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Let’s celebrate lives in recovery

There is now an international movement to document what 'life in recovery' looks like - and it turns out that people in recovery give back generously.

While recovery is without question a personal and individual experience, as unique to each individual as their finger print or their iris, there are some common patterns that can be discerned about how life changes following the transition from the chaos of addiction to the relative serenity of recovery. And if we want the general public to acknowledge and recognise this and to believe that recovery is ‘real’, then we must find ways to demonstrate these common characteristics of recovery pathways and progress.

There is now an international movement to document what Life in Recovery looks like. It started in the US – led by Faces and Voices of Recovery – before the baton passed to Australia, then the UK and most recently Canada. The premise of the questionnaire is actually a very simple one. People are asked to describe their own recovery status (‘in recovery’, ‘recovered’, ‘medication assisted recovery’ and so on), are asked about the length of time they have been in recovery and some basic descriptive things.

Then they are asked, across a number of life domains – see the two slides below – to report the things which were happening at the peak of active addiction, and which are happening now that they are in recovery from an addictive lifestyle.

In each of these graphs – the two used in this article as illustrations are for finances and for work and study and there are also equivalent charts for health, family involvement and crime – the premise is simple. More bad things happen to people in active addiction and many of these are put right in recovery. This benefits not only the person themselves, but also their families, their communities and wider society.

What the next slide shows is that this is not an overnight thing, that the longer people are in recovery, generally the greater the improvement in their functioning and their contribution to society. While everyone reading this might well say “of course that is true. I know all this”, we need the evidence and a clear empirical demonstration. After all, not everyone has this knowledge.

It is also important for us to be clear that recovery does not solve all of life’s ills and to know where problems might arise for people that might trip them up. So what is important about the next slide is that we are building up an international evidence base demonstrating not only the power of recovery but also its consistency across multiple locations and hugely different countries and contexts. Recovery still matters and should matter to everyone.

Finally, we present you what is known as an infographic. The infographic on the left summarises some of the key findings of the Life In recovery study. This shows some of the amazing transformations that are associated with recovery – with huge drops in domestic violence and offending and incredible gains in stable employment.

There is also a strong theme of ‘giving back’ to society that is reflected not only in the taxes which are paid but also in the incredibly high rate of volunteering: 79.4% of people in long-term recovery have volunteered since starting their recovery journey. That is a generous contribution to the wellbeing and flourishing of local communities. Moreover, people in recovery volunteer at twice the rate of the general public with no addiction or recovery history.

This is a good news story that it is critical to document because it represents such a striking piece of evidence about why we need to do everything we can as a society to encourage and support people to start and sustain recovery journeys. It is both an altruistic and a selfish motivation as not only does recovery reduce all kinds of harms and damage to individuals and groups, but it also makes families, communities and society a stronger and better place to live.

So download a copy of the report (http://shura.shu.ac.uk/12200) and circulate it among your friends, families and colleagues – share the story!