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I attended the graduation ceremony for the newest class of Peer Support Specialists in Michigan. Around 300 family members, friends, dignitaries, and new peer support specialists attended.
Michigan now has over 500 peer support specialists. Each one is an ambassador from the recovery community to the current system of mental health services. But, unlike most ambassadors, their goal is to create more than friends. Their purpose is to transform Michigan’s mental health system, so that it becomes driven by people in recovery, so that the system provides tools and supports for choice-filled and fulfilled lives.
Three of the new peers told their stories as part of the ceremony. These stories are a high point of each graduation ceremony. Each is unique, a completely individual path of recovery. I have to say, that the talents shown by the story tellers over the graduations I have attended are broad and diverse, a reminder of the uniqueness of all of us, and a tribute to the growing common power of Michigan peers.
Becoming a certified peer support specialist requires a lengthy application process, a solid week of study and work, and a 4 hour exam. Each peer works in the mental health system in a variety of ways, using their experience, skills, and example to support individuals who are seeking or receiving support.
As each of the 60 plus new peers receive their certificate, family and friends applaud them, cheer them on, take pictures, in this celebration of their achievement. After each person has received their certificate, a group photo is taken, and a reception is held.
I have been working in the disability community since 1970, and Michigan’s peer movement is the fastest growing social justice movement I have seen. The support for this growth from DCH has been an example of how government can support real change by the only people who can make that change. The Michigan recovery community has grasped that opportunity with both hands and is working hard to make system transformation a reality.
All that said, the choice of recovery is always an individual one. We all have to decide for ourselves that we will take what we saw as the broken pieces of our lives and our selves, and use them for what they really are-our uniquely personal resources, ones we can individually use to create our lives and live out our dreams.