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[ Opinion ] [ Personal Narratives ]

Unite to Face Addiction: My Take From the Cheap Seats

Just one month removed from our June 2015 launch, our newly formed website seemed to be gaining good traction. The community that we were hoping to foster was in full bloom, and TheRealEdition.com had become a weekly (for many, daily) routine for thousands of people in recovery.

As our team began to reach out and meet the people behind other recovery based websites and podcasts, so started the guest blog and podcast circuit. With this came a sense of belonging, like we were becoming a part of a small but fast growing community in what I call the digital recovery space. 

My co-founder Jason Smith and I thought we were in the know, having conversed with most of the other established recovery sites and the people behind them. Then came a mid-July episode of the popular podcast KLĒN + SŌBR.  Jason had just made an appearance on the show, and I began listening to the episode on my hour long drive from San Diego to my home in Orange County. The discussion was great, the show was entertaining as usual, and just as things were wrapping up… a total curve ball.

“So will we be seeing The Real Edition in DC in a few months?” Chris, one of the hosts asked
“Umm.. “ Jason thought out loud, as neither of us knew anything about DC.
“Are you inviting me?” Jason cleverly responded.

After a few laughs, Jason asked the same question I was thinking as I drove up the 5 freeway pondering why a podcast in St. Louis would ask about going to DC.

“So really, what’s going on in DC?”

Fast forward three months to present day, and I’m sort of asking the same question in past tense. 

What really went on in DC?

It was about a week ago that Jason and I, accompanied by our one employee, flew out from California to Washington DC for the “UNITE to Face Addiction” rally.

Let me preface, that the trip itself went amazingly well. Though the week leading up to the event, left me questioning my decision to use a large part of our small budget to get the 3 of us from one coast to the other. The fact that there was a possibility of a category 4 hurricane didn’t help the matter. But our airfare was booked, hotel rooms were paid for, and I figured if nothing else, we could join in being part of a cause much bigger than ourselves and boost some TRE moral. 

We scheduled breakfasts, and brunches, and dinners, and desserts, and late night chicken wings, with some of the biggest players in our little world. People clean-raved, and clean karaoked – it was a blast and some of the relationships that were initiated, we look forward to fostering and nurturing along the way, progressing always toward a common goal. I don’t believe the online recovery space must be a zero sum game, where one site must dominate over all others. Where one podcast must triumph, one publishing platform must reign supreme, a single digital community must stand out above the others. We must – if we’re ever going to make a dent in the addiction that’s gripping our communities – work together. We must play off each others’ strengths, compensate for each others’ weaknesses, jump at mutually beneficial opportunities, and ultimately – and this is more important than anything else – ALWAYS CHECK OUT MOTIVES. Are our motives for whatever we push, or promote, or sell… is the motive to make a ton of money off of a vulnerable population, or to help that population gain strength through… well, unity?

I’m happy to report that I was correct in my cost-benefit analysis. I returned from DC with a rejuvenated passion for this world of digital recovery, all thanks to the amazing people I met on this trip. I knew we had set up several meet & greets ahead of time, but I did not plan on feeling such a family like bond to the strangers I had met just 24 hours earlier. The weekend began in a cold, rainy, unfamiliar town, and ended with some incredible conversations, a lot of laughter, and a dozen or so new friends (all of which share our passion for this field).  

From Left To Right Kelly (Sober Senorita), Laura (Sobriety Collective) and myself at Freakovery Fundraiser the night before.

And while the “UNITE” event itself was fun, the music was great, the speakers inspired and the crowd had a great energy,  I couldn’t help but wonder what exactly was going on. Each speaker had a slightly different agenda, most of the bands didn’t mention anything about recovery, and when asked about why people came to the event, nearly everyone had a different answer. Just look at “The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids”  Facebook photos (they literally asked people to write down their reason for being at the event).

Maybe it’s the entrepreneur/idealist in me, but I cant silence the voice in my head that asks what actionable steps – if any – did we engage in to make change? In fact, what specific changes are we trying to make in the first place? I’m an advocate of nearly everything pro-recovery, so i’ll be there either way. I just wish the passion could have turned into a tangible accomplishment. 

Some may say that gathering 10,000 people in recovery is an achievement in itself. I’m saying, those bands played to unusually small audiences compared to what they’re used to, and most of them tweeted that is was an honor to play at the venue itself, failing to mention the purpose beyond a hashtag. I’m saying it was a disappointment to not make national news, not even a mention in the local news cast I watched from my DC hotel the morning after. 

I’m asking, what did we accomplish?

Look, I don’t want to seem totally dismissive of the rally. There were some heartbreaking moments. Parents with their child’s face on a T-shirt, a child lost to drugs. Children with parents’ faces on their T-shirt. It was intense. And powerful. And tragic. And incredibly comforting to realize we weren’t alone in this struggle. 

But I just felt like there was a missed opportunity, while it was great for those who were there, I ask again, what was accomplished?

Even after reading some great reviews of the weekend from some of my favorite bloggers, there seems to still be a different understanding of what the goal of Sunday’s rally was.

SoberCourage stated it was ”a fight against the stigma associated with addiction and recovery, and the determination to face addiction.” http://sobercourage.com/2015/10/07/the-powerful-voices-of-unite-to-face-addiction-rally/

This is a worthwhile cause. In fact, it was originally in TheRealEdition’s mission statement. But what steps did we take to do this? Had we tried to use the ten thousand people that showed up for UNITE in a more specific way, I think we could have more effectively combated that stigma.

AfterParty Girl Anna David spoke highly of the weekend, but also admitted she “couldn’t seem to find out a great deal of information about the event ahead of time” but then mentioned that “The goal of the event was to get lawmakers to create policies that would lead to better treatment, an agenda that was pushed even more when citizen advocates met with members of Congress on Monday.” http://rehabreviews.com/united-face-addiction/

This is the closest review I read that talked about an actionable goal. However, I have yet to find a review or article outlining anything that happened on Monday. And if the real change was supposed to be fought for on Monday, then what was the goal for the actual rally on Sunday? Like most, my team flew home on Monday.

Nicola O’Hanlon of iloverecovery.com said about the rally “All of us touched by addiction in some way. All of us looking for a better way to be.” http://iloverecovery.com/contributors/

Nicki’s experience seemed a lot like most people’s, including myself. Her review praised the connection and community that happened outside of the actual rally itself. 

Sober Girl Veronica Valli said that the event was to unite “recovery advocacy groups as a political force to campaign for a health approach rather than a criminal justice one.”
http://veronicavalli.com/2015/10/the-day-the-silence-ended-unite-to-face-addiction/

Look, this is another incredible cause, one close to my heart, having spent nearly a year in federal prison myself (you can read that story here. Shameless plug). But again, what did we do to help get non-violent drug offenders treatment instead of prison? And yes, I know that the federal justice department just announced possible re-sentencing for drug offenders, but this was proposed by a group of senators and had bi-partisan support two weeks before the rally.

Too be honest, I felt as though the rally, and the events which preceded and followed we’re not well organized from a marketing perspective. The success of my weekend was a credit to the people who we met outside of the UNITE rally itself. Many of whom were also confused as to the goal and organization of the rally itself. 

Maybe i missed something, or maybe this was just supposed to plant a seed of some sort. If that was the case, then I guess the mission was accomplished. 

But systemic social change is not an easy task. It’s easy to talk about, and it’s easy to get excited about, but I openly ask those who took part, what did we accomplish? The ingredients were there, a loud mass of ten thousand or more people, located within an earshot of the White House. If you ask me, we missed the mark, or maybe we didn’t define the mark in the first place?