When someone decides he or she finally wants to be free from the death-grip hold of substance addiction, there are — thankfully — places for them to turn in the community. Many of these support systems — Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and various counseling groups — were established decades ago. And they work. But for the most part they operate in a kind of underground world. That is part by design, especially with the importance of the anonymous component of 12-step recovery groups. But it is also because the lifelong recovery from addiction is invisible.
The Bangor Area Recovering Community Coalition wants to change the low-profile nature of the recovery process, not so participants can bask in the glow of public attention, but because recovery is just a little bit easier if the overall community is aware of its rigors and pitfalls. The coalition is hosting the Bangor Area Summit on Addiction Recovery on Sept. 4 at the Bangor Civic Center to explore the topic, “Broadening the Base for Recovery.”
A community that is aware of the challenges recovery presents has good reason to want to help. The coalition estimates that in Penobscot County 1,789 years of life were lost among the 145,000 county residents in 2005. That mortality resulted in $40 million in lost productivity in the local economy that year. Add on medical, crime, treatment and child welfare costs and the total hit for the county for 2005 was $99 million.
People need to see what recovery looks like, said a woman active in the coalition during a recent meeting with the BDN. They know all too well what addiction looks like, she said — the police summoned to the house next door, the dissolution of a marriage, the loss of employment, the neighbor stumbling home or the lethargic co-worker. Someone battling cancer may be bald from chemotherapy, and that elicits a “hang in there, what can I do to help?” response from friends, family, neighbors and co-workers. The recovering addict is not so obvious, but has similar needs: a ride to an AA meeting, a reference for a job, a home-cooked meal, help with childcare.
Those in the recovery business note that recent studies of the process have found some interesting traits that seem to separate the successful from the unsuccessful. The difference between two trauma victims is the amount of resilience each has. The components of that inherent resilience are having problem-solving skills, a hope for a brighter future, a certain amount of personal autonomy and social competence.
The question coalition members ask is whether the greater community can help those who are recovering from addiction become more resilient. Often, they say, the community — unknowingly, perhaps — presents a cold shoulder to those who are walking, one day at a time, into the light of recovery. While it’s true that a person’s recovery group, family, friends and spiritual community can offer the largest measure of support, the greater community can and should offer a hand as well. The first step is for it to become more aware.