The Link Between Community, Mental Health and a Positive RecoveryAnna Ciulla
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Once the decision is made to enter treatment to overcome drug or alcohol dependence, perhaps a dual diagnosis of substance use disorder and accompanying mental health condition, the generally-hoped-for outcome is successful and lasting recovery. While treatment is the appropriate start on the journey to recovery, it isn’t sufficient by itself to provide ongoing sobriety. Much more is required, including development and maintenance of a solid support network, access to community and social services, ongoing counseling and other resources. Thus, in addition to a solid treatment foundation, community involvement and service can greatly improve recovery and mental health outcomes.
DEVELOPING A SOLID SUPPORT NETWORK
The support network available to the recovering addict ideally includes loved ones and family members first and foremost, as the family is integral in overall effective recovery. Without the support of those closest to him or her, the challenges of daily life in sobriety, not to mention the triggers and urges to use that may jeopardize hard-earned progress, could easily become too much for the newly-sober man or woman.
Some individuals, however, lack any family support due to estrangement, geographical barriers, death of family members and other reasons.
This adds further weight to the importance of a staunch support network in the form of self-help and recovery groups. The most recognized and longest-duration of 12-Step self-help groups is Alcoholics Anonymous. Al-Anon/Alateen provides support for families and friends affected by a loved one or family member’s alcoholism. Self-help and recovery groups are free and available throughout the United States and many countries and emphasize recovery for many substances and conditions, including cocaine, methamphetamine, narcotics, marijuana, nicotine and others. Dual Recovery Anonymous is a 12-Step group that helps those in recovery from a dual diagnosis of chemical substance abuse and co-occurring emotional or psychiatric illness.
CAREGIVERS’ SPECIAL NEEDS
Recovery presents multiple challenges for everyone. Women, especially women who are caregivers for young children, elderly parents, an ill spouse or family member, may be reluctant to enter treatment for substance use and/or mental health condition or, if they have been in treatment, feel obligated to tend to family responsibilities at the expense of positive recovery. Indeed, according to the Office on Women’s Health, some 70 percent of women entering treatment for substance abuse have children. Without adequate care for children at home, many women who are ready to accept treatment may fail to pursue it – or leave treatment early.
That’s why family-centered treatment is so important both recovering women who are also caregivers. Providing these women with family-based clinical and community support services is vital to successful recovery. Factors such support should comprehend include physical and mental health, relapse prevention, social support, healthy family attachments and relationships, and social, economic and environmental needs.
PEER RECOVERY SUPPORT SERVICES
Individuals in recovery have many needs. Finding a job may be near the top of the list, right after going to 12-Step meetings, continuing counseling and working a recovery plan. Indeed, having a job is instrumental in helping the recovering addict regain his or her footing in society. Yet it is often very difficult for the newly-sober individual to put together a job search, let alone have the confidence to pull off the process of preparing and sending resumes, going to interviews and successfully landing a position. Recovery support is necessary.
Here’s where peer recovery support services fill an important need for those entering recovery. Not only are they designed and delivered by people who know addiction first-hand, they’re also intimately aware of what it’s like to deal with daily pressures and stress, to overcome the shame, guilt, sadness, low self-esteem and confusion that are often so much a part of early recovery. The Recovery Community Services Program (RCSP), funded by grants from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration/Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (SAMHSA/CSAT), provides peer recovery support services throughout the United States.
The primary purpose of peer recovery support services is twofold: to provide hope to those entering recovery and help them remain in recovery, thereby reducing the likelihood of relapse. Whether it’s providing assistance in finding a job through a job referral service, emotional support, coaching and practice honing interviewing skills, locating a place to live, wellness seminars, child parenting classes, transportation, child care or assistance accessing the various community health and social services, peer recovery support services help addicts in recovery strengthen and maintain their sobriety. At the same time, they provide a sense of community, a place to socialize, and an opportunity for the recovering addicts to provide services themselves, giving them the chance to give back to the community, helping others just as they have been helped.
A POSITIVE OUTLOOK HELPS PROMOTE POSITIVE RECOVERY
Addiction is a fertile ground for loneliness, self-destructive behavior, helplessness and despair. After detox from harmful substances and undergoing treatment or seeking professional counseling, there’s still no guarantee of lasting sobriety. Each person in recovery must learn to live one day at a time, doing the best they can to make small strides toward meaningful goals.
They cannot be successful in this endeavor without help from others, specifically, those who understand the struggle recovering addicts are going through and who are fully supportive of their recovery goals. Promoting good mental health is just one aspect of the invaluable interaction between recovering addicts, their peers, family members, colleagues at work, and neighbors and other members of the community.
It can be difficult to find meaning and feel hope after addiction. After all, there’s been little positive that’s resulted from months and perhaps years of addiction. Yet people can and do get better, build their self-confidence and self-esteem, learn new skills, benefit from listening to the stories of others who have encountered similar obstacles in recovery. This is the power of community, of sharing and caring. Being with others who can offer help, companionship, understanding and compassion can facilitate a newly sober individual’s courage to tackle challenges, embrace a healthier lifestyle, find purpose and joy in life.
A positive recovery is one that is hopeful, filled with supportive individuals, solid resources, an array of choices, gratitude for sobriety, appreciation for the opportunity to chart a new path, and a willingness to find workable solutions to everyday problems. A positive outlook, learning to see the possibilities and not just the roadblocks, helps promote positive recovery.
COMMUNITY, MENTAL HEALTH AND POSITIVE RECOVERY: A STRONG LINK
Recovery is an ongoing journey, one that involves personal exploration and discovery, tapping into strengths and learning new skills. It is also a time of connecting or reconnecting with loved ones, family members, friends, neighbors, members of self-help or 12-Step groups and other entities. The recovering addict has responsibilities to actively work his or her recovery and make use of strengths. So, too, do loved ones, family and the community. In positive recovery, all are inextricably linked.