September 8, 2020

My father was introduced to his craft during World War II. While other soldiers were fighting and dying all over the world, my dad learned how to make dentures. After all, dental pain could reduce the fighting capability of even the toughest soldier, so my dad served the Army by making sure soldiers had good fitting dentures. Learning this as a boy taught me two things: the world has a lot of people who perform behind-the-scenes actions that make big events possible and “war hero” was never going to be attached to most of their names. Still, he did good work and served his country.

After the war, on the GI Bill, he got a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology, but he missed working with his hands, so he took additional training and became a dental technician, eventually owning his own dental laboratory. At parties, he’d often be asked to “take a look at this sore in my mouth” or asked “is my dentist right that I have to have this tooth taken out?” Always, he would give the same answer—his role was to make tight-fitting and comfortable dentures, not to be a dentist.

As a veteran, I’m very familiar with hierarchies, and not opposed to them in principle. To use my simple, peacetime, example, as an enlisted soldier with a rank of E-5, I was near the bottom of a weighty chain of command:  my company commander, my division commander etc., etc. to the secretary of defense and finally the president. (For persnickety vets, I was in a division headquarters company, hence the lack of battalion or brigade commanders.) Additionally, anyone who outranked me was, in most senses, above me in the pecking order. The military is an example of where hierarchies make sense. If an army is going into combat it’s imperative to know whose orders to follow and to obey them as soon as possible.

Another hierarchical system is the clinical model of recovery.  The doctoral-level clinical psychologist outranks the MLADC who outranks the LADC who outranks the CRSW. (Please forgive the alphabet soup of the previous sentence—their translation isn’t necessary for understanding the hierarchy.) In clinical settings, different levels of certification mean varying amounts of power and authority. This may make sense, but it never did for me. Let me explain.

Before I came into recovery, I’d seen a dozen or so therapists of various kinds, always about my drinking, which tended to be a problem for those around me.  I lied to all of them to a greater or lesser degree, all based on a simple formula consisting of two parts:

  1. I’ll be completely honest about anything that doesn’t involve my drinking or drugging and my access to those practices.
  2. Everything in the whole darned universe is connected to my drinking or drugging and my access to those practices.

Given that second part, I never told the truth, the whole truth or anything approaching the truth to those therapists. And they never called me on it. Maybe they knew I was full of crap. Maybe they just didn’t care about me. Maybe I was such a skilled yarn0spinner they couldn’t see the wide gaps between the buttons of verifiable facts.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

When I finally found recovery, it was not through the clinical route. There was no diagnosis. There was no treatment. There was no prognosis. Instead, I was introduced to a bunch of folks who had been where I was, had felt what I felt and knew what I knew about my drinking. They were unbullshitable.  Recovery was made up of a bunch of clowns like me who had figured out a way to stop drinking and drugging. If the clinical model was a hierarchical pyramid, recovery was that pyramid after a dinosaur had stomped it, then ground it to dust. It was not just a flattened hierarchy, it didn’t exist.

I needed peers, not professionals. I needed to be surrounded by folks who knew and understood me almost instantly—and who still seemed to like me. I did not need a DSM diagnosis of Alchohol Use Disorder. I did not need to explain myself to someone who’d never been within a thousand psychic miles of me. I needed recovery, and recovery was all around me.

Hope is a peer-based recovery center, but many (most?) folks don’t understand what that means, thinking those of us who work here are “counselors” or “therapists” or “clinicians.” Absolutely not! A peer is someone who’s of equal standing to another. Hence, a jury of one’s peers or peer-reviewed journals. Employees of Hope are no better or of higher status than anyone who comes to us for support. We are comrades and allies and friends and companions with no special gifts or skills. Every person at Hope is in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse, eating disorders or other addictive behaviors.  Our experiences during active use and in recovery are what makes us effective. Like trail guides, we may be able to help folks see where the path to recovery may get rocky, suggest alternative routes, and cheer folks along in their progress. As an example, look at the picture at the top of the page—the only piece of paper I keep on the wall in my office—which provides the necessary evidence for me to hold my job. College degrees and certifications are fine, in their way, although that way can be filled with hot air, empty pride and meaningless accomplishment. 

I can’t say what will work for you or you or you. I know what worked for me and people like me. That work took place in the loving palm of a group of fellow recoverees, joined by common experience, common solution and common purpose: to help everyone there taste life before it dries up or slips away. Come to Hope for New Hampshire Recovery and see what I mean.

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