Recovery: Going Public

September 25, 2013

Cindy Christy
Program Manager, ATTC Network Coordinating Office 

Imagine walking amidst 10,000 people celebrating having their lives back. It happened at the Rally4Recovery in Rhode Island last week, and it’s happening across the country this month. September is National Recovery Month, conceived over 20 years ago to celebrate that recovery in all its forms is possible. Celebrate is the key word here; recovery walks, live concerts, picnics, races, rallies, bike rides, and major league baseball games are just a few ways people are celebrating their recovery. 

This year’s theme, “Join the Voices for Recovery: Together on Pathways to Wellness,” emphasizes that there are many unique ways people can prevent behavioral health issues, seek treatment, and sustain recovery.  People in recovery have a lot to celebrate: they’ve regained their lives, their families and friends, their health, and their self-worth. They’ve become productive members of society, good citizens, and they give back to their community…that IS something to celebrate.

Recovery is everywhere. Social Media is a key feature of Recovery Month; twitter chats, online rallies, live streaming events and Facebook campaigns like the one for Americans in Recovery. Peter Gaumond, Chief of the Recovery Branch of the White House Office of National Drug Policy (ONDCP) talks about the Americans in Recovery campaign as being one of the most significant steps ONDCP has taken recently. In an article featured in the September ATTC Messenger, Gaumond states that “the ONDCP is going to new lengths to raise awareness and reduce the stigma around addiction and recovery and to elevate the voice of the recovery community”.

While NRM is a huge success in spreading the message that behavioral health is essential to overall health, that prevention works, treatment is effective and people can and do recover, there is still a long road ahead. Stigma is one the most significant barriers to recovery and recovery supports. Stephen Gumbley, Director of the New England ATTC,  presented September's Third Thursday iTraining webinar, “The Public Face of the Personal Journey of Recovery.” In the webinar, Gumbley challenged the audience to change the enduring perceptions about substance use disorders and recovery and to “bear witness” to the realities of personal transformation and long-term recovery.  He also shared his own story of recovery and his belief in citizenship as a dimension of recovery.  As he pointed out, 25 million Americans in long-term recovery have the potential to become a powerful force for social and political change. To watch Gumbley’s presentation, visit the ATTC Network vimeo site.

One way the recovery community and the general public can exercise their citizenship and help shape national recovery policy is by emailing the ONDCP at:, as Peter Gaumond suggests in the article mentioned above.

Another way to show the public face of recovery is through a community event. If you visit the National Recovery Month homepage, you’ll see that more than 700 community events are happening across the country--and the number is growing daily.

One event that’s coming up is Healthy Families, Healthy Communities: It’s All About Recovery! sponsored by the Great Lakes ATTC and taking place on September 30 in Chicago.

“There are many pathways to recovery,” says Lonnetta Albright, Director of the Great Lakes ATTC. “Some people go through treatment, some use medication, some achieve recovery through their faith community or other support groups. But no matter the pathway, people sustain and maintain recovery in their communities and their homes.”

The event will focus on the ROSC framework that the Great Lakes ATTC has been a leader in developing and in helping systems and communities to implement, emphasizing that healthy families and healthy communities are necessary for recovery and wellness to flourish. 

What if one day we turn on the evening news, and instead of seeing a celebrity's struggle to maintain sobriety in lurid detail, we would see 20,000 recovering people and their loved ones celebrating the gift of recovery? That would be a good news story.

Is your organization helping show the public face of recovery through an event or other National Recovery Month activity? E-mail a photo (iPhone photos will be fine—professional quality not required) of your event to, and we’ll include it in an upcoming blog post!  

Recovery Month 2013: Sharing Stories From People in Recovery and Coping with Hepatitis C

September 11, 2013

Maureen Fitzgerald
Editor, ATTC Network Coordinating Office and NIATx

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Personal stories of recovery have the power to transform lives. Reading stories of others can help you learn about yourself—and sometimes, reading someone else’s story can help you share your own.

Since 2008, the ATTC Network has sponsored the In My Own Words Essay Contest to celebrate National Recovery Month. The essay contests have invited recovery essays from a variety of groups: addictions treatment and recovery services professionals, high school and college students, affected family members, people supported by medication-assisted treatment, and active service members and veterans in recovery.

The 2013 In My Own Words essay contest, sponsored in partnership with Faces & Voices of Recovery, The Hepatitis C Association, Help4Hep, and Harm Reduction Coalition, is calling for essays from people in recovery from substance abuse and or a mental health disorder who are also coping with hepatitis C.

Common misconceptions

Sue Simon, President of the Hepatitis C Association, was diagnosed with the virus in the early 1990s. Sharing her story, says Simon, is one positive way to manage a chronic illness. “It helps me to know that my story might help someone else,” she says.

The Hepatitis C Association works to change misconceptions about the virus. Among them is the belief that it is solely the result of IV drug use. “It’s important for people to know that hepatitis C is a blood-borne pathogen,” says Simon. “A person is at risk for the virus whenever blood is exchanged.”

Another misconception is that hepatitis C cannot be cured. But just as with substance use and mental health disorders, treatment is effective and recovery is possible. Similarly, emerging medications are helping people who have relapsed or not responded to treatment in the past. “More and more patients are getting cured with easier and shorter treatments,” says Simon. “In fact, hepatitis C is the first chronic virus that is actually being cured by drugs,” she adds.

When Simon was first diagnosed, the cure rate with 48 weeks of Interferon (the only drug available at the time) was just 10%. “With the addition of other drugs, the treatment time remained at 48 weeks, but the cure rate increased to 50%,” says Simon. “Today, new drugs in trial are improving the cure rate to between 90 and 100%.” 

Having recently completed a trial herself, Simon now has no evidence of the virus. “I’m in my late 60’s and it looks like I’m cured,” she says.

A silent disease

The Center for Disease Control recommends that anyone born from 1945 through 1965 get tested for Hepatitis C.

“As many as 800 thousand baby boomers in the United States may be infected with Hepatitis C, yet unaware of it,” says Simon. “This is partly because it’s a silent disease with no symptoms in the first couple of decades. One-third of patients with hepatitis C don’t even have elevated liver enzymes, making it difficult for doctors to recognize the need to test,” says Simon.

The only way to know for sure is to request a hepatitis C antibody test. The state of New York is working on legislation requiring medical providers to offer a hepatitis C test to anyone born between 1945 and 1965. Other states are expected to follow suit. However, the best way to make sure you are tested is to talk directly with your doctor and ask for a test.

“It’s always good to know your status,” says Simon, adding that people who test positive can make lifestyle changes and benefit from treatment that will reduce their chances of liver cancer, cirrhosis, or a liver transplant.

Reducing stigma

Through the In My Own Words Essay Contest, people in recovery who are also managing hepatitis C can reduce stigma and change attitudes about these chronic conditions—and maybe encourage others to seek treatment or testing. The top 20 submissions will be included in a compilation, and prizes will be awarded to the first-, second-, and third-place essays.

Adds Simon, “The essay contest is a great opportunity for people to experience the relief that comes from sharing their stories and helping someone else.”

Making Recovery Month Matter

September 3, 2013

By Kevin Kirby, CEO of Face It TOGETHER

National Recovery Month is celebrated each year as an opportunity for all of us affected by addiction to show the power of recovery to transform lives. While this is all well and good, I believe our work needs to go much deeper if we really want to make a difference in our nation’s communities.

We’re all aware of the grim statistics.  Almost 90 percent of people with a serious alcohol or other drug problem won’t get help in a given year. The hard fact is that far too many people with the disease of addiction, and their families, suffer in silence for a lifetime.

But this isn’t only about those directly affected. Every community sector pays the costs of the deep stigma and shame, and the failures in today’s system of care, that keep recovery out of reach for so many.

There are no easy solutions.  No doubt that health care reform and declining public sector funding are ushering in a sea change for the behavioral health field. But this is also a chance for real progress.  Positive social change doesn’t happen by accident. It comes by seizing opportunities and finding creative new approaches to old problems.

At Face It TOGETHER  we’re dedicated to changing everything about the way addiction is addressed in our communities. This means bringing unconventional partners to the table and connecting stakeholders in new ways.

Our work, which began five years ago in Sioux Falls, S.D., uses the power of the private sector to enlist multiple community sectors to transform institutions, systems, and cultures around the chronic disease of addiction.

We’re focused on total system change. We work to engage all the key players in the community – employers, integrated health care providers, payors and other influential stakeholders – to implement financially sustainable, shared solutions to addiction.

For example, our Employer Initiative extends the “community of recovery” directly into the workplace.  About 60 percent of Americans with addiction are employed full-time. The disease hurts employers through lost productivity, higher absenteeism and health care costs and safety problems.

Because employers have skin in the game – and many employers also want to do the right thing – the workplace must be at the core of a recovery-oriented community. Through our initiative, we educate employers and employees about addiction as a chronic disease, remove barriers to recovery like stigma and fear, create a culture of openness, coordinate recovery-supportive benefits, and show return on investment. 

We provide value to employers in return for a sustainable, stable funding stream for our local recovery community organization. Today in Sioux Falls, 25 major employers participate, representing about one-third of the community’s total workforce. 

You can learn more about what we do in communities by visiting

We don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I hope that this year’s National Recovery Month gets all of us thinking about how we can better serve as society’s “change agents” – asking tough questions and advancing creative solutions to make our communities fundamentally better places to live.

Kevin Kirby is CEO and co-founder of Face It TOGETHER. Earlier this year, he was elected to the influential Ashoka Fellowship for social entrepreneurship.