Many people in the treatment industry don’t do the work they do for the money. They do this work because they love it—getting paid for it is just the icing on the cake. When I went to the Freedom and Recovery Conference in April, I got to talk to a variety of professionals in the rehab industry who had congregated in the name of their common passion: recovery from addiction and mental health issues. In many ways, this was the perfect echo chamber to broadcast the word of the Heroes in Recovery mission. The meeting halls were filled with professional word-spreaders who are passionate about recovery. So the idea of reducing the stigma of addiction, treatment and recovery was received with open ears and a great deal of interest.
I told them that the mission of Heroes in Recovery was to reach the 20 million plus individuals who struggle with addiction every year and can’t access or don’t utilize recovery services. They immediately wanted to know what they could do to help. I told them each the same thing: “Visit the Heroes site and share your story. It is through sharing our personal stories that we give hope. Join the Heroes community online and come have fun with us at local Heroes events. Don’t worry about who you tell or what you tell them about Heroes; just tell them about it in your own voice—it is your personal passion for recovery that will be the catalyst for spreading the word.”
Inspired by the excitement expressed by those I spoke with, I rode a wave of optimism back home to my post as an admissions counselor fielding phone calls for those in need of help. I soon realized the duality of my experience: at one moment I was energized to pass on the hope which had become abundant through my various connections, and the next moment I came to realize more than ever the need for frequent and personal squashing of the stigma associated with addiction and mental health issues. Furthermore, I realized that in my small world, I could have a seemingly large impact—but that it would take hundreds of thousands of people advocating in the same way to make a lasting impact in our communities and our culture.
At first this thought was daunting and deflating. Then I thought of the story of the little boy on the beach, which I have copied below:
“One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, ‘What are you doing?’ The youth replied, ‘Throwing starfish back into the ocean.
The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.’ ‘ Son,’ the man said, ‘don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!’ After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said…‘I made a difference for that one.’” *
What I realized is that much like one of the guiding principles of my life, one day at a time, I must approach this subject one person at a time. I cannot get overwhelmed and stop advocating. I have to be patient and content with the progress that I can make—one person at a time. My hope is that by transmitting my story of overcoming negative preconceived notions about addiction and recovery, I can reach one person who can in turn can pay it forward to the next person. Like a chain of dominoes, we can keep spreading the message until the stigma falls into the texts of history books.
*This starfish story was found in “Star Thrower,” a collection of essays by the naturalist and writer Loren Eiseley, 1978.