UNITE to Face Addiction: Celebrating Recovery and Fighting Status Quo

November 10, 2015
Dr. Gary Fisher
Founder, Center for the Application of Substance Use Technologies (CASAT)
University of Nevada Reno
Former Principal Investigator and Director, Mountain West ATTC 

UNITE to Face Addiction Rally concert-goers.
Photo: UNITE to Face Addiction
For those of us in long-term recovery, the UNITE to Face Addiction Rally was powerful on so many levels. On October 4, 2015, an estimated 30,000 recovering individuals and our allies gathered at The Mall in Washington, D.C. The speakers included well-known public figures such as U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, Director of National Drug Control Policy Michael Botticelli, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, Senator Edward Markey, and Dr. Oz; public figures affected by family members’ addiction, like Allison Janney, whose brother died of an overdose; and “ordinary” recovering folks like those in the audience. Recovering musicians provided incredible entertainment:  Joe Walsh, Steven Tyler, Sheryl Crow, and Paul Williams.

On the most obvious and emotional level, it was inspirational to be among so many people in recovery. Like one very large support group meeting, UNITE to Face Addiction offered laughter, moving stories, awe at the miracle of recovery, and incredible camaraderie.

On a historical level, I was dumbfounded by the significance of the event. Although I have been a part of the recovery movement for a long time, I’m not involved in any leadership or organizational capacity. So, to see and experience 30,000 brothers and sisters (diverse as America) joining in one place to celebrate recovery and combat stigma was astonishing. Twenty years ago, something like this was not possible. The barriers were too profound. We were confused about the difference between anonymity as a Twelve Step tradition and our mission to end the stigma of addiction for those who continue to suffer.
On a political level, I was impressed with the organizational abilities of the recovery movement and the number of young people actively working in this effort. We old-timers didn’t do this; a younger generation of recovering individuals would not accept the status quo. They are proud of their recovery status, they won’t accept discrimination, and they demand recognition. This reminds me so much of every movement that has fought discrimination, stereotypes, and injustice. I’m not equating the recovery movement with any other movement. I am saying that these young people learned lessons from other efforts and applied them to the recovery movement.

Like any large one-time event, the challenge is to maintain the energy and effort. With the number of e-mails I am getting from the UNITE to Face Addiction organization, it’s clear they are aware of this challenge and are taking steps to overcome it. I am grateful I had the opportunity to experience this event.  

Did you attend the UNITE to Face Addiction rally? What was your experience? Share your comments below. 

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