September — a month of fresh starts and transitions. Kids (of all ages) going back to school, seasons changing and, for Jews, the High Holiday season with Erev Rosh Hashanah on Sept. 9.
September also highlights a different type of fresh start or transition. Since 1989, September has been recognized as National Recovery Month. Sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an organization that works to increase awareness and understanding of mental health and substance use disorders.
The purpose of Recovery Month is to spread these important messages:
- Behavioral health is essential to overall health
- Prevention works
- Treatment is effective
- People recover
This year’s theme, “Join the Voices for Recovery: Invest in Health, Home, Purpose and Community,” explores how integrated care, a strong community, a sense of purpose and leadership contribute to effective treatments that sustain the recovery of people with mental and substance use disorders. These themes are sewn into the fabric of our own Jewish community and reflected in the recent concern over the rise of addictions and deaths from overdoses and suicides, especially among our young people.
As an addictions professional, I’m frequently asked if being abstinent from a drug (including alcohol) that was causing a problem is enough. It’s not. Recovery is defined as a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life and strive to reach their full potential. Not “using” is sometimes the easiest part; the challenge is in developing a life in recovery that is worth living. This is where integrated care that includes counseling, 12-step fellowship and medical and/or psychiatric supports come in.
A strong community occurs when an individual feels supported by family, friends and even religious institutions. Leading the life of an addict is very purposeful — and it is that sense of purpose that needs to be replaced. Having something to do each day that has meaning allows someone in recovery to feel they’re a productive member of society. This can be many things, such as a job, school, volunteer work, creative endeavor or hobby.
So what does recovery look like in more concrete terms? Let’s use Estie (not her real name) as an example.
Estie is 25 years old, recently married and anxious to set up a Jewish household with her new husband. She’s feeling pressured by the expectations of her parents, siblings and in-laws to give up her career and have children. Prior to their marriage, she confided to her husband that she has been using marijuana and prescription anti-anxiety medications to “feel normal,” and she promised to stop using them. She’s been able to keep her promise; yet the shortness of breath and panicky feelings keep coming in waves, affecting her sleep, appetite and ability to socialize.
Estie has many aspects of recovery in place, such as supportive family and friends, synagogue affiliation, a career, a sense of purpose coupled with a safe, secure place to live, financial resources, and access to medical and behavioral health care. Yet her recovery is hindered by her fear of letting others know about her long-standing anxiety and depression and over-reliance on anti-anxiety meds and marijuana.
Through individual therapy, Estie would be encouraged to speak frankly with her physician to rule out medical causes for her symptoms and to seek out a psychiatrist to determine if psychiatric medication would be helpful. She’d be able to talk out her concerns about confiding in family and friends, including some family counseling sessions to help her do so, such as with Friendship House in West Bloomfield.
Recovery Month may be over with October’s arrival, but, just as the High Holidays bring a period of self-reflection, it is the hope that inspiration gained during Recovery Month will also sustain us beyond September.
Maureen Lyn Bernard, LMSW, is a clinical therapist at Jewish Family Service and a certified addictions counselor.
For more information on local resources, contact Jewish Family Service at (248) 592-2313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.