Bring on September, bring on Recovery Month! That’s what we say in Sheffield.
…most people say that. Most people doing similar work to us do.
The reason they say this is so; each September individuals, groups, services, and organisations across the city join together with the aim of celebrating recovery from substance use. Four weeks of creative activities and events takes place, led by Sheffield’s recovery community. Each one aims to raise awareness, promote connection, challenge stigma, and reflect on the challenges facing so many others.
Now, when we talk about ‘recovery’, that can mean different things to different people. Individuals will have their own idea of what that looks like when it comes to substance use, however, for this purpose, let’s say it’s something close to:
Recovery – a process of change through which people improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential
But why do we need events like Recovery Month and why are they important for the people involved and the wider Sheffield community?
If you can’t see it, how do you know it exists?
Recovery is built on the idea that change is possible, however that’s a concept not always obvious in our society. Turn on the TV and characters with substance use storylines often don’t get better, they get abstinent… for a bit. Exposure to stigmatising (and frankly two-dimensional) content shapes our view of what addiction means. Despite the fact around 75% of those seeking recovery in some form achieve their goal, many still see addiction as a chronic, irreversible condition affecting certain kinds of people. Recovery Month makes recovery visible. It promotes stories of those from a range of backgrounds, with whole array of experiences. If it’s visible, others can start to believe it is attainable for them.
A shared identity
Each Recovery Month there are bike rides, picnics, walks, exhibitions, talks, memorials, all with a focus on recovery. Through active engagement with others, Recovery Month helps give people a sense of shared identity in a positive response. People whose experiences have previously led to feelings of shame, guilt, and rejection, are able to engage in a community that with pride, purpose, and dignity. ‘My experiences are important to me and to others. I’m proud of the accomplishments I have made, and I, like everyone else, am worthy of respect’.
Changing the narrative
Somewhere along the way, our approach to addiction became very judgey. Stigma (real or imagined) is a dangerous thing. It has the potential to prevent people from seeking support, isolate them from their communities and negatively impact physical and mental health. Stigma helps keep people trapped in their situation.
According to a World Health Organisation report in 2018, addiction to illicit drugs is the most stigmatised ‘condition’ in the world, addiction to other substances and behaviours follow closely behind.
That’s why events like Recovery Month are so important in taking hold of the narrative, not only for those experiencing stigma but for society. The problem is the view we have of addiction is often constructed by those with little experience of it’s reality. Too often we allow ill-informed moral judgments to dictate our response. Each September we have a chance to share what the impact of addiction really looks like, how people find themselves in situations none of us would choose, showing the people behind the labels.
How much does society really know (or care) about substance use? Like really know?
Any gathering of people wearing printed t-shirts and making a bit of noise will raise questions in the minds of passers-by. Through sharing stories, speaking to people, being visible in a range of activities, everyone involved helps show the different faces of recovery.
The truth is, addiction is something that affects most of us one way or another. Raising awareness in our communities helps make things better for all. Recovery Month isn’t just about sharing positive stories and inspiring others, it’s about showing how an understanding of the issues can make our city a fairer, more compassionate, and inclusive place than it already is.
Recovery Month runs 1st – 30th September, full programme coming soon
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