I have been thinking Don Coyhis this week. For those who do not know of him, Don Coyhis is the founder of White Bison the American Indian/Alaska Native recovery community organization. Last year he received the distinguished lifetime achievement award at the Faces & Voices America Honors Recovery Award Dinner. He certainly deserved that award. It was a great honor simply spend time with him on that night, which was also one of the most memorable nights of my own recovery journey.
One of things he talked about was how when federal funding came to support the work of White Bison. Federal grant officers were concerned at the time that their methods were not evidence based in ways that traditional services are defined. White Bison told the grant officers that they had several thousands of years of evidence on what worked in their community. Ultimately, they were allowed the latitude to serve their community as they saw fit, as it was recognized that they were the experts on their own community. White Bison flourished.
This is profound. The experts on recovery community are people who live in the recovery community. I suspect that providing space for the recovery community to define and support its own members is a key ingredient in other recovery community organizations success as well. We must remain ever cognizant of this as we move to integrate peer recovery support services into our care infrastructure or we will lose the vital role and central function these services have in supporting long term recovery nestled within community.
As I have written about in recent weeks, community is fundamental to recovery for all of us. As Americans, we should be thinking about investing in measures to strengthen community in the broadest sense. Americans belong to fewer organizations, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often than ever before. It has broad negative implications for our health and wellbeing. The book Bowling Alone Collapse and Revival of American Community published in 2000 focused on the loss of social capital. In 2018, Senator Ben Sasse also focused on the loss of community as a central societal challenge in his book Them – why we hate each other and arrived at similar conclusions about what is happening and what we need to do to change it. I can’t think of anything more important to fix for our collective future as a nation.
Strengthening recovery community is a critical element in the revival of American community. Recovering people become engaged citizens which benefits all society. As Bill White, Pat Taylor and Carol McDaid note in there 2010 paper Recovery and Citizenship, we become involved in volunteerism, with our own families and reconnect with meaningful activities as citizens. Citizenship is central to the recovery identity.
People in recovery are the experts on what is needed to develop and strengthen our own communities. There are broad societal reasons why we should be nurturing community in America right now. The recovery community is a key element in reviving American community.
We must avoid defining peer recovery services as similar to counseling – delivered in units on an individual or group level defined externally by others. Funders, even when well-intentioned could actually do harm to us and become a barrier to our work if not mindful of our expertise. The fact is the recovery community itself is the healing agent and the peer professional is more an ambassador of recovery than a service element. We must remain diligent and nurture recovery community and keep community “baked into the recipe” of peer services or we will lose the essence of the work we will do to activate and engage citizens in community.
After-all – we are the experts on what is needed in our own communities and what we have can help restore American community. This kind of service is central to our identity, all we are asking is for the recognition that we are the experts on our own needs. Doing so will help heal America.