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Can We Change How Our Community Views Recovery?

Author: Justin Mckibben

I’m an alcoholic named Justin.

I am also a writer, a cafe manager and a yoga teacher; a son, a brother and a best friend. I came to Florida from Columbus, Ohio with $5 in my pocket and a bag of dirty clothes. I am now an active member of my community, and this is how I believe we change the perception of who we are- we recover and we talk about it. We stand for the community we believe in and show our gratitude through the work we do.

This past weekend I came across something that gave me a sense of levity through inspiration, but also troubled me with the residual remarks it received. A friend of mine, one whom I had the privilege of attending treatment with that first time several years ago at Palm Partners, had made a bold statement in a group on social media specific to sharing information and stories relevant to the community in Delray Beach, Florida.

The page always has a vast variety of posts from job opportunities, community event announcements, new business listings and even tips on gas prices and dining out.

But every once in a while a story breaks concerning recovery in Delray Beach. Sometimes these stories are raising awareness on the state of national affairs concerning addiction or local initiatives to influence recovery, but other times they come across as nothing more than deliberately discriminating attacks on people some refer to as “rehabbers.” The young lady I know wrote a heartfelt testimony to her experience in recovery after coming to Delray Beach, Florida and shared her grief that so many people scrutinize the recovery community based on the actions of individuals. She admitted to having witnessed the shady side of it all, but challenged people to try and understand those who chose a different way.

She received a lot of empowering and positive feedback, which was so refreshing. Signs of compassion from both sides of the conversation came through. The reason I wanted to write about this today was simply because one of the many comments that I took notice to was:

“..but you are an exception to the rule…”

Now I don’t wish to argue statistics because I doubt there is any way of providing completely accurate, proof-positive numbers. Considering so many choose to remain anonymous and in the grand scheme of things “successful recovery” can be subjective to some. The reason this bothered me, the more I thought about it, has a lot to do with a conversation that stemmed from my friends response.

The Side They Show

This strong woman did not shy away from her convictions. She kept standing up for the recovering addict or alcoholic. She instead answered the aforementioned comment with,

“But I’m not the exception. Unfortunately negativity is much sexier than positivity.”

As much as I hate to say it, truer words could not apply to this context. Simply put- ordinary people just don’t seem to care when an addict or alcoholic finds a solution that leads them to pulling their life together in comparison to when someone goes to rehab, gets out and creates chaos. One comment stated:

“Do the needles jump into their arms? You say they can’t stay sober even if they want to? Come on now. Just take responsibility for your own actions people.”

Here again, we find stigma and the ugly side that seems to overshadow the reality of the disease of addiction. It seems many residents in the Delray area who have no first-hand experience with real recovery still think addicts and alcoholics are suffering from a moral failing or an inability to “take responsibility”- making them more likely to destroy and demoralize the community than they are to make a positive contribution.


Well, in part because the headlines are often generated to grab the reader with claims of controversy and corruption, and because people who don’t know the truth about addiction too often only see it in black and white.

Since crooked client brokers in Delray Beach recently became such a front-page problem there has been an increase in scrutiny on the recovery community. The spotlight was shown on people who were making money off of essentially human-trafficking. From there came very public depictions of ‘exposure’ crusades to take down shady body-snatchers, attempts to unearth unethical halfway housing and heated debates as local businesses incorporated changes in policy which many considered to be attacks directed at “rehabbers” or people in recovery.

The public and even the media has repeatedly gone on a rampage of grouping addicts together as a blemish on the community; so much so that almost every young person with tattoos at a coffee shop was practically labelled on sight as a no-good “rehabber” and subject to whole-sale condemnation.

Why? Just like she said… it’s a ‘sexier story’ to have drama and outrage than it is to support people who have committed to change.

Then as overdose deaths spiked all over the country in association with the opiate epidemic, it made it all the more disturbing to witness it first-hand in any community. But that is crucial to remember too- this is a national problem, and one facing neighborhoods all over Florida, not just Delray.

The Side We Know

We need to change the way our communities perceive recovery for many reasons- the most obvious being that discrimination of any kind is a terrible injustice. We alcoholics and addicts in real recovery- who have a solution and practice with diligence the principles used to shape the lives of freedom and happiness we never expected to have- strive every day to be of service; not just to each other, but to society and humanity as a whole.

True- it is up to us as active members of recovery to accurately represent ourselves to the rest of our community. However, our communities should also be willing to let go of and preconceptions they may have and learn more about us too. We have to meet each other half-way and raise awareness, while working to make real treatment and real solutions more available.

Every day more people come here to find help and every day even more people die because they never get that help. If we want to encourage addicts to be active in their community and to contribute to the lives of others we have to hope for a world willing to accept them for trying.

If every business turns us away, how will we ever help it grow?

If every neighborhood bars our entry, how will we ever build a home we want to take pride in and protect?

These new people coming to Delray Beach are not a threat… they are an opportunity for unity and change! Spiritual growth, new freedom and happiness, relationships and responsibility are possible. People have to be given compassion if they have any chance of change.

What They Don’t Know

This is the kicker… we are already here! We’ve been here all along! Long before me and long after me there will be addicts and alcoholics from all over America relocating to South Florida to be part of a beautiful community of recovery.

In case you didn’t know, we are EVERYWHERE! Not to freak you out and have every “normie” all paranoid, but that is the reality. In the words of one of fictions greatest counter-culture icons, Tyler Durden:

“Look, the people you are after are the people you depend on. We cook your meals, we haul your trash, we connect your calls, we drive your ambulances. We guard you while you sleep.”

For every “normie” that has a chance to read this, I promise you will interact several times today with people who have had to struggle one day at a time to have any stability and sanity in life without drugs and drinking. You probably know them by name. You might have small-talk every day, or you might work side by side with them. That person you respect and admire for their work ethic, determination and perspective might have been like me… dying in a dope-house basement wishing they could believe it was possible to live in a world that would believe in them.

So, people in recovery I challenge to find a way to live proudly in their sobriety. Sure- I respect anonymity and the need for privacy. But for those who are able to speak up, I challenge you to do so. I challenge you to lead by example either way! Yes… we can change how our community views recovery! If we are truly grateful for this community, let us make it a better place for everyone who has a home here.

Thankfully, I was given some help to stop drinking from some amazing people who genuinely cared about my future. Some of most amazing people I’ve ever met are parts of our recovery community in Delray Beach. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. YOU are not alone.


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