Over the past few years, a sadly ever-growing army of individuals who have lost a loved due to addiction has been steadily organizing in small and large groups across the country. Driven by unimaginable grief, loss, frustration, passion and commitment to making change, these family members have most certainly moved the needle when it comes to demanding a smart, comprehensive, large-scale and long overdue response to substance use disorder and its related challenges. They have experienced the unthinkable – they have gotten the phone call or knock at the door that so many others still dread, they have sung Amazing Grace at their child’s funeral as they wept for a piece of themselves now gone, they have had to redefine life after their oldest and most admired sibling has passed away, they have had to take care of final arrangements for a parent who was not supposed to go quite just yet. They have borne the burden of a public health problem affecting us all that has not yet been adequately addressed in this country, and they have rallied and fought to spare other family members and loved ones the same incomprehensible and often preventable painful experience. The addiction recovery advocacy movement owes much to these courageous and heroic individuals; the nation-at-large will someday thank them as well.
When I think of the enormous impact those who paid the ultimate price have had on initiating change, I can’t help but wonder about another growing army of individuals whose voice has yet to be heard anywhere near as loudly. I can’t help but think of the family members and loved ones of those who have been able to initiate and sustain long-term recovery from a substance use disorder. I can’t help but ask myself “where are all of the people who have benefited from a loved one’s recovery, why aren’t we hearing from a large number of them?”
Where are the family members who get to celebrate holidays with their loved one in recovery? Where are the family members who attended a college graduation ceremony for a loved one they hoped would but never expected to graduate high school? Where are the family members of people in recovery who have lived up to the potential always known to be within them? Where are the family members of lawyers, doctors, CEO’s, social workers, community leaders and teachers in recovery? Where are the family members who no longer wait for that phone call or knock on the door, who didn’t have to attend a child’s premature funeral, who have relationships with their parents beyond their wildest dreams? Where is the voice of those who have witnessed, experienced and benefited from a loved one’s recovery?
We need that voice. We need to see the faces, hear the stories and intimately understand the difference that one individual in recovery can make in a family system and the larger world. We need those who have benefited from a loved one’s recovery to be walking side by side those courageous heroes who weren’t afforded the same gift. We need these witnesses of recovery to be telling their story. We need those who feel empowered and moved to do so to be talking to local politicians, calling congressmen, marching into state capitols and demanding more from our elected officials. We need family members and loved ones to shatter any internally held stigma and shame and instead boldly proclaim that they know recovery is possible because they have in fact experienced it. They have seen it. They have lived it. They know the bountiful rewards inherent in an investment into prevention, treatment and recovery, and they want the same for others families and loved ones as well.
The day that one of this country’s largest public health problems' changes is going to be the day that those who have been touched by a loved one’s recovery do more than just appreciate that gift and keep it to themselves. The day this thing changes is when millions of family members and loved ones step out from the shadows and pay that gift forward to their neighbors, their community and the country at-large. The day this thing changes is when family members and loved ones lend their voice to the conversation and share their stories of challenge and triumph. If those who have experienced the impact of a life lost can do it, then those who have experienced the impact of a life gained most certainly can do the same.
To those family members and loved ones who already do speak out, thank you. For those who have yet done so, it is time we hear your voice. We need to hear your voice.
If you are a family member and would like to get involved, a great place to start is with contacting your local Recovery Community Organization (RCO). Click here to find a RCO in your community.