Opinion by EHN Staff
Written by Peter A. Levine, a support counsellor who works at Bellwood Health Services.
With the passing of Aretha Franklin on August 16, 2018, the world lost a powerful, soulful voice and the civil rights movement lost the woman behind their anthem “Respect,” which was an instant classic written by Otis Redding and released by Aretha in 1967. The popular chorus to the song goes “All I’m asking… is for a little respect when you get home (just a little bit).”
Respect is all she asked for. And just a little bit.
The song could be an anthem for recovery, because one feature of active addiction is that it causes the disintegration of a person’s respect for himself or herself, for others, and for life in general. In fact, in many ways, respect is the name of the game when it comes to recovery, because respect is closely related to value. When one lacks self-respect, one sees little value in oneself. Thus, one feels that there is little hope for the future, little to save, and little to protect.
The subtle voice of addiction gains a foothold in people’s minds with promises of greater self worth and a new future. Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, echoes the experiences of many alcoholics when he says that when consuming alcohol he felt like he “was a part of life at last.” Of course, the value gained by addiction is imaginary and short lived; once the illusion begins to fade, a person slips into a darker psychological state then before. Thus, the addict needs to continuously consume alcohol, use substances, or act out, to maintain his or her feeling of composure and sense of self worth. A popular recovery speaker talks about how, in the last years of his addiction, the “party” was over. He didn’t consume alcohol to feel happy anymore, but rather he drank just to feel normal, just to be able to leave the house.
Through addiction treatment, individuals begin to learn value—true value—and consequently are able let go of false promises. Individuals learn gratitude, to see the value in the little things in life, within themselves, and within others, and feel joy from them. At Bellwood, one of the most effective tools we have to teach value is “Gem” cards. These are cards that staff or patients can hand out to each other whenever they perceive exceptional value in another person. The cards are simple but powerful, they remind those in recovery that respect (even just a little bit) is the name of the game.
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