I'd love to tell you that my ability to initiate and sustain recovery from a substance use disorder has been as a direct result of how strong I am, but that would be a lie. I'd love for you to believe that I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and overcame all of the odds on my own, but this would be untrue. It would be great for you to think that if I could find recovery, anybody can, and that every individual struggling with addiction in this country right now has an equal opportunity at finding recovery. Unfortunately, this too would be a lie.
The fact that I am in recovery right now while so many others are taking their last breath is not something I can take anywhere near all the credit for. As a matter of fact, while I have put in a lot of hard work to stay in recovery, the following are three of the real reasons why I've been able to find recovery while so many others have not. They also happen to be three areas in which change must occur so that others may have the same opportunity at life that I've had:
Access to Care
Due to the nature of addiction, there are only small windows of opportunity during which an individual is in a place of readiness to receive treatment and/or support. It is critical that when this window opens, the treatment and support that individual needs is made readily available to them with as few barriers and obstacles to hurdle as possible. For me, I had access to the treatment, support and resources I needed, when I needed it. For far too many, they are hit with long waiting lists, red tape, misinformation, bureaucratic barriers, insurance denials and a lack of resources. When this occurs, that small window of opportunity slams shut in such a way that often times makes it more difficult to open up down the line. If I hadn't had access to the care I needed, when I needed it, I don't know that I would have ever found recovery. It is imperative that our behavioral health systems transform to be able to welcome individuals in with open arms when that small window of opportunity opens up.
Criminal Justice Disparities
As a white woman, I always stood a better chance at finding recovery. My chances of entering into the criminal justice system were only 1 in 111 while for black men they are 1 in 3. For all of the times police officers told me to go home when they could have arrested me, the chances are undeniably high that as a black man, I would not have had the privilege of sleeping in my own bed that evening. By not having criminal justice involvement as an adult, I was not faced with all of the challenges associated with the experience of incarceration and subsequent criminal background. I was able to easily find the employment I needed to both take care of myself and find life after entering into recovery both meaningful and fulfilling. This instrumental absence of a criminal background is not due to the absence of me having committed drug related offenses as an adult, it is more so a matter of having been given passes when caught. It is imperative that our criminal justice systems transform to be more forgiving of all individuals living with substance use challenges, not just those with lighter skin.
Continuing Care, Ongoing Support and Access to Resources
Recovery from a substance use disorder most often requires continuing care, ongoing support and access to resources that extend far past just a trip to detox or short-term treatment stay. For me, I had access to recovery housing for 9 months, a job readiness program, quality outpatient treatment, peer support, physical health care, mental health care, transportation and more. I was a beneficiary of my city's transformation toward a Recovery Oriented System of Care, a model in which recovery is recognized as taking place out in the community and therefore communities are made better equipped to support long-term recovery. For far too many individuals across the country, access to ongoing care and support is limited or non-existent. Had I not had this critical component of ongoing support made available to me, it is difficult to imagine how I would have sustained my recovery. It is imperative that towns, cities, states and the country as a whole move toward placing a greater emphasis on continuing care out in the communities in which people sustain their recovery.
Recovery isn't about a lucky roll of the dice or some people just being stronger than others. Recovery is made possible when individuals have access to whatever it is they need, when they need it, for as long as they need it. I am in recovery only because I had this access. It is time that we change our systems so that all individuals have an equal opportunity at recovery as well.