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On our addiction to resiliency porn

Posted byWritten by David

All of human history is marked by the stories we tell of our own triumph and the tragedy of others.

These stories provide comfort and caution. They also inspire us to be better.

But what happens when individual stories of triumph and tragedy fuel opportunism from crisis? If the only reason for sharing those stories is to motivate people into expensive, and usually ineffective systems of care, are we merely perpetuating a broken system?

 Here’s Megan Devine on Marketplace:

I have a really hard time with the pairing of the words crisis and opportunity. And I’m not saying that there isn’t opportunity; there is opportunity. But when we stitch required opportunity into a crisis, and this is sort of what we’re talking about, right? Like, the second something is difficult, we’re supposed to look for the gift inside of it. And all that really does is erase the very human pain that’s at the core. This is related really to resilience porn, right? Where we really hold up these stories of people who triumph against all odds, instead of looking at the systems that create the injustices or the situations for which they need to be resilient.

How grief is manifesting in the economy – Marketplace

It takes significant resilience to overcome addiction. If you come in contact with the various systems tangential to addiction care; e.g., law enforcement, courts, mental health holds, detox facilities, social services, etc.; your likelihood of escaping and ultimately thriving is low.

The design of these touchpoint and how they perpetuate injustices and poor health are for another time. 

I am no stranger to telling my story. It was an experience plagued with anxiety, depression, attempted suicide, loneliness, and addiction. I repeatedly encountered the criminal justice system and treatment services tied to criminal justice. It was an ugly and dehumanizing cycle. It was a spiral, really. Each moment fed the next spin downward. 

Once I ended the spiral and became part of a recovery community, I was taught the template for sharing my story. It consisted of three key parts:

Part 1.  Gratitude for the hellish experience, because but for the hell, I would not be who I am today. 

Part 2.  A description of the destruction and dust left in my wake. I would actually cite p. 82 from Alcoholics Anonymousto support this: 

“The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring his way through the lives of others.”

Part 3.  I am here now to give to you the gift I have been given.

I can speak from experience … this template keeps people sick and kills just as many lives as it saves.

When I tell my story now, I typically center the story around words spoken by Judge Kathleen Trandahl as she was sentencing me for my fifth and last DUI.

How did you get here? How does someone like you, get here? Where did we go wrong?

My story, and the millions of others like mine, can motivate others to make a change in their life. And in the right place and time, I will continue to use my story in that way.

But it has to do more.

If when you tell your story or ask others to tell their story to promote your program, that story must provide at least one failure of the underlying systems.

For example.

I was in a very dark place one night. But I did not want to give up. I drove 40 miles to a treatment facility in Crookston, MN. I walked in and asked to be admitted. I remember being left alone in the lobby with a clipboard for what seemed like an hour. When nobody came back, I stumbled back out to my truck. I don’t remember what happened after that. Except, I’d live in that cycle of hope and hell for another six years.

Why didn’t someone stay with me? Why wasn’t I priority number one. I walked into that facility. I was asking for help from the helpers? The helpers chose not to help me. They gave up me.

Was this failure about stigma? Was it about the facility’s operational capacity? Was it that I didn’t have health insurance? Did I make too much money for their program qualifications?

These are the questions that should be inserted into our stories. This isn’t about blame. It is about putting a spotlight on what makes up our resiliency. Then, we can get to work on correcting those failures.

I got obsessed with measuring recovery capital for this very reason. When we measure the recovery capital of hundreds and thousands of people at any and every stage of recovery, we start to see the fault lines in the system. In addition to seeing the assets built from our resiliency, we see the deficits. If we want to keep people from going through hell and back and ever having to share their own resilience porn, then we need to see the deficits and fix them.

That, then, becomes the new story of triumph.


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