Image from Pixabay
From time to time, we like to invite guests to share their perspectives here in our magazine. Today’s guest blog is written by Amanda Bartow, Amanda believes there is only one greater feeling than being recognized for a job well done — the fulfillment that comes from honoring someone’s achievements!
I recently spoke to a number of recovering addicts about their journeys, and what really struck me most about our conversations was how passionate so many of them were about their desire to help others who are pursuing their own paths to recovery.
Lincoln, who reached a year of sobriety in July with help from Addiction Campuses’ Texas facility, the Treehouse, said,
“There are always people out there struggling. I feel like it’s my obligation to reach out and help people who want to make a change. You can’t do that if you’re hiding. To be able to help others, you have to be able to put yourself out there, because no one can reach out to you if you’re hiding in the shadows.”
Wendy is so passionate about this mission, she already works for an addiction recovery facility even as she approaches her first full year of sobriety.
She told me, “When I take clients back to [the facility] after meetings, they often say, ‘Wow, someone shared a story today that sounded so much like what I’ve been through. I can’t believe it!’ Everyone thinks they’re out there alone, but when you’re in recovery, you meet a lot of people who know what you’re going through. A lot of people’s stories are the same. How they got to where they are may be different, but essentially, they’re the same: they were out in the world for years doing crazy things and hiding it the best that they could.”
Helping others is a natural progression of the recovery process because so many recovering addicts were able to look to their peers for inspiration. In fact, quite a few told me that they were more inspired by their fellow addicts than even their professional counselors.
Scott, who has been sober for over eighteen months now, told me, “If you hang around enough meetings and pay attention to the right people, you’ll learn a lot.
“We have what are called commitment groups. You’re a member of one group and you go out to other groups. A lot of the time with discussion meetings, I find people are talking about how bad their day is, and they don’t do a lot of talking about what they’re doing in their recovery. But in commitment groups, you talk about who you are, where you came from, and what you’re doing to work on your sobriety. I talk about what I did to get clean and what I’m doing to stay clean. You get a lot of inspiration from people and you learn things — you learn how to stay sober.
“You lead by example,”
Zach, who reached his first year of sobriety back in June, recognized a similar kind of leadership in himself.
“I always talked about going to school,” he recalled. “I decided during treatment that I was going to go, and I wasn’t going to let anything hold me back. I knew [substance abuse counseling] is what I wanted to go to school for. I loved seeing people’s faces light up while I was helping them in treatment, and I liked being able to understand what others were going through.
“You need a group of people that are on the same mission you’re on. It takes work and it’s not going to be easy, but if you’re thinking about it, that’s already a big part of it. You’ve got to find the strength to take the next step. When you get the help you need to get out of your rut and succeed in life, you’ll see things change.”
For so many addicts, this change manifests along with a desire to help others, proving that recovery is far more powerful than addiction.
A recent study revealed that the U.S. has seen an alarming rise in suicides. In fact, with the rate now at 13 suicides per 100,000 people, it’s at an all-time high since the mid-1980s.
For more information about Amanda or Recognition Works please visit recognitionworks.org
I got a chance to meet the amazing Steve and Elizabeth Wampler of the The Stephen J. Wampler Foundation, or Camp Wamp. They said something that really made me think. We see disability as the “elephant in the room”. It is still an issue that we don’t feel comfortable talking about. We just scrape the surface of the issues around disability. A lot of what is talked about concerning disability has to do with one word, FEAR.
Now this probably isn’t fear of people with disabilities themselves, even though in some cases it can be. This is fear around the issue of what it means to be human or how we value people. This fear comes in the form of the issue surrounding what is life like living isolated from others. The good news though, is that we have had the feeling of fear before with others groups. The conversation around disability is starting to change.
Disability makes us think about the idea of being human and how we relate to the world we live in. Probably one of the most common exercises around sensitizing others to disability is “giving someone a disability” and making them live with it for an hour or so. A response I usually hear is “I couldn’t live like that”, “I am so thankful to be able-bodied”, or “I am going to help people more.” These expressions are given when they have only just started with the disability. However this is only the beginning for most people with a disability and for some it has never been their experience because they have always had their disability. In addition, the exercise only touches on disabilities that can be physically replicated.
The Wamplers brought up an interesting point of two diverging worlds of looking at disability. The old world model of seeing deficiency and a new world model focus on the abilities of people.
In this example, we can not accurately tell what it is like to be disabled just like it is impossible to tell what it is like to be gay (if you are not gay), or to understand what it is like to be non-religious (if you are religious). The way we learn about it is through people and their lives. Hearing people with disabilities’ life stories will also help with another fear around disability being that they bring nothing to the table and have nothing to contribute.
This fear works in multiple ways. Parents understandably worry about the future for their children who have disabilities, whether it is independence, jobs, or having people to rely on. The vaccine debate really isn’t about vaccines; it is more about having autism. People are scared of the quality of life their child can have if they are autistic. We see people rely on things like day programs, or workshops because at least it is somewhere they or their child can go. We see employers afraid to hire people with disabilities because they are seen as a liability (not as having the ability) or a lawsuit waiting to happen. We also see people who are afraid to interact with individuals who have disabilities; they are so different from me or we won’t have anything in common. They would always be reliant on me. What can I get from the relationship? Sometimes it is the fact that we don’t want to say something stupid and offend someone that holds us back. Being able to realize the wide range of the disability experience and see the value and assets people bring are important to opening up this field.
To get to that step though we have one last fear. The fear of Differences. Humans have always lived in groups or communities. Living in communities has made us look to things that bind us to be part of a group but also can lead to the “outsider effect” where anyone who is not in the group is a threat. Now that had more application in earlier times but still exist in the way we see people who we consider different. We can sometimes see this in community identities such as gay and straight, or type of religion. We can also see this effect in sport teams, such as what team you root for and your rival. A band you think is great or stupid. We make community and even exclude people sometimes by similarities or differences. But we often can overcome those differences as we see people who are Yankees fan who are friends with Red Sox fans. We see people who are Jewish friends with people who are Islamic. We see people with disabilities who are integrated in the community living full lives. The question is how? The truth is there is no simple answer but here are some guidelines.
- Empathy. When we are able to hear people’s stories, it takes them away from just being a label of disabled, or gay, or Hindu, or homeless. Each person has a story, desires, likes, dislikes and so forth. Sometimes when we see studies about people, we think about people as a group but it is shown we do better empathizing with individual people than thinking of mass groups to relate to. It is more powerful to change the idea of being gay to make it about each person looking for love and self-worth. It is more powerful for me to show the positives and challenges of being on the spectrum but also how I live my life.
- We need to stop looking at negatives, as the whole truth, and start focusing more on assets and abilities. We tend to focus on issues around disability or poverty. Those are not to be ignored but maybe the focus should shift. Another way perceptions change is we see people who are successful living their lives with things we saw as an issue. Richard Branson is dyslexic and Tim Cook is gay. While this still is part of the person’s identity, we accept that people are multi-faceted and focus on the person’s skills and what they can bring or have brought. We can now see Richard Branson as more of a whole person rather than just a dyslectic. We can do this in our lives too. One person knew me as Jason the person with autism. Trying to be nice, they treated me as someone with autism and asked to shake my hand. In other instances, people have learned to see me as much more as a thinker, a friend, someone caring, animal lover, sports fiend, who happens to have autism. When they see me as more than just one thing, they see what I can bring to the relationship. This means that we focus our own personal view of people and how we associate with them but also the way services work to help people. Services may have to change to a more person centered plan.
- We need to rethink community and how we interact with people. We think about helping and impact on a big stage and that does work, but what you have the most control of is your own action. Some of that can be volunteering or working or raising money. More importantly though is how you connect with people. Being a community of people is the number one way to change perceptions to help people get connected, to meet people’s needs in finding jobs through the connections we have. Steve and Elizabeth Wampler have done this in their own way. Starting a camp for people who love to rock climb no matter the abilities of their body or so called disability. We meet the people we hang with through a shared interest or place. Those people can help us find places to meet our other needs.
We all need each other so lets start working with each other. The more we learn from each other, the more we can find ways work together the more the fear turns from an “elephant” to a “mouse”.
The Stephen J. Wampler Foundation, or Camp Wamp, is a non-profit providing outdoor education programs for children with physical limitations. Camp WAMP has been providing life-changing outdoor education opportunities for disabled kids. The ages range is 10-18 with physical disabilities/limitations. The foundation started in 2002.
Jason P. Harris is the Founder of Jason’s Connection – an online resource for those with unique needs, disabilities, and mental illness. He regularly contributes to the online magazine in his own series called Jason’s View and travels the country speaking about Hidden Disabilities.
I don’t have the nightmares much anymore. At least I don’t think I do. I just don’t remember my dreams.
I remember as a child the nightmares were brutal and strange. There was a lot of falling and falling through things. There was never anyone to help. No adults to save me. It was always just me and the monsters.
The weirdest part was that the monsters didn’t always look like monsters, sometimes they were people, or even saints. They would stare at me and chase me away from any perceived source of help. That was probably the most frightening part, being isolated, even in my dreams.
Is your world as dark as mine?
Or is it of a different kind?
Birds and bees and wonderous things
Unlike the sorrow this place brings
Into my timid little breast
And that pump beating in my chest.
I’m tired. It goes clear past the bones and into the soul. I’m tired into the core of my being.
I can smile and do things but I just want to sleep forever, or at least until my soul feels revived. Sometimes I almost feel alive. Sometimes I believe I’ll be ok, but then something will happen and it’s back. I’m tired, I’m afraid, I’m small and unimportant.
I feel like I am dying. I’m so stressed my chest, head, and stomach hurt. I’m dizzy and disoriented, lying on the couch. I look at my scissors and think that stabbing myself would hurt less.
I don’t want to die. I don’t want things handed to me as if I were an invalid, either.
Maybe I need to relearn how to do things? Maybe I just do everything wrong?
Sometimes I think how wonderful it would be to start over, have the type of childhood I should have had. With security and acceptance. How would I have been? Not like I am now. Not laying on the couch doing deep breathing exercises to try to stop the pain. Not confused, dizzy, disoriented, and useless.
I don’t talk to people much.I don’t know what to talk about. It seems there’s not much that interests me much anymore, or people don’t really want to hear what I have to say. I guess mental illness is uncomfortable for people to hear about. It’s easier to hate or blame. It’s easier to pretend it’s not there if they don’t have to live with it.
I live with it. Every single day. I deal with the exhausting and strange thoughts. The constant feelings that everyone I meet wants to hurt me. The feeling that even fully clothed, I’m completely naked everywhere I go.
People are always asking my husband, why can’t I get a job and help him pay the bills? I wish it were that easy. It gets depressing to hear him explain to people that I have non-military complex posttraumatic stress disorder and have difficulty functioning on my own in public. Most times, without someone I trust, I get dizzy nauseous and often get diarrhea. The insomnia makes functioning difficult, too. My misunderstood heightened startle reflex can also be extremely problematic. People think that jumping out and frightening people like me is funny. I get it, but at the wrong time I can react badly. I’ve hit people in the past. I hate reacting violently.
Even attempting to get disability on my own is painfully difficult, Going to the doctors that I don’t know and talking to strangers on the phone. Don’t get me wrong I consciously know that they won’t hurt me but experience always whispers “what if?”.
Despite everything I’m actually fairly happy in my life. This most certainly is not some pity party. I’m surrounded by love from my husband of 13 years, our son, and Our three cats. I’m blessed in ways that “normal” people would never understand. I’ve learned to value the little things. People who actually want to spend time around me, despite my oddity, is a treasure beyond measure. Our home where we can get away from the weather, food in our bellies. It’s hard to be completely displeased with life while we have these things.