Is Recovery a form of deviance? Is stigma both a badge with negative connotation and ego fueled uniqueness? What would the Recovery Movement look like it were fully and completely embraced in our society?
The article Deviance In Our Everyday Lives - Why We Need Deviance on Odyssey the author states:
“Deviance comes in many forms in society. Deviance even helps form and shape society’s norms and goals. Without deviance we would not have rules. Deviance is any behavior that violates social norms, and is usually of sufficient severity to warrant disapproval from the majority of society. Deviance can be criminal or non‐criminal. Basically our society would not have anything to base rules off of, without deviance.”
I want to apply this train of thought toward out current recovery movement practices, responses and reactions to see if or how our ongoing deviant mindset is serving us. We (those in substance use recovery) are by default set up in opposition to larger systemic and cultural belief systems the moment we deviate from active or symptom based behaviors to recovery based practices. Whether it be our old companions, our families, our colleagues or going up against the monolithic big pharma, or injustice and inequity in our healthcare system, recovery is in and of itself an agitation and deviance. I don't think everyone comes into the recovery world with a purpose or passion to get highly involved with agitating the system to be an advocate or activist, it’s just that active use at moderate to accelerated levels are more acceptable than the recovery from potential behaviors and risks associated with severe instances, thus recovery is deviant.
Our current societal norms, at far as I can tell, still condone excessive alcohol consumption, accept high rates of tobacco deaths, and unfortunately is becoming desensitized to the numbers of people dying everyday from opiates. (Think of the hospital scene in the Dark Knight when the Joker is talking to Harvey Dent about acceptable casualties.) This is part of what the recovery community is deviating from. Destruction and devastation. Our community is in a perpetual state of grief and loss with what we see around us. It’s an ongoing slow boil that is reinforced by outdated schools of thought like “the herd will weed out the weak” or some distorted sense of Darwinism thinking addiction is doing the world a favor. If you need an example of this, check out 3-4 facebook threads after an article about an overdose story is posted. The current culture we are in precludes us from being able to fully and completely be integrated into a mainstream system of care or dignity. The most intriguing part, is that we still have a part in it keeping that narrative alive.
We now host rallies with hundreds sometimes thousands of people in recovery, walking with signs telling the world we vote, we have jobs & families, we matter. We have multiple recovery blog sites (like this incredible attempt), news stories and articles sharing individual successes of how they found a pathway of recovery, of how they broke out of their disease fueled societal norm and deviated to a new way of life. We still focus on a steel beam and not the entire skyscraper. This begs the question...If both active use and recovery are forms of deviance, in what place or state do we become a new normal? I am guilty and paradoxically proud of wearing my Recovery as a form of deviation. I mean what's not to like? I am taking on “The Man”. I’m no longer susceptible to SUD driven commercialization of what the majority of people think is cool. On top of that, I am part of a super secret Fight Club-eque group, that I can’t really tell you about, but know that “We cook your meals. We haul your trash. We connect your calls. We drive your ambulances. We guard you while you sleep.” We are legion in our own reality and deviance is cool.
Deviance is a tool, one that we need to wield carefully. It can be used to bring us together; however, it is still a term that is separating and divisive. It prevents us from creating a new normal. It has served us well, our anger is noted. However, our value is greater than the penance and retribution we seek. Our collective worth and dignity is greater than our individual stories. What would the Recovery Movement look like if it were fully and completely embraced in our society?
My invitation to all of my fellow deviants, activists and advocates is to change our narrative. We have the power to walk into any room and say we are no longer going to be defined by our success stories alone of overcoming, we are no longer merely the person in the room who everyone congratulates for our recovery and abandons us in our pain. We are here to stay. We are many. We require more than recovery ready spaces, we deserve “Recovery Aligned” communities. Our deviance must be turned toward our own systems that keep us small and viewed as deviant in society.
I love helping organizations and communities with strategic planning processes and have found that unique idealism and fear often keep people from expanding and experimenting to their fullest potential. This is where our deviance can serve us. Deviation from the belief that there is not enough. Ignore the messages in this movement that are telling us to demand from congress, deny invitations to fight against this or that group, or anything perpetuates and “us and them” mentality. That will be what keeps us stuck and small. If you are familiar with peer support or coaching principles, you know the value and power of meeting people where they are today. Telling someone they need to change rarely works. The same goes for politicians, insurance companies, and pharma reps. They are still, after all, people. In conclusion, I believe our deviance against our own internal struggles and messaging is what will make us mighty. Our ability to use our potential as a massive recovery equity movement built from the foundations of hope and justice spawned by our fore mothers and fore
fathers will move us into a new era of beginning to heal.