Sharing personal stories helps others
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.