Social change comes when we reach a critical mass of people who are affected negatively by a public policy, social stigma, a disease, or discrimination that demands a reaction. In...
Social change comes when we reach a critical mass of people who are affected negatively by a public policy, social stigma, a disease, or discrimination that demands a reaction.
In the 70’s, most people in treatment centers were middle aged and drug addicts were separated from alcoholics. And in the 80’s, we were still in denial about dual diagnosis. In the last two decades a generation of professionals have come into the field of treatment having found recovery in their 20’s, or they have come from other professional fields. More research, science and treatment modalities, earlier diagnosis, and treatment centers have contributed to a growing population of younger addicts getting to recovery than ever before.
In the last 10 years there has been a growing body of research and discussion about the life that comes with recovery. Today 35 million people are living lives of recovery in the U.S. If you add two people who are affected by each of these — we are a force to be reckoned with.
Young People in Recovery
Young People in Recovery (YPR) come to this broader community of recovery with a new perspective and series of experiences that we can marvel at, be challenged by and learn from. Because of access to treatment, a number of fellowships that support long term recovery coupled with the human kindness and commitment of those in long term recovery, we now have a generation of young people who will fall in love, get married, parent children, advance their careers and finish high school and college while they are in long term recovery. They work their recovery program, engage in life and look for ways to be of service.
And… they also speak openly about their disease asking questions like:
Where is the “ribbon” campaign for treatment of addiction?
Why do other disease groups lobby their elected officials for more research and treatment, and we don’t?
Why do the wealthy go to treatment and the less fortunate to jail?
Why did Bill W testify to Congress in 1949 about the disease of addiction if he really meant anonymity included never speaking out as person in recovery?
Why do people in long term recovery continue to be punished by laws and policies that deny them access to education, numerous career fields after paying fines and doing time, sometimes denying them the right to vote?
A New Movement
If we reflect on the civil rights movement, women’s or gay rights movement, there is a moment when a new generation is unwilling to accept the stigma and barriers others have tolerated, learned to live with or simply didn’t know how to fight.
As the numbers of young people in long term recovery increase there is a growing voice asking tough questions of the elders in the recovery community, the county boards who block licenses for sober housing, state capitols and state agencies that reduce funding of programs that help people get well, or visit Washington to ask:
“Why does it seem to get treatment for the disease of addiction you either have to be extraordinarily committed to working the system, fighting for funding or come from a family with extraordinary resources to get help?”
Is there any other disease that requires such efforts to get well? Imagine a person with diabetes being told they need a certain amount of insulin to stabilize their body, yet there is only enough funding to provide a portion of what they need.
The Birth of an Idea
In the fall of 2012, a group of young people between the ages of 20 and 30 gathered. Most had multiple years of long-term recovery. They came from across the country, found recovery through multiple paths, had different political and cultural perspectives, careers and levels of education. They also had strong opinions, passion and commitment to step up, ask questions, listen and challenge the status quo in the recovery community they love and are part of.
With deep sense of service they organized the first National Council of Young People in Recovery whose mission is to educate, advocate and collaborate for anything and everything that will support long-term recovery for their generation.
They expressed gratitude for the access they had to treatment and the programs they participate in. They committed to stepping up and out in their communities to organize their peers and build a social change movement in recovery that will work towards further breaking the stigma of addiction and mental illness, focus on building programs to support young people as they build their new lives in recovery, post treatment, aftercare and sober living.
They committed to advocating for more recovery high schools, collegiate recovery programs, and engaging members of the recovery community who are their elders to be mentors, as they build their careers and become citizens in their towns and cities as people in recovery.
Many social change movements started in a living room, community center or coffee shop. A few voices grow until family, friends and those directly affected by stigma stand up with, and demand those in need have access to not only the critical care phase of there illness but the long term care and support that can create a full and productive life. Now our elected officials are hearing stories of lives in recovery, rather than life in addiction.
The National Youth Recovery Foundation (NYRF) was founded to support a public charter recovery high school in Minnesota.
For the last three years the board of directors listened to
parents who identified the gaps in services as their children came into recovery
professionals who identified the lack of support available to young people once they left the system
and adults in the recovery community who got into recovery when they were in their teens and early twenties.
We met with hundreds of young people and asked them to paint a picture of what they needed as they moved from treatment and aftercare, to a life of recovery. These are their words:
“I have my recovery program, now I need help with the gaps that addiction created to improve my life outside of my meetings.”
“I need a safe community in high school, fun and peers to hang out with after school. I need mentors to talk to me about where I could go with my education, interests, hobbies and skills I want to pursue as a young person figuring out my life.”
“I want to advocate for services that were denied my friends because they didn’t have the money or family support to get help.”
“I want to talk about recovery not addiction— find others who share my interests in music, politics, art, and sports.”
“I come from a family riddled with addiction but after treatment, unlike adults, I didn’t get to live in sober living, I had to go home to a house of addicts and going to a meeting everyday wasn’t enough for a person my age to put together a life.”
“Many of us were getting high rather than being active in extra curricular activities like sports, student government and social causes. In recovery we are interested in these kinds of activities but we missed out on the skills you gain and need help catching up and getting involved.”
“We are grateful to the people who helped us but we want a voice as young people in recovery.”
“We feel differently about our role as people in recovery. We talk about recovery, we are aware of the stigma but we want to acknowledge and show the world that addiction and mental health are part of who we are — we are also young, fun loving, passionate, and interested in succeeding in our education, careers and lives. We have the amazing opportunity to be transparent in our social and professional lives about who we are.”
“We are willing to challenge the system that spends far more on incarceration of people with addiction than treatment. Public policy in some places denies student loans to young people in recovery for up to ten years after they have paid their fines and done their time. Many are denied access to jobs in the financial, security, and healthcare systems, and public education accommodations to support our recovery which is available to all other students with any disease or disability. How can we live up to the integrity and service that recovery has brought to our lives?”
A National Organization
With these statements, the NYRF decided to build a citizen based national organization of family and friends of young people in recovery to raise funds and partner with Young People in Recovery (YPR) to focus exclusively on the recovery phase of the disease of addiction by educating communities around the country to build the network of support systems that support the recovery process from access to diagnosis, and treatment through high school, college, technical school and early career development.
Research proves with four years of services from treatment to recovery the chances of relapse are reduced to less than 20 percent. Recovery support services are less expensive, more mainstreamed into the broader community, thus breaking stigma, building better citizens than the cost of detention, incarceration, repeated in patient treatment and time out of school.
NYRF engages parents, family, friends and elders in the recovery community to support Young People in Recovery. NYRF serves as a sounding board, a funding source, a mentor and champion of these young leaders. Sometimes we fret about them, worry they are going to make a mistake, go too far or challenge the establishment and become controversial. Isn’t this what being young leaders is about?
Gallop Polls show although the majority of Americans believe addiction is a disease, they don’t really believe in recovery. The new generation is going to change that perception and all we need to do is give them the space, help clear the path for more of them to sustain long term recovery.
Observing this generation of new leaders in recovery using all the skills they have gained from their personal journeys is a gift to our nation. In a world of cultural and political wrangling and name calling, blaming and demonizing the recovery community has birthed a new generation of young voices that are humble, authentic, service oriented and hold themselves accountable for their actions.
At the YPR meeting last fall in a room of diverse backgrounds and cultural perspectives they listened to each other, focused on the common mission, took individual responsibility and collective responsibility to build a social change movement. They elected a Chair who runs a youth program in a conservative Christian church and hired an Executive Director who is a progressive public policy advocate and openly gay. They saw nothing unique or unusual in this decision. Since the first of the year these two leaders have grown the leadership group from 13 to 25 with representation from 15 states. There are 8 chapters up and running and three in formation.
Many have participated in programs that have built their knowledge base, leadership skills and networks with peers around the country through state and federal programs. Faces and Voices of Recovery have provided media training and public policy advice to help build their capacity. Parents and members of the recovery community have contributed financially, and with in kind services to support this work.
YPRs are part of what they call a “market segment” that drinks coffee, soft drinks, water, joins health clubs, social clubs, participates in leisure activities, travels, enrolls in educational institutions, buys cars, rents and own houses…..in other words, a great big consumer group that happens to be in recovery. Kudos to the consumer brand products promoting their commitment to fight all types of cancer, today YPRs are asking their recovery be celebrated in the market place as well.
Many young people in recovery believe that paying a few more cents for beer, wine and liquor could create a pool of funding so large anyone who needed recovery services could access them. They ask why this kind of legislation has not been passed when there are at least 100,000 million people in this country who have been directly affected by the disease of addiction.
They are using the fearlessness and passion of youth to challenge our assumptions about what is possible. They are putting themselves on the line and taking a stand to break the stigma of addiction and mental health.
The National Youth Recovery Foundation has challenged our assumptions, fears; desire to play it safe and jumping over the edge with this extraordinary generation of leaders in recovery.
What Lies Ahead
2013 is our launch year and how appropriate for us to organize events around the country called Over the Edge. No ballroom dinners with long speeches for this movement. No celebrity spokespersons. No stories of addiction only celebrations of the amazing journey of recovery.
Over the Edge events will take place in Los Angeles and Boca Raton Florida and hopefully two other cities this year. Members of the recovery community their family and friends will celebrate recovery by rappelling from the roof of the Hollywood W Hotel and the Boca Raton Marriott. Yes you heard it right and you too can take the leap or if not you can sponsor a young person, your boss, your friend or family member to “Go Over the Edge.”
Ready or not Recovery Community – HERE WE GO
Cathie Hartnett is the Executive Director of the National Youth Recovery Foundation, which is building a citizen based organization supporting programs and public policy for young people in long term recovery from addiction. Hartnett is a principle at Portfolio Innovators, a newly formed investment fund investing in successful entrepreneurial companies that need help growing to the next level. Hartnett also manages the Kevin J. Mossier Foundation.
Cathie hosted a radio show for Hubbard Broadcasting for 10 years which kept her up on Hollywood gossip, and currently provides political commentary for ABC affiliate for KSTP television in the Twin Cities.
She spent 17 years in Washington, DC working in electoral politics working for the Leadership of the House of Representatives and was the Delegate Coordinator for President Carter’s National Conference on Women.
Hartnett was recognized by MS Magazine as one of the 80 Women to Watch in the 80”, U of M Alumni Magazine – “40 graduates under 40”, Minnesota Lawyers “100 Smartest People in Minnesota”, and recognized as a Distinguished CLA Graduate of University of Minnesota.