Recovering hope

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Alistair sinclair WEB. jpgRecovery should be about empowerment and instilling optimism – not about treatment effectiveness and ‘number of years abstinent’, says Alistair Sinclair 

It was UK Recovery Month in September. Not a lot of people know that, and those who do probably have very different views on what it means. There have been recovery months in the US for years and until pretty recently they focused primarily on ‘recovery from addiction’ and ‘treatment’.

Early on it was called ‘treatment effective­ness month’ and there remains a US focus on services alongside a relatively recent expan­sion of the month to encompass mental health and ‘behavioural science’. It’s the US approach, perhaps a reflection of the diffi­culties getting access, particularly if you’re poor, to even the most basic of services. I’ve seen echoes of this perspective in the UK, tweets referring to #addictionrecoverymonth, attempts within some social media to follow the US lead and frame UK Recovery Month as a celebration of the abstinent and treatment.

Somehow this doesn’t sit right with me. People end up in ‘addiction’ because of a huge variety of issues. Many issues remain, and indeed perhaps new ones arise, once people stop using particular substances and become abstinent. Does a primary focus on addiction (framed around cessation of particular forms of unhealthy consumption) deny major realities in people’s lives? Surely those that ‘reclaim’ their lives have recovered from much more than ‘addiction’? Is ‘recovery’ more than ‘treatment effectiveness’ and a number of years abstinent? If we look at the mental health recovery movement we find that ‘recovery’ is all about ‘assuming control… becoming empowered… challenging stigma… instilling hope and optimism’.

This is my kind of recovery, not some medicalised, treatment-led drug-obsessed distraction from the inequality and poverty, material and spiritual, that’s strangling us. I’m with Professor Phil Hanlon at Glasgow university. We need to recover from ‘economism’, reducing people and communities to economic formulas, commodifying others in ‘payment by results’ matrices. Recover from ‘materialism and consumerism’, reducing ourselves to units of economic ‘worth’, buying, watching, consuming, empty. Recover from ‘individualism’, reducing ourselves to dislocated fragmented lonely shadows, separate, anxious, tapping away at screens. We need to recover from fear and find some hope; some sense that things can change for the better.

I see hope in the UK recovery movement, young as it is, confused as it is. I see it in the recovery walks, big and small, that have mushroomed across the UK since Liverpool in 2009. I see it in the passion and the strengths I encounter in small community groups scrabbling for existence in shabby service annexes and church halls. I see hope in harm reductionists coming together to redefine ‘SU activism’ and hesitantly forming links with the ‘purple-clad recovery brigade’. I see it in service folk and community activists working tirelessly alongside the marginalised and the excluded. I see hope in the UK Recovery Month, 102 events this September, bringing all kinds of different people together, and that’s why I think we need it. We need a month that celebrates hope, a month that celebrates our similarities as human beings and our diversity and the belief that we can, all of us, recover.

You can check out the 102 UK Recovery Month events here: http://www.ukrf.org.uk/index.php/recovery-month/events 

Alistair Sinclair is a director of the UK Recovery Federation (UKRF)