“Hello,” he opens, “My name is John and I am a recovering Alcoholic.” He is plaid head to toe in Red Sox paraphernalia, his long goatee controlled in two braids that dangle from his chin
“Hi John,” the group of twenty or so responds. He drops his head and mumbles off the meeting’s rules; his voice muffled by the visor of his baseball cap.
“Today’s meeting is going to be about gratitude, I’ll start…”
The room is crowded with people of every age, gender and race. Some stare deeply into the speaker’s face, others watch the creamer in their coffee spin. John talks about being thankful that he got up this morning, that his mood was foul for no particular reason but now, now he is here he feels a little bit better.
He passes the floor to Jessica. Like John she is grateful to be alive. She passes to Corey, Mark, Steve, Jennifer, and eventually in an hour’s time everyone sitting around the room has had a chance to talk. They all have their own story, something small that separates their gratitude from the next: God, family, even prison. But in the end they are all thankful for the same thing, the glue that keeps them in recovery, this opportunity at Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery.
CCAR started twelve years ago as a volunteer advocacy organization working to build legislative support for addiction recovery. Diane Potvin, now Center Manager of the Windham branch, was one of the original volunteers working to draw attention to this cause.
“I guess the first thing I should say is that my name is Diane, and I have been in recovery since Valentine’s Day 1987.” Diane explains that when she was approached by founder Bob Savage to join in his efforts the outside community did not understand addiction. They saw it as a self-inflicted habit, something a person had knowingly done to themselves, and thus they needed to be punished and sent to prison. They didn’t understand that addiction is a disease. “What [addicts] need is treatment, a different way of thinking so they can live differently,” Diane explains.
CCAR quickly evolved from strictly an advocacy organization to an agency that provided soft services to assist the recovery community across the state. They held public forums and came back with “a safe welcoming place” accessible to those who need it.
CCAR’s strongest communal goal: to put a positive face on recovery. By changing the mindset from embarrassment to embracement they are able to do something extremely foreign in the recovery community, hang up a sign. Before they opened shop, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) were the two major treatment centers. Both of these programs lived under the secrecy of anonymity. Meaning, if a person desires treatment they must know where the meetings are held. There is no building labeled in any community for these organization. CCAR does not agree with separating real life from recovery. They embrace the recovery community and stand as a voice to support them.
Other small differences separate CCAR from other treatment regiments. The typical, “Hello my name is, and I am an alcoholic,” opener can be changed to whatever a person identifies with, for example. Diane prefers to substitute I am an alcoholic with I am in recovery. This subtle change in labeling can mean so much to a person’s self esteem.
Another difference: they accept every type of addict. Where AA and NA are only for specific types of drugs, CCAR welcomes everyone including people with gambling and food addictions. Their twelve step program is open to interpretation and individual molding. And if a person slips up and uses again, the community at CCAR embraces them back into recovery right away.
Until we completely erase the perception of ex-offenders being ‘different’ from other people, we will continue to have this subset of people who don’t have opportunities and remain steeped in poverty.