Shar­ing per­sonal sto­ries helps oth­ers

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Mon­ica Scott Mon­ica Scott is the re­cov­ery ser­vices man­ager for Be­hav­ioral Health Sys­tem Bal­ti­more. Her email ad­dress is mon­ica.scott@bhs­bal­ti­more.org.

Ihave been in long-term re­cov­ery for a sub­stance use disor­der for 10 years. I am not ashamed to say it. In fact, I am proud of my re­cov­ery and know that by talk­ing about it I can help oth­ers.

Not only am I per­son­ally in re­cov­ery, I have risen from the ashes of my past to work in be­hav­ioral health for nine of those years, help­ing oth­ers be­gin their re­cov­er­ies from men­tal ill­ness and sub­stance use. I started out as a com­mu­nity out­reach worker, us­ing my ex­pe­ri­ences to help oth­ers as­sess their lives and find their roads to re­cov­ery. Now, as a peer ad­vo­cate, I help oth­ers re­sume their ed­u­ca­tion, build their skills and find jobs in the Bal­ti­more com­mu­nity.

Over the years, I have learned how im­por­tant it is for each per­son in longterm re­cov­ery to break down the men­tal bar­ri­ers and stig­mas they have about them­selves. “Once an ad­dict, al­ways an ad­dict” is an ex­pres­sion that echoes through many peo­ple’s minds as they go through re­cov­ery.

One way to move be­yond such destructive think­ing is by lis­ten­ing to the per­sonal sto­ries and suc­cesses of oth­ers in re­cov­ery and of their fam­i­lies. Such shar­ing helps to sus­tain re­cov­ery for the speaker and the lis­tener, and to build re­silience for peo­ple, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties.

For many peo­ple, re­cov­ery emerges from hope, which is fostered by loved ones and mem­bers of their com­mu­nity who have ex­pe­ri­enced re­cov­ery them­selves and share their ex­pe­ri­ences and pro­vide a glimpse of what re­cov­ery re­ally means.

I now man­age two peer out­reach teams who do just that in Bal­ti­more com­mu­ni­ties hit hard by the drug epi­demic. These are made up of peo­ple in re­cov­ery them­selves who go out into the com­mu­nity to as­sess those with be­hav­ioral health con­di­tions and of­fer re­fer­rals for be­hav­ioral health treat­ment and re­cov­ery sup­port.

I am also work­ing on a pro­gram link­ing in­di­vid­u­als who have sur­vived a drug over­dose to com­mu­nity out­reach peers for con­tin­ued sup­port with a goal of de­creas­ing hos­pi­tal read­mis­sions. These pro­grams rely on es­tab­lish­ing trust be­tween the peer out­reach teams and peo­ple in the com­mu­nity who are strug­gling. This trust is cul­ti­vated by team mem­bers’ own will­ing­ness to share their sto­ries of re­cov­ery.

Men­tal health and sub­stance use dis­or­ders af­fect peo­ple through­out the com­mu­nity, cross­ing racial, age, gen­der and so­cioe­co­nomic lines. Many suf­fer alone, in si­lence, afraid to ac­knowl­edge the truth about their men­tal health or their strug­gles with drugs and al­co­hol.

An es­ti­mated 76,000 peo­ple in Bal­ti­more City have a men­tal ill­ness, but only a third used men­tal health treat­ment ser­vices last year. Be­hav­ioral Health Sys­tem Bal­ti­more es­ti­mates that 53,000 peo­ple in the city need treat­ment for drug or al­co­hol ad­dic­tion, but fewer than half re­ceived it in early 2015.

Sadly, many are un­aware that these dis­or­ders can be treated, just like other health prob­lems. They need to know that help is avail­able and that re­cov­ery works. These in­di­vid­u­als can get bet­ter, both phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally, with the sup­port of a wel­com­ing com­mu­nity. I have wit­nessed the pos­i­tive re­al­ity of re­cov­ery, and we need to make more peo­ple feel like it is pos­si­ble for them.

Of­fer­ing sup­port to those with men­tal health or sub­stance use dis­or­ders can make a huge dif­fer­ence. That can be­gin by sim­ply talk­ing about the prob­lem, be­ing hon­est about the strug­gles we are fac­ing and ac­cept­ing the need to get help and move into re­cov­ery.

To­gether we can help oth­ers re­al­ize the prom­ise of re­cov­ery and give fam­i­lies the right sup­port to help their loved ones.

Septem­ber is Na­tional Re­cov­ery Month, and we are cel­e­brat­ing it this year with events, in­clud­ing the Bal­ti­more Re­cov­ery Run, Walk & Rally. Our theme is “Voices for Re­cov­ery: Our Fam­i­lies, Our Sto­ries, Our Re­cov­ery.”

That theme boils down to this: we can’t help our­selves, our fam­ily mem­bers, our friends, our work col­leagues un­less we tell our sto­ries. I urge all of us to share your story and, if you need it, seek help for your­self or a loved one. It can save your life — I am proof of that.

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