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The Writing of Recovery Allies

Issue 28

Alison Jones Webb on the Writing of Recovery Allies

Books have a life of their own and they birth at the moment they’re ready.

— Alison Jones Webb

Ideally, books come along at the time that we, the readers, most need them. In the case of the 2022 book, Recovery Allies, this could not be more timely or true.

Like many books, the seed of the idea came to Alison many years before.

Nearly a decade earlier, Alison was engaged in a project designed to increase access to addiction treatment for young people in Maine. At that time, says Alison, there was very little available. One facet of the project focused on determining the barriers to treatment.

The team gathered information through a variety of means, including focus groups. Research shows that these groups tend to be much more effective when facilitated by members of the communities of focus, rather than by expert facilitators. So Alison trained some young people who were themselves in recovery to facilitate several focus groups around the state. This was a win for all involved, gathering more authentic information, putting group members at ease, and increasing the skills and capacity of the facilitators as well.

Not surprisingly, stigma was – and remains – one of the most significant barriers identified. Parents were afraid to acknowledge the problem their kids had; kids were afraid to acknowledge with their parents the problem that they had. Alison said, “There was just a whole lot of not talking going on, and it really was because of prejudice and discrimination.”

Responding to this observation, in the next phase, Alison’s team trained the facilitators and other young people in the recovery community to tell their stories of recovery. They learned to tell their stories in a positive light, focusing on their recovery and not on their time in active addiction. Although this is more common now, it was not yet at that time. These young facilitators were amongst those blazing that trail.

With the guidance and support of Alison’s team, these young facilitators told their stories to community groups “anywhere people would have us. We were in church basements, school assembly halls… you name it.” The agenda for these town meetings was their storytelling, combined with an opportunity for the audience/listeners to ask questions. The facilitators, telling their stories, were on fire, excited about their recovery, and so the community meetings were engaging and fun. Community members came to listen and learn, and many would say, “This is so wonderful! What can we do to help? What can I do to help?”

For the team members, this was just the kind of engagement they were looking for, though there wasn’t a clear answer to the question. Alison started digging into the research. There wasn’t much on the subject.

Alison thought, “Somebody needs to write about this,” which eventually became, “Oh wait a minute, I can write about this.”

That was the genesis of the book. The year was 2014.

Alison began collecting stories and digging more deeply into the research. This process went on for several years. As she did, she was able to understand the answer to that question, “What can we do to help?” It’s that people can do all sorts of things to be recovery allies – they just need to know about recovery and specific actions they can take.

When a person speaks openly about their situation and their history, they can change hearts and minds.

And, said Alison, the research tells us, you need to keep doing it. “To truly reduce stigma, prejudice and discrimination, repetition is essential to the process. We can’t stop.”

How did this work and research impact Alison personally?

She came to see her own lineage with greater clarity. “My family history is one of silence. Silence is very familiar to me.”

The private conversations she had with the young facilitators helped her to see how this generation speaks much more openly about things than she’d learned to do in her family. Their insights and clarity, expressed with honesty and compassion, helped her to see things she hadn’t about her own story and family.

Alison Jones Webb

In this process, she also learned of a study on the genetic aspects of substance use disorder… and donated her saliva for testing. Alison wanted to participate in the research, and support the researchers sorting this out. “I don’t want my grandchildren to have to deal with this.”

Through this participation and all of the research and gathering of stories and training events, Alison was changing the culture of her own family as well as that of her community. She was breaking the (culture of) silence, and with a powerful, inspiring response to the vital question, “What can I do?” Recovery Allies offers a wealth of information in response to that question.

Another major realization came through her extensive interviews: an awareness of the multiple pathways of recovery. There was so much more than just 12 Step-based communities. She grew to understand how age, geography, personal characteristics, the time period, all of those and more create different recovery trajectories. Alison also noticed that nearly all –if not every person she spoke with – mentioned a spiritual aspect to their recovery. It could have been a religious pathway or mindfulness or just finding a spiritual opening.

“I hadn’t realized how that part of recovery goes really deep in people and is transformative. They’d moved from a state of alienation from themselves and from the community, to one of connection.”

“I hadn’t realized how that part of recovery goes really deep in people and is transformative. They’d moved from a state of alienation from themselves and from the community, to one of connection.

As Alison said and illustrated more than once in our conversation, we never know what kind of impact we might have when we show up in support of one another.

This the essential message embedded in the stories, strategies and solutions supporting the recovery – and healing – of individuals and communities in Recovery Allies.

Connect with Alison:





Joanna Free
Joanna Free
Joanna Free is the (grateful) author of BUTTKICKERS: Twenty Ways to Leave Tobacco and a (proud) writer for Journey Magazine.
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