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Does recovery space equal recovery ghetto?

Posted · 20 Comments

FestivalAt the moment, the world’s largest cultural festival is happening in Edinburgh, as it does every year. The place is awash with tourists and revellers. For recovering people there are cues and triggers to be navigated around. There are calls to drink at every corner. For those in early recovery, havens from the madness are welcome.

I posted recently on William White’s blog about preserving recovery spaces (in the context of possible ramifications from cannabis legalisation in the USA). Adam Sled, a public recovery advocate, respectfully disagrees. Says Sled in a Fix article:

I have a great deal of respect for Bill White; but I disagree strongly with this line of reasoning. I submit that in an atmosphere of true destigmatization of addiction and recovery, the identification or designation of “recovery space” becomes unnecessary and, in fact, perpetuates the stigma that we are working so hard to shed. Furthermore, decriminalization is central to the destigmatization effort.

Sled accepts that triggers can cause relapse and that triggers are all around. He also accepts that avoidance of ‘people, places and things’ is necessary in early recovery, but says that it is not a long term strategy. He goes on:

Many people recover in spite of surroundings that may be less than ideal. This is because recovery is an inside job. It does not only happen in conducive environments. It can flourish and thrive in virtually any set of conditions.

He is concerned about sending wrong messages

The world will never be recovery-friendly; but to ask our communities and legislators to be sensitive to recovery space perpetuates the misconception that people in recovery are passive victims, hopelessly susceptible to environmental cues and in need of sheltering. In this context, people in recovery will never achieve full empowerment.

And if not creating or preserving recovery space, then what?

Recovery space will not be achieved through restriction or regulation of those who can enjoy the recreational use of substances, legal or otherwise. One of the stigmas that we are working to overcome is the idea that we are a bunch of party poopers. Pro-recovery must not be confused with anti-drug. Instead, we must act positively to increase awareness, break down stereotypes and stigma, and earn the respect and consideration that we deserve. We are not a glum lot. Our seat at the table must be next to those who advocate for freedom and decriminalization, not across from them.

Michaela Jones took a helpful look at this from a virtual perspective in a guest blog recently and my mind turns to those folk I work with who are right at the start of the journey. They do need safe spaces and simultaneously they need to learn to negotiate all the triggers including the heady festival atmosphere that defines Edinburgh at the moment. I agree with Sled that recovery takes place in all sort of circumstances and settings, some of them fraught with challenges, but there are ways to make the journey safer.

So I don’t see recovery spaces as damaging or harmful. They are developing all over Scotland as Kularadhini identified in her inspiring post. They are not ghettoes and surely won’t become so unless they become exclusive and excluding. In my view they are important components in the building of recovery capital.

Surely it’s possible to find a middle way here and have a space at a broader table while also accessing safe and healthy recovery spaces.

    20 Responses to "Does recovery space equal recovery ghetto?"
    1. Peter Sheath says:

      I think there already are some great examples of a “middle way” out there and thriving. One, which I’ve participated in every time I’ve been, is the 12 step dome at Glastonbury Festival. I don’t think many people outside this scene know about it but it certainly does meet the criteria of holding recovery space within a very chaotic triggering environment.

      It’s been “run” by a guy in long term recovery for many years. He tows an old caravan and a yurt kind of shelter from festival to festival offering 12 step sanctuary for all. There are 3-4 meetings a day, the set up dictated by who is in attendance. He has AA and NA literature from which people choose the readings. Hot tea is always available and, if you are having real difficulties, you can sleep there.

      The meeting I went to this year involved 20 people probably equally devided between NA and AA with one person from FA. There was a guy with a couple of days in, a woman a couple of weeks off a relapse who had taken full advantage of the sanctuary and had taken up residence and a really broad spectrum of age, time in recovery and background.

      This guy provides a really valuable service, it’s completely free, relying solely on the passing of the pot. No one is ever turned away, no matter what condition they’re in. There are no assessments, risk assessments or anything, it’s service at services behest. It’s also a beautiful thing and long may it continue.

    2. Jo says:

      What a lovely compassionate man – we need more spiritual spaces like the one you’ve described for drugs, alcohol, mental health, emotional crisis & respite …………

    3. Dirk Hanson says:

      I think that “recovery spaces” is a phrase with a high wince factor. It sounds special, precious, overdetermined, and meant for the frail and faint of heart. As Adam Sled says, the world is not recovery-friendly, and can’t be made to be. If abstainers feel like they need recovery space bubbles to move about freely, I see trouble down the road.

      • djmac says:

        Or the phrase sounds special, precious, carefully determined and meant for the vulnerable and those not ready or able to navigate the challenges of early recovery. The world may not be recovery friendly, but services and spaces within it can be.

      • jock says:

        Do LGBT spaces or women only spaces promote stigma against these groups – are they special, precious and overdetermined – maybe they are? Who cares? Do we really need to pander to the concerns of those people who feel left out of these spaces, simply because they exist?

        • djmac says:

          I don’t think minority spaces need to be stigmatising. Perhaps if that’s the only space that folk use and such spaces are completely exclusive then there might be concerns. The LGBT community is a good example – I think most people would not be opposed to the community having its own space. There will be those (and even within LGBT groups) who feel such spaces should be shut down, but you are right – such voices don’t have to be indulged in their ambition.

        • Dirk Hanson says:

          The question under consideration was: ” Does recovery space equal recovery ghetto?” I think it does. If the stigma inherent in that conception doesn’t bother you, than full speed ahead with recovery “islands,” and an archipelago of “safe spaces” for addicts. But is this not a tacit admission that the general populace is happier when addicts are warehoused, out of sight?

          • djmac says:

            But spaces like the Serenity Cafe are bang in the middle of the city in slick premises and not hidden or warehoused. Furthermore it’s open to anyone. Such spaces make recovery and recovering people more visible and less hidden. These developments, happening all over Scotland, are not driven by the general population, but by recovering people. Recovering people are less out of sight than they have ever been.

    4. Clayton Sponhaltz says:

      I personally love Adam Sled’s point of view. I believe it’s very important as we work to mobilize the recovery movement to pay respect to what has worked for so long for so many and to be careful of advocating for special rights/space. The promise of being free from the obsession to use alcohol or drugs provided one works a spiritual program or recovery program may be getting overlooked by some for the prospect of a larger voice nationwide. Does that really move things forward or truly benefit the newcomer walking in the doors? This is a delicate balance which will be revisited forever so long as we aim to improve access for individuals to recover while looking to maintain systems that have proven to work. I would love to get in contact with Mr. Sled. Does anyone have contact information?

    5. Michaela says:

      I am interested that the notion of having a space free of drugs and alcohol is stigmatising. For me I feel I have a right to advocate for spaces that meet my needs, much as any group of people who are not into the whatever the dominant cultural norms are at the time.

      And I also firmly believe that recovery becomes attractive to others by making these spaces open to any group (whether they have addiction issues or not) who wants a bit of an alternative cultural experience.

      • djmac says:

        I know how much our service users value the Serenity Cafe here in Edinburgh. The monthly club nights are highly valued as safe spaces to dance and have fun in. This is not stigmatising, its celebrating and anyone who wants to go along can join in. I like the idea that recovery can become attractive to others by inviting them into these spaces.

        Maybe spaces is the wrong word. Maybe we need a word that’s a bit more specific and has a bit of spirit to it.

        • djmac says:

          Jason Schwartz picks up this baton and runs a good bit further with it than I have done above. I think he has got it pretty much spot on in his piece on the Addiction & Recovery News Website.

        • Dirk Hanson says:

          I should clarify my perspective: If there had been, in addition to AA/NA, “safe spaces” publicized and available during my early “raw” days of sobriety, I would have avoided them like the plague. But hey, the Serenity Cafe sounds like a great place, and to each his own. Perhaps there are a subset of abstaining addicts who greatly benefit from safe zones of this nature, so all the better that their needs are being catered to. Overall, I’m just not sure it’s helpful from the overall public relations point of view.

          • djmac says:

            Overall, I’m just not sure it’s helpful from the overall public relations point of view.

            Recovering folk running a successful business, welcoming anyone who wants to come there and telling positive stories of recovery to visitors and the media. Not helpful? Poor public relations? I get the strength of your resistance, but not the rationale behind it.

            • Dirk Hanson says:

              No, hey, the force is with you, it’s all good for addicts who need it. By PR I mean that I cannot help thinking that “normal” people will use the trend as further proof that you can NEVER be sure of a recovering addict, they are hothouse flowers, prone to relapse and inherently untrustworthy in their recovery. Is this reading too much into a sort of drop-in halfway house concept? Probably. 😉

            • Dirk Hanson says:

              P.S. You have to forgive me, I’m old school. The test of your recovery, at some point, is your ability to go sit in a bar, surrounded by active drinkers, and enjoy your coffee. If you can’t do that….

    6. Adam Sledd says:

      DJ, and all, thanks for the thoughtful discussion. Sorry I am late, I just discovered this thread through Dawn Farm. Dirk Hanson has captured the spirit of my argument with his “hothouse flowers” analogy. I have a background in special education and disabilities, so I am sensitive to over-accomodation and its contribution to stigma. Of course there will be recovery space, and I am all for it. When this is mentioned in the context of marijuana legalization, I think we need to be mindful of the message we send in the name of recovery.

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