Last Saturday, I had the pleasure and honor to march through Cardiff with about a thousand people in recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. Loved ones of people in recovery from babes in arms to grandparents came along for the fun (as did some other professional clinician types like me). It was the first recovery walk ever in Wales, and the third ever in the U.K. I was surprised how moving it was for me. I have spent a lot of time with addicted people, but usually it’s when they are at their worst. But here they were walking proudly as drivers honked in salute and pedestrians waved and clapped. If you can get the average citizen to applaud for an addict, you are indeed changing the culture. That more than anything made me feel that I was in the company of heroes.
In prior posts, I have tried to describe what the recovery movement is about in the U.K., both in terms of how the government is responding and the potential conflict between methadone providers and recovering people (which as I have said to my friends in the movement is unnecessary and unproductive). The day before the Cardiff walk a number of leaders in the recovery and harm reduction movements met for extended dialogue, which can only be a good thing. The broader the movement, the stronger it will be. Factionalism in contrast will kill it in the cradle.
What the U.K. recovery movement should fight for isn’t for me to dictate, because I am not in recovery and spend most of my time in the U.S. these days. But in listening to recovering people, I discern a few lines. First, many of the movement’s goals are cultural and psychological more than political. The members of the movement want the healing experience of being re-joined to society, being recognized for recovery rather than stigmatized forever because of their past alcohol and other drug problems. Second, they want to instill hope in people who are in the throes of addiction. I acknowledged the marchers for that when we all did our closing remarks, pointing out that somewhere in the U.K. at two in the morning some addict in misery was going to turn on the telly and see all these recovering people and at that point a spark of hope would form in his heart. Third, they want their government to do more to help. Sometimes these demands concern changes in treatment services but more often than not they center on better opportunities for jobs and housing for recovering people.
In terms of firm political party alliances, I don’t think the recovery movement in the U.K. yet has one and indeed may not need one. In the depths of their addiction, many recovering people didn’t follow politics as all and so don’t enter the movement with strong biases one way or another. Those who were politically engaged prior to recovery come from all political parties for the obvious reason that addiction affects people of all political stripes. My own experience in public policy is that most politicians don’t like addicted people and don’t want to publicly advocate for them even if they feel sympathetic to them. For this reason, I have worked with anyone in any political party who showed an interest (very often because they had experienced addiction personally or in their family). Although again it’s not for me to say, I suspect the U.K. recovery movement will follow a similar pragmatic course in its political strategy, giving loyalty based on each politician’s performance rather than party.
p.s. To those of you in AA and other anonymous 12-step fellowships who may believe it violates the 12 traditions for people to publicly acknowledge their recovery, please note that the founders of 12-step organizations did not hold this view nor do the current trustees (I know because I have asked). To represent oneself in the press or to public audiences as a spokesperson for AA/NA violates the traditions, but to acknowledge that one has had serious drug and/or alcohol problems and is now in recovery does not.