When is a haircut at a local barbershop more than just a haircut?
The correct answer is: all the time.
But especially when that haircut takes place a year after the beginning of a global pandemic that stopped most activities that connected us in our community.
Our wellbeing does not live in a personal silo. Although we must think and act at a very individual level, deep and intense social connectivity help us transcend.
Seven years ago, I gave a TEDx Talk on the cultivation of gratitude in an ecosystem of good.
The talk was one part a “thank you” to a community that supported and propelled me toward success at the must crucial time in my life. It was also another part exploration of a set of traditions that were losing their relevance to me.
Most of the addiction care system is set up as a funnel with something called “recovery” on the other end. As a person goes through these systems and services, they get introduced to and integrated with a new community of people who are “in recovery”.
The traditional thinking is that in order to never return to your old life of misery, you must surround yourself with people who’ve lived the experience you’ve lived.
This makes sense. Healing has always happened through connection of shared experiences. This level of emotional connection fueled the healing process. We found peace, we grew, and moved into a new phase of life.
But the addiction recovery trajectory is much different. It is designed in a way that anchors your life and the lives of others in that addiction experience, or maybe in its converse — recovery. Recovery in this instance is a never-ending state. You live “in recovery”.
Folks in early recovery are connected to and navigated through a network and ecosystem that operates, in many ways, to ensure you remain “in recovery”. This new ecosystem is often independent of the wider community. The wider community doesn’t understand and isn’t supportive of you being “in recovery”.
One early recovery experience I had involved getting a haircut. I asked a 12-step sponsor for a recommendation because I was new to town. He gave me a recommendation of someone who was also a “fellow traveler”.
So I went to this person and said that a “friend of Bill W.” sent me. And for the next 45 minutes we talked about our addiction and traded war stories.
If felt good, at first. They understood.
After the haircut, I went to an AA meeting. Another hour steeped in the experience of addiction and never leaving my recovery.
A few weeks later, I needed a suit or better clothes for an interview. “Go see so and so, he’s in recovery.”
Before I knew it, the version of the community I was living in was completely different from the community most interacted with every day.
I only understood how profound this was when I started attending “non-recovery” events around town. I started to see new and different anchors. I started to meet people that could both deepen and widen my network — two very different experiences. But more importantly, two very different opportunity sets.
As I started to think about going back to college after just a few months in recovery, other people “in recovery” cautioned me and recommended I wait at least a year. Everyone said, “The first year is so important — get a year of sobriety under your belt then see.”
Conversely, other contacts and mentors not in recovery understood how to maximize and support opportunity. They looked to their network and said, “I will introduce you to so and so at such and such university; they will help you get where you want to go.”
One ecosystem was limiting. The other ecosystem was expanding.
Pre-COVID, most of us looked at a haircut as a necessary act, a calendar event, and a transaction. As we move out of COVID, the act of going to a barber is less about getting our COVID hair under control, and more about connection, self-care, and supporting a local small business.
Now, imagine if we held on to that intention every time we went to the barber? What effect does that mindful engagement of care, connection, and support have on our future wellbeing, but also the wellbeing of others we come in contact throughout the day?
Now imagine, you are overcoming addiction — a life where not much outside of the addiction was very intentional. What if you could deeply connect with others who have that lived experience? And what if you could learn (or relearn) a way of engaging the fuller ecosystem of good?
What if the simple act of finding a local barber could be centered beyond the traditional thinking of being “in recovery”?
All of us need our tribes or closely knitted social groups. But cities and towns thrive when each member engages deeply in the wider ecosystem of activities. It’s when the wider ecosystem is exposed to the variety of experiences from all members that it becomes vibrant, resilient, and a true ecosystem of good.
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