• John Roesch

September is National Recovery Month

This month marks the 30th anniversary of Recovery Month, a national observance held every September to raise awareness about the fact that substance use treatment and mental health services can help those with mental health and substance use disorders live healthy, meaningful and rewarding lives. Sponsored by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Recovery Month celebrates the millions of Americans living in recovery and highlights the fact that people CAN and DO recover. The Month (and all of the programs and events held in observance) also exists to reduce the stigma and long-held misconceptions about addiction and mental health disorders.

Each year, tens of thousands of prevention, treatment, and recovery programs and facilities, as well as individuals in recovery and their loved ones celebrate Recovery with special events, programs, walks, film screenings, etc., in communities from coast to coast throughout the month. Through speaking about the positive changes made by those in recovery and sharing countless stories of success, they help to raise awareness and facilitate greater understanding about mental and substance use disorders. Recovery Month’s various programs and activities also serve to encourage individuals to take action to help expand and improve the availability of effective prevention, treatment, and recovery services for those in need.

Join the Voices of Recovery: Together We Are Stronger

Each year, this national observance is built upon on a particular theme to spread the word that recovery is real, sustainable and powerful. The 2019 theme, “Join the Voices for Recovery: Together We Are Stronger,” has emphasized the critical need to share resources and build networks throughout the country to support recovery. It has also served to remind us that mental and substance use disorders affect everyone (either directly or indirectly) and as such, we can all play a part in the solution.

History of Recovery Month

Over the years, Recovery Month has inspired millions of people to raise awareness about mental and substance use disorders, share their stories of recovery, and encourage others who are still in need of services and support.

The observance, which began in 1989 as ‘Treatment Works! Month,’ originally honored the work of substance use treatment professionals. Nearly a decade later, it evolved into National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month (1998), when it expanded to include celebrating the accomplishment of individuals in recovery from substance use disorders. The observance next evolved into National Recovery Month to include mental illness in 2011.

Recovery Advocacy in New York State

Countless New Yorkers from across the state have jumped on board in recent decades to advocate for greater recovery supports and services at the community and state level. In doing so, they have created a powerful movement responsible for effecting powerful, positive change. Advocates include individuals living in recovery from a substance use disorder, their families, friends and other loved ones, as well as those who have lost a loved one to substance use. One of the organizations leading the way to unite the recovery community and advocate for supports and services across the state is Friends of Recovery – New York (FOR-NY).

FOR-NY was founded in 2008 by a group of individuals in long-term recovery who were looking to raise awareness, reduce stigma and build support for recovery services from Bridgehampton to Buffalo. (You can read more about the organization and its history here.) Thanks to the support of the NYS Office of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), the group has grown into a statewide 501(c)3 nonprofit organization working to educate all New Yorkers and our legislators about recovery and the need for new, better and more community-based supports. Thanks to the efforts of this small, but effective organization and many, many dedicated advocates, progress is being made.

FOR-NY’s staff helps to train Peer Professionals, Recovery Coaches, Treatment Providers, Prevention Specialists and anyone interested in addiction and recovery. They’re working with Recovery Community Organizations (RCOs), Recovery Community Centers and Youth Recovery Clubhouses throughout New York to share best practices and advocate for new and more services throughout the state. They also organize and host the annual NYS Recovery Conference, the NYS Recovery Fine Arts Festival and Stand-Up for Recovery advocacy day.

According to FOR-NY’s Director of Policy, Alison Weingarten, the non-profit is working to advance a number of recovery priorities including increasing peer recovery services in high schools and collegiate recovery programs; creating more safe, affordable recovery housing options; expanding the employment tax credit for NY-based businesses to hire individuals in recovery; and banning requirement for pre-authorization for Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) by private insurance companies and Medicaid. The organization’s 2019 Policy Statement detailing its most recent priorities can be found here. (The 2020 policy statement is in development.)

Get Involved!

Individuals in recovery, their loved ones, those who’ve lost loved ones to the disease, and prevention, treatment and recovery professionals may want to consider attending one of FOR-NY’s upcoming events.

The annual NYS Recovery Conference will be held October 20-22 at the Albany Marriott. This is a must-attend for anyone looking to learn more about recovery from substance use disorder and the various recovery supports and services available; or simply to connect with others in the recovery community. (Click here to learn more about this year’s conference, accommodations and registration.)

Those who can’t make it to Albany next month, might consider attending the Annual Stand Up for Recovery Advocacy Day in March during which advocates from throughout the state gather to educate decision-makers and the general public about addiction recovery and call for the end of discriminations that block access to treatment, housing, employment, education, and community-based recovery supports. For more information, visit the FOR-NY website and subscribe to the monthly e-newsletter.

Anyone interested in learning more about or becoming involved in recovery advocacy can email and/or subscribe to the FOR-NY e-newsletter for additional information about the group’s current efforts and opportunities to become involved.

Recovery Advocacy at the National Level

In addition to its efforts on the community and state level, FOR-NY works to raise awareness and encourage support of recovery advocacy efforts at the national level. Those interested in learning more about efforts and opportunities to advocate for greater federal funding, supports and services, might consider following the efforts of Faces & Voices of Recovery (FAVOR), a national nonprofit organization “dedicated to organizing and mobilizing the over 23 million Americans in recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs, our families, friends and allies into recovery community organizations (RCOs) and networks, to promote the rights and resources to recover through advocacy, education and demonstrating the power and proof of long-term recovery.”

Advocacy is Not a Substitute for Working a Program of Recovery

Recovery advocacy presents a wonderful opportunity to connect with others who are either in recovery themselves or otherwise supportive of the recovery community. Additionally, it’s a critically important means of helping the countless individuals and families who still struggle. That being said, it bears noting that recovery advocacy should not be considered a substitute for working a personal program of recovery. Rather, it’s a beautiful, meaningful and effective way to serve/help individuals and loved ones who still struggle.

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