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NAATP 2012: Breaking the silence of recovery

May 21, 2012
by Nick Zubko, Associate Editor
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Bestselling author Christopher Kennedy Lawford encourages attendees to "change the stories" that define recovery.
Christopher Kennedy Lawford

By his own admission, Christopher Kennedy Lawford never intended to become the “poster boy” for addiction. Yet, as he took the podium to give the opening keynote at the 2012 annual leadership conference for the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP), his message was one of a true advocate.

“Addiction is arguably the most covered disease in America and it deserves the prominence of being a public health issue. Yet, the silence of recovery is deafening,” said Kennedy Lawford, who is also the son of actor Peter Lawford and Patricia Kennedy (sister of President John F. Kennedy).

Addressing research that has led to the understanding that substance abuse is a real disease caused by neurotransmitters in the brain, Kennedy Lawford said that while most are unaware of that fact, the knowledge would change a lot of people's attitudes.

“Those of us in recovery are responsible for allowing stigma and discrimination to continue, and it’s our responsibility to educate the public,” he told the crowd. "We need to exercise our right to be heard.”

By focusing on the emerging science, getting out the message that treatment works, and supporting those messages with outcome studies that prove, Kennedy Lawford predicts a "paradigm shift" in which the stories will no longer focus on “descending into the abyss,” but rather on what follows.

“People in recovery are better than that and have accomplished so much,” he said. “We’ve danced with the 800-pound gorilla of addiction and we have lived—not to tell our story, but to infuse the world with our experience, wisdom, strength, hope and talent.”

Recounting interactions with his “Uncle Jack,” Kennedy Lawford then talked about the notion that "in order to achieve great things in the world, you had to overcome something great."

While it’s a universal idea, he pointed out that those in recovery represent “millions of people who have overcome one of the most difficult things to overcome.”

If that’s true, he asked the audience, then “why are we still marginalized?”

“If we’re going to tell our stories, let's tell the ones about strength, hope and recovery,” he said. “The world needs to hear what we have learned and what we have accomplished. It doesn’t even have to be contextualized; recovery is good enough to stand on its own.”