Evan Done: Community and connection are readily available to Utahns struggling with addiction

People can and do recover from addiction when they receive appropriate support.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hundreds gather at the Utah Capitol to rally for mental illness and addiction recovery while working to increase access to healthcare, mental health, affordable housing and treatment and recovery support on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.

As a person thriving in long-term recovery from substance use disorder, the life I am living now — one of purpose and hope — is unrecognizable to my past self. I came from a family that wrestled with substance use, which contributed to my own experiences as a young adult. Addiction devastated my physical and mental wellbeing and took a huge toll on the people around me. I lost jobs, experienced homelessness and got caught up in the criminal justice system. And until I walked through the doors of USARA, Utah’s statewide recovery organization, I felt alone and hopeless. But that all began to change when I found hope in the form of connection and community.

Now, as the associate director of USARA, I have the chance to be that hope for others every day. Recovery can begin before, during, after, with or without receiving treatment. Treatment recommendations vary based on the individual needs and treatment models to address the acute symptoms of substance use and mental health disorders, just like other serious, life-threatening illnesses. When someone begins to heal, we know their recovery is a process that takes time. Sustaining gains from treatment and establishing long-term recovery are best supported when a person connects with family, peers, mentors and resources in their community.

That is precisely what USARA provides through peer-based recovery coaching, mutual aid groups, family support programs and patient support for emergency departments and healthcare settings. Supportive public policy and community engagement accentuates this by creating an environment that aids recovery. USARA leads the way in advocating for legislation and collaboration with partners that promotes access to health care, provides funding for prevention, treatment and recovery support services, and accelerates criminal justice reform. Our work is made possible through support from federal agencies, the State of Utah, city and municipalities, private foundations and individual donations.

In my own journey, it was powerful to be mentored by others who had experienced substance use disorders and are in long term recovery themselves. In my first meeting with a peer recovery coach, I was deeply affected by the fact that they had lived experiences and could relate to me. They knew what I was going through and were uniquely suited to talk to me as a person who was struggling, because they had struggled, too.

To be clear, recovery is not as simple or straightforward as asking your smartphone for driving directions. Each person’s journey is different, and they often meander, take unplanned detours and hit a few potholes.

In my own journey, I faced plenty of challenges and setbacks. However, as I was cheered on by my peers and grew stronger and more confident as part of a community, I saw real and meaningful change in my life. I transitioned from a recipient of USARA’s support services to a volunteer, then to a part-time community outreach coordinator role, a full-time community impact director role and then to my current role as the associate director.

My colleagues and I, and the thousands of people who have come through USARA’s doors, are proof that recovery is not rare and it is not random. At USARA, we deliberately talk in terms of hope, strength, community and belonging. The truth is that people are far less likely to recover from substance abuse disorders if they are isolated and marginalized as they deal with a debilitating illness. People can and do recover from addiction when they receive appropriate support.

Most Utahns know someone — a family member, friend, neighbor or colleague — who has or is struggling with a substance use disorder. In partnership with the recovery community, we are working to ensure that no matter where people live in the state, or what stage they are in their recovery journey, they have access to support, they feel heard and they are hopeful for the future.

At a societal level, we are seeing a gradual shift in how substance use disorders are discussed: It’s less about stigma and more about treating these disorders like any other chronic illness. There is still a long way to go, but the narrative is changing.

Part of this change is National Recovery Month, which takes place each September and recognizes and celebrates community as a vital component to recovering from the effects of substance use disorders. Join us for one of the dozen planned events taking place throughout the state. Find more information at www.recoveryday.org.

Evan Done

Evan Done has more than 10 years of experience in social justice advocacy and is dedicated to creating a more equitable and sustainable world.