At 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.