Young People in Recovery: Speaking Up and Reaching Out Because...

September 30, 2014
Maureen Fitzgerald
Communications Coordinator, ATTC Network Coordinating Office
Editor, NIATx

While SAMHSA’s National Recovery Month 2014 wraps up at the end of September, the ATTC Network’s “In My Own Words” Video Essay contest continues through October, inviting people in recovery to speak up, reach out, and join the voices of recovery. 

The ATTC Network has sponsored the “In My Own Words” essay contest during recovery month for the past few years.  This year, in partnership with Faces & Voices of Recovery and Young People in Recovery, (YPR) entries will be in an entirely different format: 60-second videos of people responding to one of the following statements:
“I’m speaking up because…”
“I’m reaching out because…”

Speaking up and reaching out was the theme of our recent Third Thursday iTraining, when Mariel Harrison from YPR New Jersey, and Andrew Kiezulas from YPR Maine, joined us for a live interview.

(You can view the entire interview  “Young People in Recovery: Advocacy and Action” on the ATTC Vimeo channel.)

I caught up with Mariel and Andrew to ask a couple of questions we didn’t have time for during the iTraining. 

One of them was on anonymity: Do people who speak up and reach out "break tradition" if they’re also part of a 12-step community?

Mariel responded to that question with a firm “No.”

In addition to her affiliation with YPR New Jersey, Mariel also also works for NCADD New Jersey.  

“For the founders of AA, anonymity was intended to keep the meeting halls a safe place for people attending their first meetings, when they’re filled with guilt and shame,” she explains. “AA members were never meant to stand in the shadows,” Mariel adds.  She cites Marty Mann, one of the first women in AA and also the founder of what is NCADD today. “Marty Mann spent her life speaking up about recovery and about alcoholism as a public health issue. She was one of the first advocates to demonstrate that people can recover and lead productive lives.”

I also asked Mariel about the courage it takes for people of any age to speak up about being in recovery. 

“Young People in Recovery works in tandem with Faces & Voices of Recovery, which offers a very comprehensive training on what to say and how to counteract reactions that perpetuate stigma,” says Mariel. “Unfortunately, stigma is alive, which is why we do the work we do, but the mentoring from Faces and Voices makes the possible backlash less heartbreaking.”

Mariel has been in long-term recovery since May 7, 2007 and has worked in the advocacy field since 2012.  While she says there’s still a long way to go, Mariel is optimistic about the climate for recovery.  “The reception that we’re receiving at both the state and national level is unprecedented,” she concludes.

Mariel’s colleague Andrew Kiezulas founded YPR chapter in Maine. Andrew is a full-time student at the University of Southern Maine, a double a major in chemistry and math. In addition to founding YPR Maine, he also started the first campus-based peer support group in Maine, Students in Recovery, for students struggling with addiction, mental illness or any kind of compulsive behavior.

“Losing my roommate is what inspired me to really advocate for people in or seeking recovery, not just participate in my own,” says Andrew. “Both of us were already in recovery at the time. His low tolerance may have contributed to the overdose, as he had almost six months of total sobriety."

He also cites the film The Anonymous People as another influence on his commitment to advocate for people in recovery.

The day after seeing the movie, Andrew participated in a focus group for SAMHSA’s Maine State Adolescent Treatment Enhancement Dissemination (SAT-ED). SAT-ED works to improve treatment for 12-18 year olds with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health issues. 

The focus group included parents as well as young people in recovery. “What resonated throughout the discussion was stigma and lack of information,” says Andrew.  “People didn’t know where to go or who to talk to.”

This combination of experiences fueled Andrew’s desire to make a difference in the state of Maine. He quickly connected with one of the founding members of YPR.  “And from there it was just on,” says Andrew. 

For Andrew, speaking up and reaching out as a member of Young People in Recovery is a way to channel his energy for positive change in Maine and across the nation. While the YPR chapter in Maine doesn’t maintain an official member list, its participants were among the 800 who attended the Maine Rally for Recovery in Portland this year. 

“That alone is proof of the strength of the organization and its message,” says Andrew.

Both Mariel and Andrew will be encouraging YPR members to submit a 60-second video to the “In My Own Words” video message contest. 

We’ve extended the deadline through the month of October to make this opportunity available to as many as possible.  Won’t you share the ATTC “In My Own Words” Video Message contest information with the people in recovery you know, too? 

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