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Substance abuse affects our community

When a person undergoes gastric bypass surgery, we have a reasonable understanding and expectation of the before and after scenarios. We generally accept that some combination of genetic predisposition and faulty life choices have led to the state of obesity. We celebrate the second chance opportunity for health and happiness that the surgery affords. Even more significantly, we have a general assumption that post surgery, it will be necessary for the person to adopt new habits and patterns: healthy eating plans, fitness routines, maybe even modified social/entertainment circles…we recognize that it requires a paradigm shift to sustain the momentary success of the surgery. We acknowledge widely that it requires a network of support for that person to maintain the triumph that was the initial surgery.

For some reason we are challenged to see substance abuse disorder in the same light, although the comparisons are stark. When a person faces the throes of addiction, we should be able to assimilate the same reasonable understandings and expectations to our consideration of before and after scenarios. We do generally accept that some combination of genetic predisposition and faulty life choices have led to the state of critical substance abuse disorder. We need to celebrate the second chance opportunity for health and happiness that the surgery affords. Even more significantly we should grasp some basic assumptions of what will be necessary in recovery to sustain the success of sobriety: new routines, new social circles, stable housing, job opportunities…. again, a complete paradigm shift to sustain the success of someone getting clean and sober. We must begin to understand that it requires a network of support for that person to maintain the triumph. Not unlike the gastric bypass patient, a person in recovery will face many hurdles and challenges; strong, bolstering systems will help to ensure that regressive behavior and old habits don’t slide them backwards.

As a community we seem to continue to feel challenged to embrace the recovery community and provide or even tolerate the necessary supports that are critical to sustaining success. As a community we need to remember that the success of the whole is dependent upon the success of the individual. Maybe that is where we have to take pause and consider what is our community? Our community is the full encompassment of our boundaries. When we speak of our community, we have to remember that it is a broad entity, not a narrow scope of choice. It is not our own city block or subdivision; it is not our social club. It is the all-encompassing, wide area that is or community. It is the areas we understand and those we are puzzled by. It is the areas where we are comfortable and also the area that trigger the urge to look away and avoid. It is all OUR community and the success of our community is paramount. While I have an altruistic desire for everyone to be healthy and happy in my community, my desire to see issues like the destigmatization of neighbors in recovery is far larger than just the warm and fuzzy, rainbows and unicorns kind of “everyone deserves to be happy” notion. It is founded in concerns of economic development, community health, particularly as it relates to our ability to recruit and sustain business entities, factors that attract and retain young professionals to our area…..the list is long and it is not limited to the “happiness for everyone” notion. We ALL need a community that is healthy if we want to live in a community that is thriving and strong. We ALL need to contribute to the actions, attitudes and approaches that will contribute to that overall goal.

Opening our minds to topics that may challenge our previous experiences or task our limited knowledge is crucial. The topic of employment for those in recovery can feel complicated. Perhaps we do not understand their path and we doubt their sustainability. That’s fair. What isn’t fair or helpful is our continued reluctance to listen, accept and shift. The reality is that our current workforce is proliferated with individuals who have faced substance abuse disorder on some level and conquered it. Their ability to reach and maintain a state of sober living is a significant accomplishment. It demonstrates perseverance, accountability, and determination. It is the result of someone who tackled barriers, cleared seemingly insurmountable hurdles and defied the odds. All strong attributes in a job candidate one might think? Yet as a society we have a tendency to minimize, even disregard these accomplishments. We demand successful recovery of these fallen individuals yet often we refuse to provide even the simplest of support…at times we actually construct additional barricades in their path.

Community members in recovery is a reality that isn’t going away. The numbers of individuals in long term recovery will only increase as we continue to wage war against the crisis of addiction that has consumed our region. We can debate indefinitely about how we came to this point and what should have been done differently. The reality is — we are here, and we must deal with the aftermath of the crisis. We have individuals in recovery, which means we have a community in recovery. If we were to somehow eliminate every person from our workforce who has ever faced the monster of addiction on any level…. You might quickly find that we couldn’t keep the proverbial lights on in our community, the number is bigger than most will ever realize; the number will continue to grow as we continue to move people successfully through treatment programs and into the recovery phase. If we shun the recovery community from our viable workforce and the main street facets of our community, we do so at the peril of our entire community. We simply have to find a way to shift or own paradigms and alter the lens through which we have been staring. They are not “those” people. It is not “us and them”. The recovery community, THEY ARE OUR COMMUNITY. We must celebrate their success and provide for their assimilation. We must find ways to offer transitional opportunities. We must embrace their talents. We must see them as people not problems. We have to learn together and step together. This is our reality. Our failure to realize that and make proactive choices will only facilitate backsides and failures that will be the detriment and devastation of us all.

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Stacy DeCicco is the executive director of the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley.

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