The concept of being an advocate while in recovery is one that runs through nearly all recovery communities. Dharma Recovery teaches the principles of the Buddha and the critical nature of helping others walk the path toward enlightenment. SMART Recovery has a community that focuses on helping each other maintain motivation and balance behaviors. Then there is the 12-Step community that believes that helping others is the bedrock of their program. There is even a chapter entitled “Working with Others,” that declares, “Helping others is the foundation stone of your recovery. A kindly act once in a while isn’t enough. You have to act the Good Samaritan every day, if need be.”
The Importance of Helping Others in Recovery: You Have to Give It Away to Keep It
Many people who enter recovery think that erasing the “wreckage of the past” is critical for moving forward. This is actually false. While of course, it is important to attend to past grievances and misdeeds, it is also important to utilize the past to help others.
There is a saying in recovery that goes, “Our most embarrassing and troubling moments in active addiction become our greatest assets in recovery to help others. We are now uniquely qualified to help others that are struggling.” But, being an addiction/mental health advocate while in recovery is selfishly not just about helping others. It is also about helping ourselves.
The recovery maxim, “You have to give it away to keep it,” is one that still holds true to when it started being used over 80 years ago in 12-Step meetings. Helping others succeed in recovery is ultimately helping ourselves stay recovered as well. It is quite impossible or improbable that one can worry about their own problems when they are focused on someone else’s, and getting “out of our head” and away from our troubles from time to time can be vital.
How to Be an Addiction/Mental Health Advocate While in Recovery
As “Working with Others”alluded to, there is a big difference between talking about being an advocate while in recovery, and actually being a recovery advocate. Advocacy can only come from action, because as the primary text of the Twelve Steps states, “Half measures avail us nothing.” So, how can we be an addiction/mental health advocate while in recovery? The good news is that there are countless positive and effective options.
One way of advocating for others is by becoming an active member of a recovery community, such as the previously mentioned three (12-Step, Dharma, or SMART Recovery). Now, being an “active” member is significantly more involved than just showing up (though that too is crucial), but it also affords the best opportunities to be a recovery advocate. Active members of a recovery community can act as outreach to places in the community that may be in need of information. This may include businesses, schools, hospitals, and institutions of incarceration.
Another way to be a recovery advocate is to volunteer at different outreach and community centers. These centers offer many opportunities to meet and help individuals who are either curious about recovery or new in their recovery journey. Also, these facilities tend to be focused on more marginalized populations that often don’t have as much access to recovery peers and professionals. Yet another way is to start an alumni group with other individuals from the same recovery center. The “shared experience” aspect of alumni groups is a great way to be a recovery advocate for each other.
Maintaining Recovery While Being a Mental Health Advocate for Others
One essential element to remember while advocating for others while in recovery is that your recovery must remain essential. As they say, “You have to put on your own oxygen mask first, before you can help others.”
This means that one should never put their own recovery in jeopardy to help someone else. Now, this often means employing others’ help when going on a “recovery call” to help a newcomer or someone who has relapsed. It also means avoiding triggering situations and people who may cause resentment, intrusive thoughts (also known as “the mental obsession”), or cravings.
This is true, even if the individual is in dire need of help. If this is the case, it is probably best to get a professional involved or wait until they can be safely addressed, informed, and attended to. Also, while it may be hard, getting in the way of someone’s “bottom” or relapse can sometimes do more harm than good, as it can turn into enabling.