Originally written by Sharon Bogan on Public Health Insider

September marks National Recovery Month, a time to acknowledge the gains made by those in recovery who have faced challenges from mental health or substance use disorders. Many of us have faced these challenges ourselves or know a close friend or family member who has. This year poses even more challenges, from COVID-19 to wildfire smoke, that can make us feel even more isolated.

For Public Health – Seattle & King County, it is a time to acknowledge the dedication of service providers and community members who make recovery possible for our King County community. Locally in King County, every year, more than 60,000 individuals begin their recovery path. That means 5,000 community members each month are connecting to services to help them on a journey to recovery and overcoming stigma associated with behavioral health issues.

It is so important to reach out and connect with those who are walking a path towards recovery. At the root of recovery is connection. With support, treatment, and strong community connections, people can, and do recover.

If you are working to make recovery accessible for people in our community–thank you. Access to resources for recovery is a right, and your work is making that access possible.


What is recovery?

“Recovery Life” by Clifford S. Parsons received 1st Place in the 2019 Recovery Poster Art Contest.

Recovery can look different for every individual experiencing behavioral health challenges, but it centers around leading a healthy and rewarding life.

We asked a few experts in the field to reflect on their thoughts on recovery:

Karen Lizzy, a counselor with the Cowlitz Tribe and member of the Ojibwe: Bay Mills Indian Community, shared what recovery means for her: 

“Recovery means your spirit returns to your body, mind and soul. The journey is not becoming someone or something different than you are but coming back home to reclaim your sacred place in the world. It means the seen and unseen world smile and embrace what no other could ever replace.”

Dr. David Sapienza, an addiction medicine family physician with Public Health – Seattle & King County, reflected:

“Recovery means different things to different people and there is not one definition or path. To me, recovery is living a rewarding life consistent with one’s own values and principles and having the opportunity to pursue meaningful goals and develop deepened relationships with family, friends, and community.”

Dimensions of recovery and resources

Recovery-oriented care and recovery support systems help people with mental health and substance use disorders manage their conditions. Here are some of the major dimensions that support a life in recovery:

  • Health: Overcoming or managing one’s conditions or symptoms.
  • Home: A stable and safe place to live.
  • Purpose: Meaningful daily activities like a job, school, family, or volunteering, and the independence, income, and resources to participate in society.
  • Community: Relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.

With these four dimensions in mind, many treatment providers can also help people start on medications that are very effective at addressing the physiological effects of opioid use disorder while also connecting people to critical wrap-around supportive services.

Here’s how we can support the gains made by those in recovery

Pathways to recovery can look different for different people. Starting points can be having a conversation with a healthcare provider, reaching out to a trusted friend, a spiritual or cultural leader, or reaching out to support groups. A great place to start is the Washington Recovery Helpline that offers an anonymous, confidential 24-hour help line for Washington State residents. 

  • Speak out if we see actions or narratives that stigmatize people with substance use disorder or mental health challenges. Stigma and shame around substance use is one of the barriers to people accessing help. Friends and family can help reduce the shame by starting conversations about substance use. Additionally, don’t be afraid to share your personal experience — it may make others feel comfortable to discuss what they are going through.
  • Share resources: There are many resources available including access to medications to treat substance use disorder.
    • Medications play a critical role in the treatment of substance use disorder.  Medications to treat opioid-use disorder can reduce the risk of dying from overdose by 50%.
    • During COVID-19, new opportunities for treatment and services have become more readily available via video or phone. The Washington Recovery Helpline or your health provider can help people get connected. or 1-866-789-1511.
    • New challenges are facing children and teens during COVID-19. This new toolkit has information for families and providers: Behavioral Health Toolbox for Families: Supporting Children and Teens During the COVID-19 Pandemic.
  • Stay connected and take part in community actions: In a time when we are all facing additional life stressors due to COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to get creative with how we can safely stay connected.
    • The King County Recovery Coalition and the Washington Recovery Alliance are two local organizations working together to change public perception of recovery and strengthen connections in the recovery community.
    • The King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division’s website provides information about local recovery initiatives and activities for recovery.

Originally posted on September 14, 2020.