by Merlyn Karst
In previous blogs I have suggested that when I’m at a loss for words— doesn’t happen often— I use the words of others. The act of messaging is quite satisfying. I am reading a book by friend and mentor, Johnny Allem, titled Say The Second Thing—That Comes Into Your Mind. This book is a “tool box” that supports the work and joy of recovery. I know that recovery support for self and others is not a job but requires work. In describing his early days, Johnny writes about the tools of work. “In high school I learned to repair radios and appliances … my habit of respecting tools and keeping them in assigned places became very useful.” Ironically, my father also repaired radios and household appliances and had appropriate tools for the task. He wired houses during the depression and made all the electrical connections without the benefit of power tools. I still have some of those tools, now 90 years old. Johnny writes, “On my journey, I have come to realize that we are hard wired to belong to each other, to connect with each other and share a common spiritual calling.” I agree that we may be hard wired, but it is now a wireless world. Our wireless platform may well be fellowship.
Though I am sensitive to political correctness, my “PCs” of today are to pursue connections, preserve connections, and protect connections. “Cs” the day with action through Contact, Connection, Conversation, Communication, and Community—with Courage. In Johnny’s tool book, he has a chapter titled “Today Matters.” He writes, “Today is game day. It is the only time to put points on the board. When the measure of our lives is totaled, it will be our actions that count. Not our wishes, not our opinions, not our intentions.”
I was privileged to be with Johnny Allem and Bill White in St Paul in 2001 when we and almost 200 others made a commitment to faces and voices proclaiming the reality of recovery. Bill White wrote and reflected on that occasion with a question: “How can addicted people experience hope when the legions of recovering people in this culture are not seen or heard? Where is the proof that permanent recovery from addiction is possible? We need a vanguard of recovering people to send an unequivocal message to those still drug enslaved that they can be free. We need a vanguard willing to stand as the LIVING PROOF of that proposition….”
Bill wrote in a more recent blog, “Those words were shared in 2001 in the belief that contact strategies, even more than education and protest strategies, would be crucial to dismantling the stigma attached to addiction recovery. We still believe that, and, needless to say, we are delighted to see research confirming the power of recovery disclosure as a strategy for social change. What would be the state of LGBT quality of life in the U.S. if all members of that community had remained hidden in the closet these past decades?” Early in the life of Faces and Voices of Recovery, a now large and growing recovery movement, I spoke to an audience at a reunion of alumni of a treatment center. Many were in recovery, along with family members. I spoke of the courage of those in the LBGT community who came out and came up to overcome stigma and discrimination and gained the power of purpose and presence for millions. Afterwards, a woman approached me and with a passionate plea asked. “Mr. Karst, when do we have our own ribbon? “ Symbols are great but nothing beats the power of story. As I referenced earlier, Bill White spoke of the importance of a “contact strategy” and we have learned, though not related to athleticism, recovery support is certainly a contact sport.
Johnny Allem was the 2016 recipient of the William L. White Lifetime Achievement Award of Faces and Voices of Recovery. He pioneered Recovery Ambassadorship. His book should be sought at local bookstores and is available through Amazon. Bill White is a well-known author of a multitude of papers and several books. He is a regular contributor to the Faces and Voices of Recovery blog site. I’m grateful for the words from these significant others for the messages.