urban and rural, that uses natural assets (talkative, cheeky, irreverent and passionate) in pursuit of a shared love. This vision is of a more humane, inclusive, connected, community spirit that is alive, thriving and has a place to live on your street.
There is a future we can now see emerging where we put the ‘better than well’ effect to work – not just to build better treatment and access to mutual aid, but where the community strength that visible and growing recovery brings is put back into helping to heal the very communities we ravaged with our addiction. Scotland has enormous challenges and some of its many assets – once lost to addiction, now found in recovery – are available and willing to help.
How on earth do you make such a vision manifest? All we have to do is ‘take the next right step’ and see what happens.
Our fundamental message is that people do recover. This can be a challenging message for those not involved in the recovery community or those with a ‘glass half empty’ approach to life. We believe that the importance of reconnecting face to face to inspire each other, at gatherings like the recovery summit, cannot be underestimated. We find it creates a recovery ‘bounce’ – enormous creativity that goes into action to strengthen recovery across the country, both locally and nationally.
That, my friends, is a National Recovery Summit in Scotland.
Kuladharini is director of the Scottish Recovery Consortium