If you are one of the roughly 10% of Americans who are in recovery today, according to data from 2012, then you might already know that September marks a monumental month for us all: Recovery Month. But if you’re sober curious, trying out Sober September for the first time, or are simply not drinking, you may not know why Recovery Month is such an important time for those of us who have battled substance and alcohol use disorders. So, here is what Recovery Month is all about.
Officially, National Recovery Month in the U.S. is sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in an effort to “increase awareness and understanding of mental and substance use disorders and celebrate the people who recover,” according to the official Recovery Month website. Every year, there is also a theme determined by SAMHSA. The 2021 theme is “Recovery is for Everyone: Every Person, Every Family, Every Community.”
Since Recovery Month is all about highlighting the achievements of those who have reclaimed their lives in long-term recovery, SAMHSA’s theme this year aims to bring awareness to the fact that everyone dealing with substance use disorders deserves a chance at recovery.
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Why the Focus on Recovery is Needed
For those who are not in recovery from substance use, it may be confusing why we need to focus on recovery for an entire month. After all, can’t people just stop using drugs and alcohol… and be fine? Well, the story is nowhere near this simple for most of us.
Although everyone’s story is different, most of us in recovery recognize that it’s a difficult and fraught journey. It’s filled with extremely high peaks (like your first holiday season without alcohol) and really low valleys (like, sometimes, a slip). And while, from the outside, those in recovery can seem to be doing well — thanks to the ever persuasive power of the internet and social media where many of us are encouraged to post only the “highlight reel” of our lives—that can often be the furthest thing from the truth.
For me, coming into recovery was difficult. My family had to push me into rehab, though I went willingly in the end. And despite celebrating several years of recovery this summer, I’m also honest that it took me several months to get it right—after a few relapses months into my recovery. But like many in recovery, I celebrate my wins and losses because I believe in SAMHSA’s message that “recovery in all its forms is possible.”
But it’s also difficult. And despite what some flawed studies may say, alcohol isn’t here to help anyone. In fact, one of the reasons why we celebrate Recovery Month in September and Alcohol Awareness Month in April is because way too many people are dying and shortening their life spans due to excessive alcohol use.
In case you’re wondering, the statistics are clear: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that excessive alcohol use leads to 88,000 deaths in the U.S. every year (while the opioid crisis causes 70,000 deaths). The CDC also reports that alcohol use can lead to short-term health risks like car crashes, drowning, suicide, and sexual assault. Meanwhile, long-term use can cause many chronic diseases and other serious conditions, such as high blood pressure and heart disease, certain cancers, mental health problems like depression and anxiety, and memory issues.
The Way Forward During Recovery Month and Beyond
In the end, Recovery Month is all about highlighting why we choose to recover and how we can do it. It’s a crucial message for anyone who is still struggling themselves and for those with family members and friends who have yet to get help. Most of all, though, it’s an important message to those outside of the recovery community who may not understand why it’s so important for us to speak out, who may still believe the stigma that surrounds mental illness and substance abuse, and who need to see real stories of real people.
Here at The Tempest, we celebrate people in recovery daily, and we also celebrate those who are questioning their relationship with alcohol. We applaud celebrities in recovery who are bringing a bigger voice to the voiceless and thank our lucky stars that women and non-binary/trans folks are changing the sobriety narrative. And we cheer on women of color who open up about their mental health and recovery on social media and, really, anyone else who wants to share their story. Because, as SAHMSA states, “it reminds us that mental and substance use disorders affect us all, and that we are all part of the solution.”
And part of the solution, we are.
Editor’s note: If you are struggling with substance use and in need of services, please explore our membership options at Jointempest.com or call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) in order to receive free 24-hour access to confidential information, resources, and treatment referral.
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About the Author: Irina Gonzalez is the Content Marketing Manager at Tempest. She is also a freelance writer covering parenting, recovery, and Latinx culture and host of the Pandemic Mama podcast. Her work has appeared in over 50 publications, including The Washington Post, O! The Oprah Magazine, Parents, and more. She is a new resident of Denver, where she lives with her husband, spunky toddler, and their fur babies. Follow her on Instagram at @msirinagonzalez.