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THE MOMENTUM OF RECOVERY FROM A PEER SPECIALIST PERSPECTIVE

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It’s such a great honor to be with you all again! Challenged by the big boss and head honcho of the Mental Health Affairs blog (MHA), I am going to write about a new topic: recovery momentum.

I asked myself, why does Max E. Guttman think it’s a good topic for me to write about? After all, readers of MHA compose a vast community rich with survivors, activists, people in recovery, and more. So why the topic of the momentum of recovery? And why me?

I treasure any opportunity to share my experiences with Mental Health Affairs blog. When knowledge becomes wisdom, it is a blessing for me and my recovery. In the context of this blog topic, “momentum of recovery,”; I’m about to step up to the plate and hit a grand slam! This metaphor makes me happy, so let’s get right to it.

If you’re asking yourself, what is a Certified Peer Specialist? It is a person who has been trained and certified to use their personal lived experience with mental health, trauma, addiction, etc., to help other people. The theory is that helping people through lived experience transforms the life of the ‘helper’ and the person being ‘helped.’ By help, I mean communicating wants and needs and fulfilling them through human connection and wisdom. 

I was blessed in 2007 to graduate from Massachusetts’s first-ever Certified Peer Specialist training. Some people from Massachusetts might tell you that they didn’t see me in the first Massachusetts training. Well, they were correct in saying so.

I barely graduated the 9th grade! Now, I was granted a life-changing gift from the state of Massachusetts to engage in a two semester-long college-accredited certified peer specialist training! I went on to earn a Human Services certificate from Bunker Hill Community College. One of my professors was also one of the lead trainers for the 2007 Certified Peer Specialist training in Massachusetts. While most of the 2007 graduates received the short two or three-week training, I went to school three days a week for six hours a day for two semesters. 

Given a comprehensive education in various recovery-oriented mental health topics, my education was college accredited. I was required to meet college-specific standards. I was required to learn certain things and prove my competency in a way that most Peer Specialists were not necessarily required to learn then or now. I took that knowledge and dedicated my life to becoming the best peer specialist possible. Thanks to becoming a peer specialist, recovery became my middle name. I lived it, I loved it, and I breathed it. Also, I wouldn’t say I liked it, but I cherished it. It made me the person I am today.

I want to share three real life-altering experiences. These experiences convey how I maintained momentum during my recovery. I didn’t allow any disruption to my life. The following experiences are from my first peer specialist job.

EXPERIENCE NUMBER ONE: 

I worked as a peer specialist at The Dorchester Bay Recovery Learning Community, also known as the DBRLC. In the year I worked there, we had three directors, each of them worse than their predecessor yet equally incompetent.

The first director sat in her office reading Yahoo news. She did not direct or do much of anything else, so the agency we worked for, Vinfen, promoted her to Director of Recovery. 

I was the only Certified Peer Specialist working at the DBRLC. The other employees included a guy from a wealthy family who drove a sports car but was not a peer specialist. Several times per workday, he drank water out of the faucet in the kitchen of our Center, where we prepared lunch. He would put his lips directly on the tap to drink water. As you can appreciate, I complained to the director because we wanted to set an excellent example for the people coming to our Center. Sadly, the director told me that I was wrong. 

They had a second person that they hired to work as a peer specialist. This woman had never been trained and did not know what a peer specialist was. She stated that she didn’t know what they were paying her for, but she could buy more cigarettes with the money. 

These untrained workers were paid $2 per hour more than me. When I discovered that these folks were being paid more than me, I complained to the management. They told me it was inappropriate to know that there was a payment differential and that I was being unprofessional by bringing the topic to management.

Despite the dismal environment, I always was attempting to maintain my recovery momentum. I consistently was trying to learn how to love myself and had a daily recovery plan. I would spend my journey from my house to my job, which I traveled by subway, meditating for ten minutes, journaling for ten minutes, and reading my emotions anonymous ‘just for today’ list for ten minutes. I did the same thing every day, and it kept me going. Thank the heavens. I was blessed to be trained as an effective and competent peer specialist. In this sense, I could benefit others and apply those similar skills to my personal recovery.

EXPERIENCE NUMBER TWO:

The second director of the Dorchester Bay Recovery Learning Community was imported from Southern California. This director of our recovery learning community made it clear that he would not do any work. To paraphrase his statement “if the people want to recover, let them recover.” Yep, that was about it.

He also searched extensively for an assistant director but was looking for women to date. I know this because he told me this.

How did I maintain my recovery momentum as a peer specialist now under the leadership of director number two?

I continued to actively seek out every recovery and mental health-oriented training that I could find. I sought out authentic, genuine, good-quality peers who wanted to collaborate and work together on creating a beautiful community of healing, one friendship, one connection, and one handshake at a time.

Despite not working in an official peer specialist capacity since 2015, I do the same today. That shows you that once you get the taste of the power of recovery, even if you get distracted or fall off for a while or whatever happens, you never forget how good it feels. If the power of healing is better for you than going off the deep end and wrecking your life, then you make your decision. I choose to further my health and my healing.

EXPERIENCE NUMBER THREE:

The agency installed the third director because she struggled with her mental health in her traditional mental health-worker role as a case manager. Lastly, she wasn’t a peer specialist. The director was not trained in the recovery model! She certainly didn’t like having someone competent, well-trained, and capable working under her. Someone like me!

Our new program director decided she would have a community meeting with everyone present and choose the upcoming group schedule for the next several months.

Five people were in that meeting: The new director, myself, and three community members.

I proposed that we continue to have the Better Days peer support group that we have been offering since the program began, which was the curriculum I developed because it was the most well-attended, consistent, and stable group that we provided at the DBRLC.

The new director held a vote. She asked all present to say yes or no to the offered options.

One of the three community members had fallen asleep. The director woke her up and asked her the question: do you want to continue with the Better Days group or have something else instead? 

The woman was visibly unaware of what was going on, and upon being asked a second time, she said no. She was a recent immigrant from Guadeloupe, and French was her first language.

Then the director said this group got voted out.

I had prepared three group ideas to consider. It was a requirement of the staff attending the meeting. I was the only staff member to attend the meeting. I had prepared the ideas in the same format and concept as the Better Days support group I also created. 

After the second vote, one of my proposals was accepted. The idea was 100% the Better Days group. It just had a different name.

So, how on Earth did I maintain any momentum during my recovery? After all, this was just one year of working as a peer specialist!

I published those group passages and worksheets in 2013 as the Better Days Mental Health Recovery Workbook (including the pages under a different group name). People have purchased 10,000 copies of my book since it was published.

It shows that if you believe in recovery and want to be healthy, you must create a community that respects and values your dignity. You can do it!

Suppose something gets in the way of your recovery. In that case, whether in a work environment, a support group environment, or with your family or your friendship circle, YOU CAN tap into your recovery and take control.

In the end, when you get knocked down, and you will, recovery momentum will give you wings to go further!

If you resonate with what you have read here, show me your love by checking out my website:

About the Author

Craig Lewis

I'm 46 years old going on 23. I live in Mexico because I choose to be happy. I authored several books on recovery & healing; & I'm preparing to publish several more. I believe in liberty, truth, justice & radical human-powered transformation. I'm a rebel & I proudly wear my colors on my sleeve. I have survived a tragically abusive & marginalized life & thus, I fearlessly act in solidarity with the "others". My desire is to be a benefit to all people who seek to heal & help others heal. I live, love & thrive, in the present moment; it's a good life.

Contact: survivingtheimpossible@gmail.com

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