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New York encourages recovery community to share its experiences

May 13, 2009
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Accounts posted on a Web site illustrate diverse recovery stories

Encouraging addicts in recovery to help others by sharing their stories has usually been initiated in the advocacy community. But the commissioner of New York’s state agency for substance abuse services thinks this activity should be part of every state substance abuse agency’s mission, and she is eager to talk about the “Your Story Matters” campaign her office has initiated.

“At one time it was taboo even for counselors to tell their story,” says Karen M. Carpenter-Palumbo, commissioner of New York’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS). “We say to people, `If you so choose, wear your recovery as a badge of honor.’”

The Your Story Matters campaign features a Web site (www.iamrecovery.com) on which individuals are encouraged to tell their stories of despair and redemption. Most of the individuals who have posted their stories over the past several months have done so using first names only. Carpenter-Palumbo says the site now includes about 85 first-person accounts, though she admits being a bit disappointed that the numbers aren’t substantially higher.

“This is the downside of government being involved; we’ve had to ensure people that we don’t want to use the information for some other purpose,” she says. But she has no regrets about initiating an effort that she believes will combat stigma and help build a more active recovery community in the state.

“We don’t have a bona fide organization of consumers in my state,” Carpenter-Palumbo says. “I always feel that if I make a decision that people don’t like, I hope there is a community of recovering individuals picketing against it.” Other groups have a seat at the policy table and the recovery community needs to be represented consistently as well, she says.

The heartfelt accounts listed on the Web site are from the young and old, from all walks of life and at all stages of their recovery. Heather, 24 and approaching a year of sobriety, writes of her time in drug court after many failed treatment experiences, “Gradually while I stayed there, away from old people, places and things, I slowly realized that life was a lot easier and happier without the use of mind-altering drugs.”

James, 52 and in recovery for two decades, talks of his father’s life as a functioning alcoholic and then of his own failings as a father and husband. “One day I found myself in the `self-help’ aisle at the bookstore looking at a book on `children of alcoholics.’ It was an epiphany for me. … Through Alcoholics Anonymous, counseling and a lifelong spiritual awakening, I have been in recovery for the past 20 years. I have worked in the CD field for most of these and have also become an ordained minister.”

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