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What Is a Recovery Advocate: Part 1?

Recovery advocates are men and women who take the stage to speak on mental health, awareness, stigmatization and recovery. Alcoholics singing the good praises of recovery must above all things be mentally physically and spiritually sound. History is full of men and women who have found and spread hope. Icons like Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, and Lebron James are loved and looked up to by many. All these icons have common characteristics, they stand for something, speak their mind and make changes in their communities. They also take impeccable care of their minds, bodies and souls.


In the age of advocacy for mental health rights and the fight to end discrimination for addicts and alcoholics there has been a struggle to adopt a form of advocacy that produces more positive results than negative. Looking back through history of the temperance movement and the present form of advocates and advocacy groups there is a pattern of success and failure. Successful advocates who use their personal stories of addiction and recovery to insight change must be a person who puts their personal health and recovery first and their advocacy work second. Advocacy should not be a person’s “recovery program”. That would be like a person who doesn’t eat healthy or work out becoming a fitness coach.  

There is a long history of alcoholics tying this method and failing. During the temperance movement (prohibition era) there were circuit speakers. Some of the more prominent figures included: John Gough, one of America’s most charismatic temperance reformers. He relapsed multiple times during his long career. A lawyer, Edward Uniac who suffered from chronic drinking relapses. Edward ultimately  died from an overdose of whiskey and opium while on a temperance lecture tour in Massachusetts. Luther Benson tried to use his own personal struggles with alcohol in the temperance lectures he gave across the country similar to many of today’s advocates. His stories of persistent binge drinking while on the lecture circuit were written while he was residing in an insane asylum in indiana. Benson truly believed that throwing himself into temperance work would shield him from alcohol. In retrospect, he was forced to admit the following:


“I learned too late that this was the very worst thing I could have done. I was all the time expending the very strength I so much needed for the restoration of my shattered system.”


             There is no doubt that advocacy is important. It’s important to talk about addiction, spread hope, and awareness. People need resources for help and to know they aren’t alone in this fight. Advocacy helps fight the stigma of addiction and create change and opportunity for those afflicted by substance abuse disorders. With the heroin epidemic touching every age, sex, religion, and demographics of this country there are so many people searching for a glimmer of hope that one day, they too can recover. In the age of social media and the platforms they enable, more people are able to speak out which has definitely helped qualm the stigmatization of addicted people. With this being said there are people who reject this kind of self-promotion, describing those identifying as members of 12 Step fellowships and speaking about their recovery on a public platform as self-seeking and self-important. Some say that their voice comes from a place of ego. Others are concerned that an advocate, open about their recovery may relapse, in turn reflecting badly on the fellowships and even decimating the hope of their many ‘followers’.. Many believe that speaking about recovery and identifying as a member of a 12 Step fellowship indirectly makes that member a “spokesperson” for their fellowship. The Alcoholics Anonymous guidelines provide some tools that one can use when trying to decide if it’s appropriate to break anonymity or not.


There are so many conflicting debates in regards to advocacy. People need to hear hope but is it best from a person in recovery themselves or another source? If an advocate relapses does it affect twelve step fellowships as a whole negatively or is there an understanding that a specific advocate does not represent the entire community? Should anonymity even be broken? We will dive into anonymity so those who are concerned with breaking their anonymity but have an urge to step forward and speak out can know the proper A.A. guidelines.


Written by Allie Severino

Stay Tuned for Part II