“You are not alone”. I heard this echoing from the corner of a white-walled room. The chairs rattled as people took their seats. Their faces bearing the scars of years of rationalizing and compromising. I was conditioned to be alone. Isolated from the world around me, I set myself apart, and yet when I looked around the room, I found that I was not so different from anyone else. One by one each person shared their story and the account of their life, lived through their personal battles. I no longer felt alone.
Aloneness and isolation are a common factor in addiction. I have found that connection with others who have suffered with this disease gives some relief from the reality of it. If the opposite of addiction is connection, then it would make sense that community is the strongest medicine. My personal battle has been one of isolation in a crowd of people who didn’t really understand what I was going through. I began my recovery by walking through the doors of a relatively small recovery center that focused on the homeless population. Many people suffering from addiction find themselves living on the street at some point, I was no different. It was a holistic space and offered the thing I needed the most: Community.
The Community Model addresses the needs of the whole person. These needs are individual and therefore, variable. Though I am not a clinician, I will attempt to explain the concept. It begins with hope.
Many people in recovery have lived experience that has whittled away their faith and hope in a future beyond their substance use. They are weighed down by regret and lost time, their hopes and dreams have been shattered by the reality of their everyday struggle. Often, people do not know that there is an issue until something drastic happens to them, making them more aware of it. Many lose hope and wind up in jail or on the streets. Hope is the foundation of recovery that brings oxygen to the little light within, rescuing a person who has been in the shadow of addiction. When hope is rediscovered, it is like waking up after a long sleep. A person in recovery develops a more positive mindset, redefines their strengths, and the capacity to trust others emerges again. Elements of personal goals and vision come into view in small segments at a time. Of course, this too is variable because no single individual has lived exactly as another. There is one thing of which I am certain, hope gives life. But what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. For this reason, the essential next step in The Community Model is empowerment.
A person is in recovery when they say they are. Everyone has a slightly different pathway to recovery, because each individual has needs that are personal to them. When I finally admitted that I had a problem, I began my path to recovery through the acknowledgement of it. I know myself better than anyone knows me, and only I can change the behaviors and patterns that I created in my life. With hope and the support from people who have faced similar challenges, I feel empowered to be a better version of myself. Relapse is a part of my history, but my history does not determine my future. As an active participant in my recovery, I have become self-driven. This does not happen all at once, and definitely not alone. This happens with the support of my community and my peers, which is the third level of The Community Model.
With peer support, I am stronger than my weakest parts. Peers give encouragement and direction when I feel lost. Their life experiences help me to see how to navigate my personal recovery through the sharing of relatable stories. When I need resources or simply don’t know what to do next, I lean on a community of peers and professionals who are advocates for my recovery. My goals, dreams and desires may be different from theirs, but I have accumulated a patchwork of peer supports to sew my tapestry of recovery together.
I am a whole person. I am not unique in that I need housing and income, medical and spiritual support. I have things that are important to me and things that aren’t as important. I have family and friendships that affect my recovery, stresses and moments that affect my mental health. I am constantly changing as the world is constantly changing and I am learning to adapt to those changes in a positive way. My recovery is a life-long journey of growth and self-discovery, and I am only ever one bad decision away from active addiction. This is my reality.
Person-centered community care has helped me to assimilate into a new life by grounding me in the context of my own life goals. My pathway to recovery has consisted of all the relationships I have developed along my recovery journey after my midbrain initially had changed my course toward addiction. I have made profound advances toward goals with the help of my natural supports and resources I have cultivated in my environment. It was difficult at first to change the people, places and things that I had grown accustomed to. Isolation is a common factor in addiction, however there were always people willing to hang around when substances were available. I was insecure with myself and had lost the power to do anything to pick myself back up again. I used substances like a hermit crab would use a shell. With substances I could hide from feelings and thoughts, I could hide in my own mind in relative isolation. I was numb and unaware of substance use being a problem not a solution. I was disengaged from the world around me and settled for far too long on the idea that I was going to be alone in my isolation and patterns of addiction. Then I walked through the doors of that holistic recovery center filled with people like me and I came out of my shell.
The Community Model creates a space of safety and support for a person like me in recovery. I changed my environment and the community in which I had grown accustomed to. In return, my new environment and community changed me. The network of supports and relationships with peers assisted me in the assessment of my personal needs by initially presenting me with options for day-to-day goals. I developed the skills necessary for future goalsetting by leaning on professionals and peers to inform my decisions. I developed friendships with staff and other people in recovery through programs centered on relevant issues that support my long-term success. I found my voice and community, and now I am writing to give back to the process that centered me through my connections to the recovery community at large. I am a person in recovery, and I am not alone.
Jennifer Madison, RCP