Creating Space for Families in the Recovery Community

Families and loved ones of those affected by Substance Use Disorder (SUD) have historically felt excluded and left out of mainstream recovery spaces.  There may be workshops or a singular family track at a conference, but not much else in this space for family members and loved ones. Furthermore, family members felt excluded because everything was about the other person – not their own recovery story.  

Until now.  

Recovery Advocacy Project (RAP), fueled by the passion of so many Mobilizers, has created the Family Caucus – a space where family members and loved ones with lived experience in addiction can gather, convene and share about their own recoveries.  Because family members – too – are in recovery and deserve their own space to walk their own recovery journey.  

Jaclyn Brown is a sassy recovery advocate and family member who was a bit apprehensive to attend the Mobilize Recovery conference in 2020.  

“I saw the title (Mobilize Recovery) and said I am not in recovery,” Jaclyn said recently over Zoom while snuggling Gus, her adorable white doggo. 

“Did I go because of peer pressure – YES,” she quipped.  

Jaclyn perused the workshops and breakouts, immediately signed up for the family sessions but still didn’t feel included.  In a breakout room, she confessed that she didn’t belong there, she was not in recovery and that she felt that she failed because her brother, Marc, was no longer here. Thankfully, that moment of vulnerable transparency led to a revelation.  

“One of the other women said to me You are in recovery. You are recovering from the loss of your brother. You aren’t ‘just’ a family member. You absolutely belong here,” Jaclyn remembers.After that, I knew I had finally found my people who truly get it.”

Family members ARE in recovery – their own recovery.  And it is just as valid and worthy as anyone else walking their own recovery journey.  

Denise Mariano, a fellow Family Caucus co-founder, agrees that families were so long left out of such an important public health conversation. 

“We understand the recovery community but the recovery community didn’t necessarily understand families,” Denise explained with a voice that sounds like home. “For the recovery community to embrace families, it was helpful for families but it was really helpful for the recovery community to have a better understanding of us.”

Denise is a New Jersey recovery advocate and Director of Family Support and Advocacy at The Partnership to End Addiction.  Like Jaclyn, Denise also felt a little apprehensive after attending the first-ever Mobilize Recovery event in 2019.  

Families were misunderstood at the conference and immediately we knew we had to bring these two communities together,” she explained. “I am forever grateful to Ryan (Hampton) and what I feel now is a sense of a larger community and a sense of support.”

So many of the initiatives the two communities are focused on are the same, Denise said. There is power in numbers, so it would be an effective organizing tactic to combine forces.  

“A lot of our initiatives are in lock step so we should be coming together!” Denise said.  

Following the first two Mobilize Recovery conferences, organizer Ryan Hampton contacted family members with the intention of understanding more about their own recoveries and brainstorming on ways to carve out space in the sometimes-rigid recovery world.  From this meeting of the minds came the idea of the Family Caucus.  And all family members and loved ones are welcome!  

I’m tired of being quiet,” Jaclyn explained of her ongoing advocacy.  “My brother was a very loud, sometimes annoying, and robust person.  He said what he wanted to.  I always did a muted version of myself to people please, but since my brother died I don’t do that anymore.”   

As a combined recovery community, Denise explains, we now have a call to action that is not only beautiful, but it is working.  

“Families feel included,” Denise said. “And from that we build this army of advocates.” 

The newly-formed Family Caucus currently holds trainings, meetings and a safe space for so many loved ones who were formerly excluded. 

“We are creating new messengers,” Denise continued. “Those messengers are really important.  We learn that in the Family Caucus.  It is a wonderful opportunity to champion each other, learn from each other and grow together.” 

The Family Caucus meets on the first Tuesday of each month at 7pm EST.  If anyone is still apprehensive about whether or not you belong here, Denise and Jaclyn both implore that folks email or message them and chat.  

“Everyone’s voice has power,” Jaclyn said.  “In a situation where we feel like we lost so much of our power, we can gain it back and can use it for good.”   

If you want to join the Family Caucus and receive emails, click here. Further, if anyone has questions about the Family Caucus or wants to connect with Jaclyn or Denise, please email Denise at dmariano@toendaddiction.org or Jaclyn at jaclyn@recoveryvoices.com.  Lastly, check out Mobilize Recovery Across America 2022 for more information on this year’s cross country recovery experience.  Applications to participate are due June 30 at 5pm EST.

Family Caucus organizers Denise and Jaclyn  having a ball in Las Vegas with fellow mobilizers and family members at last year’s Mobilize Recovery conference.

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