Monday, January 14, 2008

Visions of Recovery

From Gerald Butler:


On the 18th of this month, noted schoolteacher and author of ‘Blue Eyes Brown Eyes’ Jane Elliott will be lecturing in Howell Michigan. For those too young to remember: Ms Elliott was a third grade teacher when Martin Luther King was assassinated and the next day she conducted the first of her now world renowned Blue Eyes Brown Eyes experiments. Desiree Cooper of the Detroit Free Press refers to these sessions as ‘Experiences’ during which the children’s treatment was based solely on the color of their eyes. Blue-eyed kids had to sit in the back of the room, and even had to be escorted to the bathroom by brown-eyed children. For the entire day, lunch and recess included, the blue eyes were generally debased and had to deal with constant reminders of how they were lesser than the brown eyes.

Typically at Mental Health conferences it seems to be, consumers in the back and staff up the front, almost as if it were mandated. When putting together last years ‘Empowerment Day’ conference I requested consumers sit in the front of the venue and staff in the rear. This was a mere symbolic gesture to deal with stigma and I had no intentions of enforcing it. I was generally watching for reactions to the request and for outcomes. I was not surprised to see consumers end up in the back and staff in the front. What is obvious is that for transformation to occur there need be a system wide change of attitude, consumers and administrators alike. I’d like to think that future generations would judge this era not by some super new program, but by an age of cooperation. Either we all are going to make this a success, or we all are going to be losers.

I can’t speak for administrators but from a consumer’s perspective this is how we can contribute to system transformation: we must first envision ourselves as being deserving of sitting in the front section. We must find what our talents are and then find the leaders in the system willing to help us hone our gifts. We can never make our pasts go away, however we can turn that poison into medicine to help heal others going through what we have been through We have been told that everything we do, everything about us is wrong, including our deepest feelings. So we must be willing to take an open and honest look at ourselves from our perspective, the bad and MOSTLY the good and be willing to fix whatever needs fixing.

To err is human and everyone makes mistakes. While in recovery it is vital we surround ourselves with progressive folk who believe in us, as it is they who will help us rebound from life’s missteps. The sooner we rebound the sooner we are free to put all our time and effort into the recovery process. We must seek out those positive leaders in the system willing to say to us “You’ve made a mistake, lets work together to make certain that you’ll do things right the next time? It is a bit unfair to ask others to respect us if we do not respect ourselves. So we must walk with our heads held high because after all that we’ve been through, we owe that much to ourselves. We need to find the leaders who also feel we deserve to walk tall.

The last great change in mental health was the community based treatment initiative, begun in the 70s’. This was basically a physical change and I can’t imagine the logistical nightmare it was to pull it off. This new system is just as big a change as was community treatment, however this is more a system wide change in attitude and approach that assures we do well on the road to recovery. It’s exciting to be in the middle of such revolutionary transformation: almost daily I meet another administrator who has boarded the freedom train by making some sort of personal commitment to system transformation. Finally, we are no longer separate from the system of treatment and recovery, but are instead important contributors to the entire process. We are forever grateful to those leaders who have made our concerns, their concerns.

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