In order for a revolution to happen, people must first come out of the shadows. Oppressed and marginalized people must first take the risk of stepping out and putting a face and voice to their struggle.
For nearly 30 years now, the recovery advocacy movement has mobilized itself to do just that. Large segments of people and family members living in recovery with greater privilege to do so have courageously stepped out of the shadows to emerge across the country as vocal and visible voices for recovery. The 2013 documentary “The Anonymous People” served as a powerfully effective call for even more people to come out of the shadows. And the devastating toll of the opioid crisis has brought with it another group – thousands and thousands of family members of people living with a substance use disorder or who tragically lost a loved one due to a preventable overdose death. Yes, many of us are out of the shadows, stripping away stigma and shame as we demonstrate that recovery is possible and sharing the pain of experiencing so many denied access to it. While we have a long way to go in creating space for ALL people to have the privilege required to step so boldly out of the shadows, particularly people of color who have been devastatingly impacted by addiction and bad drug policy long before the opioid crisis of today, we certainly have made progress.
In order for a revolution to happen, the conditions must get so bad that people can take no more. Oppressed and marginalized people recognize that the conditions are worsening and there is no end in sight.
Today, drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of death for people under 50 years old. We are burying more Americans from a drug overdose death than from both car accidents and gun violence. The use of urgency filled words such as “plague” and “epidemic” litter the headlines, aptly describing what is happening in our communities but seemingly to no avail. The problem is not only failing to get better, it is getting worse. The scourge of people dying due to a drug overdose is escalating with most experts declaring no end in sight. While one would think this would be enough to elicit a swift, comprehensive and far-reaching response on the part of our systems and government, we have yet to see anything close. We instead see “steps in the right direction” and “small wins.”
In order for a revolution to happen, people must get fed up. Oppressed and marginalized people must decide that enough is enough and declare that they will be placated no more.
This is the point where every social justice movement must consider if the commonly used phrase “insanity is repeating the same thing but expecting different results” could perfectly describe its current circumstances. This is the point where we begin asking ourselves the questions:
“What if we grew bolder, what if we stopped asking for what we need and instead demanded it?
“What if we refused to settle for ineffective scraps, small wins and steps in the right direction?”
“What if we organized ourselves in a way reminiscent of how other oppressed and marginalized groups have done in the past to affect change?”
“What if we moved away from just having celebratory walks for recovery and instead also engaged in actions that demanded more people be allowed the chance to live to see those recovery walks?”
“What if we could converge across wellness and recovery pathways to suspend differences and instead meet as one unified voice in the name of saving lives?”
“What if we created space for the millions of people we have been leaving behind (most importantly people of color, but also harm reductionists, people who don’t identify as needing or being in recovery, and people living with chronic pain who are using opioids for legitimate medical use)?”
“What if we had sit-ins, protests, civil disobedience and other actions historically needed in the face of such social injustice?
“When will we decide enough is enough? When will we be angry enough? How many more people have to suffer and die?”
In order for a revolution to happen, oppressed and marginalized groups must seize on crisis as opportunity. When it comes to the opioid overdose crisis and our nation’s larger addiction related concerns, perhaps the most important question of all that we should be asking ourselves is this: “Are we finally ready for a recovery revolution?”