Faces & Voices of Recovery

By Juliet Elisabeth 09/02/16

The nation's leading recovery advocacy agency has given those marginalized by the traditional system a louder voice and encouraged people to speak out about multiple pathways to recovery. 

Woman holding sign that says "I'm a convicted felon in recovery. Forgive me my past, allow me my future."
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Through the hard work and dedication of hundreds of recovery advocates at a 2001 summit in St. Paul, Minnesota, the nation’s leading recovery advocacy agency was born: Faces & Voices of Recovery. Out of that summit came a clear path to begin to organize people in recovery community organizations (RCOs) so they may come out of the shadows and share their powerful stories of recovery in efforts to reduce the stigma, shame, and discrimination that are associated with addiction.

RCOs are nonprofits formed by local community representatives. “The broadly defined recovery community—people in long-term recovery, their friends and allies, including recovery-focused addiction and recovery professionals—includes organizations whose members reflect religious, spiritual, and secular pathways of recovery,” according to “The Recovery Community Organization: Toward A Working Definition and Description,” authored by Phillip A. Valentine, William L. White and Pat Taylor.

Grassroots RCOs across the U.S. focus mainly on public policy, peer-based recovery supports, and public education. Many Faces, One Voice is the name of a book written by Bud Mikhitarian, the Director of Photography of the 2013 documentary The Anonymous People. The book title references the Many Faces, One Voice campaign of Faces & Voices of Recovery. The book chronicles over two years behind the scenes of the making of The Anonymous People, proving addiction hits every type of person regardless of socioeconomic status or family background. In 2014, The Fix writer John Lavitt asked: “Can the dream of The Anonymous People become a viable reality? Will the New Recovery Advocacy Movement succeed?”

One sign of the new recovery movement’s success is that Faces & Voices of Recovery is going on 16 years of organizing recovery community organizations. Executive Director of Faces & Voices, Patty McCarthy Metcalf, previously served for ten years as the director at Friends of Recovery-Vermont (FOR-VT) which is an RCO. As the organization’s leader, she put a public face on recovery and brought the issues affecting the recovery community to the forefront by advocating for eliminating discriminatory policies that are barriers to long-term recovery. Metcalf has addressed issues like ethics and boundaries, peer recovery coaching, and peer support standards. She is also the former Deputy Director of SAMHSA’s Bringing Recovery Supports to Scale Technical Assistance Center Strategy (BRSS TACS).

SAMHSA’s working definition of "recovery" is: a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential. In the recovery movement, recovery is self-defined and takes many paths. A core principle of Faces & Voices is to support all paths to recovery, including but not limited to faith-based, natural recovery and the use of medications. To learn more about the important role of grassroots recovery community organizations, I asked Patty about F&V’s current work with advocacy and recovery support services.

One campaign of Faces & Voices is the Recovery Voices Count campaign, designed to be non-partisan work aiding communities to become educated on addiction issues. Can you elaborate?

The Recovery Voices Count campaign was developed by Faces & Voices of Recovery to enable the organized recovery community to educate the candidates about the most pressing issues related to addiction and recovery. The campaign focuses on civic engagement, empowering people who may not have participated in the political process before to get involved by registering to vote and learning about their candidates. They become a constituency of consequence when the over 23 million Americans in long-term recovery become active in their states and communities, and they vote. You can get involved by sharing the Recovery Voices Count campaign materials on social media, organizing a community listening forum, and telling your recovery story to educate the public and lawmakers.

What types of partnerships are essential for recovery community organizations?

It takes everyone as individuals and as organizations to come together to find solutions. The recovery community is a large part of that solution. Partnering with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to advocate for better access to treatment and recovery services has been critical. Working with other national organizations with similar goals provides a unified voice and vision. And supporting our local, national and international member organizations of ARCO (the Association of Recovery Community Organizations) provides the glue for a solid movement. Most importantly, partnering with individual and family advocates to share their stories has been our primary focus.

Does F&V educate the general public and policymakers, the media and advocates, as well as those in recovery, about the ethical need to offer secular support groups?

Faces & Voices provides access to our Guide to Mutual Aid Resources on our website. It contains hundreds of mutual aid groups and contact information. It’s a great resource for professionals to use when educating clients new in recovery about the ever-growing array of options that exist today.

How can F&V help people start up a grassroots community organization or non-profit that can help educate their local regions about recovery support services and mutual support groups?

There are many models of grassroots organizations to look to as examples of how communities of recovery have come together to provide a voice and hope for individuals and families. The range of services and supports they provide is diverse and includes alternative approaches to the more traditional models. Faces & Voices provides technical assistance through resources, webcasts, and networking.

Finally, another concern in communities are addicts in the workplace. Doctors, nurses, pilots and lawyers are often placed into unregulated programs which offer only the 12 Steps. How can these individuals and their allies challenge employer-mandated AA/NA attendance, which limit support group options?

Faces & Voices, as an organization, has no position, value judgement or comment on any 12-Step or other type of support group model.

Many thanks to Patty Metcalf for her time and for answering my questions.

Faces & Voices does not endorse or favor one mode of recovery over another. However, it’s my opinion that RCOs may be able to communicate effectively with employer-mandated programs or, possibly, these programs may turn to an RCO for information on ethical guidelines, many pathways to recovery, and other mutual aid support groups available such as SMART Recovery, Secular Organizations for Sobriety, LifeRing, and Women for Sobriety—just to name a few.

It is also my steadfast belief that individuals working within an RCO can help those who have found alternative recovery pathways and success outside of 12-Step programs. Their stories and voices need to be recognized by medical professionals and chemical dependency counselors. When a community becomes involved in the welfare of substance abusers, they can make important, highly necessary changes such as demanding the courts to stop mandating only religious 12-Step programs to drunk drivers. RCOs could help end the routine habit of sending violent and sexual offenders to the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous by educating judges about how AA has no safety plan or warning statements in effect, which puts vulnerable people seeking help voluntarily at risk no matter how narrow or broad that risk may be.

What Faces & Voices of Recovery has done is remarkable: They’ve given those marginalized by the traditional system a louder voice and encouraged people to speak out about multiple pathways to recovery. I want to thank Patty McCarthy Metcalf for taking the time to explain how Faces & Voices of Recovery operates and how we can all help educate others and change laws and policies by working together with recovery community organizations.

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Juliet Elisabeth is a freelance writer and independent contractor as a research analyst focused on the healthcare field; also an artist and mother of two. Activist for choice in recovery treatment. Her blog is AarmedWithFacts.