Seeing purple

Last month Alex Boyt took the recovery move­ment to task. Alistair Sinclair, Richard Maunders and Melody Treasure of the UKRF respond

In DDN’s November issue Alex Boyt shared some of his thoughts on the ‘R’ word and this prompted much discussion on social media among the recovery community. It would be interesting to know if something similar happened within services. While Alex, tongue located somewhere in his cheek, has a poke at the ‘purple t-shirt’ brigade (we’re  fully signed-up members) and the ‘warm fuzzy feelings’ found at recovery gatherings, it seems to us that he is principally ‘venting’ about services/commissioners and their interpretation of ‘recovery’.

Alex is a SU coordinator in central London. In his article he refers to commissioners, the NTA, Theresa May and the PHE strategic recovery lead. We believe (and we met with Alex to talk about his piece) that he is asking some important questions: has the mass importing of recovery ‘rhetoric’ into the drug field and the establishment of recovery plans/ champions/ pathfinders /colleges/ trees etc resulted in services that are more recovery-oriented? Do new recovery-branded services ‘speak’ to the most ‘dis­ad­vant­aged, traumatised and neglected’? Or are they serving a politicised neo-liberal agenda (one recovery agenda among many) that increasingly commodifies support and people and, as Alex suggests, uses a ‘recovery agenda’ to categorise SUs as ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’? These are uncom­fortable questions, and we thank Alex for having the courage to ask them.

However, we’re not sure that reducing the vast diversity of ‘recovery’ found in communities to purple-clad ‘happy-clappy’ individuals who enjoy a hug and a ‘hurrah’ is the best way to highlight important service issues. Sorry Alex. There is clearly a way to go before we can happily sit back and say we have recovery-oriented services, just as there is much work to be done by community members to increase access to inclusive recovery networks that support wellbeing. But – and it’s a big but – there is evidence, and lots of it (check out the 2007 Foresight study, Mental capital and wellbeing) that wellbeing is generated and sustained through opportunities to be active, learn, take notice, connect and give (the ‘five ways to wellbeing’).

Most of the opportunities to do this can be found in what Edgar Cahn calls the ‘core economy’: family, neighbourhood and community. People have been finding their version of recovery, abstinent or otherwise, in the core economy for decades, centuries, long before services came along. The emerging recovery movement (in drugs and mental health) has started to make the core economy more visible in recognition of its increasing importance. Five thousand people on a recovery walk, many of them marginalised in the past, and 50 recovery events in recovery month is evidence of something, as is the emergence of new recovery communities all over the UK.

We need to work together to support new communities, encourage more traffic between them and widen the doors. We are all in this together and we believe, if we are going to find new ways of responding to old problems, we need to have more faith in the capacity of people within communities to define and shape their own recovery. 

‘Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step’ – Martin Luther King, Jr.

The authors are directors of the UK Recovery Federation (UKRF)


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