By Killian Noe, Recovery Café Founding Director
For much of my adult life depression has stalked me, occasionally catching up to me and robbing me of perspective. Depression is not only a thief, but a skilled liar. At its worst, it tells you that those you love and the causes you care about would be better off without you.
Last week our nation was saddened by the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. With suicide rates soaring in the US—45,000 in 2016 —up nearly 30% since 1999 and more people dying of overdose than died of AIDS at the height of that epidemic, (over 60,000 in 2017, Center for Disease Control) it is past time to adequately fund prevention, treatment and longer-term healing communities for individuals suffering from addiction and other mental health challenges. It is estimated that more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder. (Dr. Richard Friedman, June 11, NY Times) Prevention, treatment and longer-term healing communities are three legs of the same stool. I’d like to focus on the need for communities of belonging needed to sustain recovery for all of us, especially those marginalized by homelessness.
We need communities where we are deeply known and loved.
Being a member of the Recovery Café community in Seattle includes participating in a weekly, loving, accountability group called a recovery circle. In a circle of 7 to 10 peers, Members share honestly their struggles, joys, short-term goals and long-term dreams. Sharing deeply week after week results in being known and loved, breaking the isolation so many experience in our larger culture.
One newcomer to the community shared in her circle, “Every morning at 9:00 a.m. for the past fifteen years I have met my drug dealer.” Without skipping a beat, an older member responded, “Tomorrow morning you will meet me at 9:00 a.m.”
Closely related, we need communities that make authentic connection possible.
We live in an age of isolation and loneliness – our attempts to form authentic connection through social media do not fill our deepest longing for connection. There is scientific research pointing to the role of loneliness in addiction and other mental health challenges and the power of authentic connection to change our brain chemistry.
Whether we are recovering from addiction to substances or another mental health challenge—like depression—or from a need for control, power, security, approval, compulsive working, compulsive eating, compulsive spending, authentic connection is an antidote.
And, we need authentic connections that cross racial, socio-economic, religious and other barriers because authentic connections are what change us and ultimately change our world.
We need communities in which everyone is a valued contributor.
Although many first arrive at Recovery Café traumatized and simply seeking survival, they quickly realize that this is a community that recognizes the gifts every single person brings. Everyone is expected to contribute to the running of the Café as well as to the healing of others who make up the Café community.
Whenever someone relapses or suffers a mental health crisis they are invited to tell the rest of us what they experienced so we can learn from them. It touches me deeply to witness even someone’s suffering being valued as a gift they can contribute.
Finally, to sustain long-term recovery from addiction and other mental health challenges we need these kinds of communities for the long haul; not just for the amount of time some insurance companies currently are willing to pay for treatment.
Like early AIDS activists, we must fight for funding for all three legs of the stool like our lives and the lives of more than a hundred thousand of our family members depend on it. Because they do.