Advocacy In A Digital Age

Social media is defined as the collective of online communications channels dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content-sharing, and collaboration.

With the click of a button, your voice can be shared with millions. Like no other time in history can a person use their platform to create change. Whether it’s simply retweeting a scholar that shares your point of view or a funny meme that speaks to truth, your social media account can be the catalyst of change. Some may say social media has ruined communication and more pertinently, ruined our “soft skills” or how we engage in civil discourse. Others see social media outlets as a way to have their voices heard. Currently, 88% of 18-29-year-olds and 78% of 30-49-year-olds are actively using social media. With apps like Snapchat and TikTok leading the charge, still, there is no shortage of individuals using Facebook (69% of adults in America). 

We all have our preferred platforms and use them for various reasons. Some prefer their social media strictly for work purposes, while others use it for news and keeping up with distant family and friends. Most popularly, social media is utilized for leisure and entertainment. Unless you are a professional “troll”, using social media to argue with strangers is likely at the bottom of your list for why you spend an average of over two hours a day on social media. While passionate discourse isn’t at the top of the list, it can be quite interesting how that last one plays out a lot of times. 

A Time and Place for Everything 

One of the most frustrating things we see on social media these days are individuals who spew with gall their opinions of those living with substance use disorders, or race, or some other topics that are often met with unbridled disdain. These comments often lack any sense of compassion and offer very little hope for humanity. It wasn’t long ago that I was willing to engage in hours-long debates with these individuals, hoping I could win over one more for the “Good Guys”. In November 2017, a friend of mine posted a “RIP” for the fifth friend she would lose to opioids that year. Instead of words of sympathy, people responded with less than kind remarks about the company she keeps. I was livid, I hoped to educate each of the self-righteous responders by leaving an 884 word-count dissertation explaining the pleasure-reward system of the brain and the impulsiveness of addiction in the comment section of my friend’s heartfelt post. After hitting ‘Enter’, I knew then that my time wasn’t being well spent crusading in the comment sections of recovery-related statuses. 

I understood something for the first time that day: It wasn’t that my brand of advocacy through social media wasn’t appreciated, but rather the audience I should be reaching are the folk who have chosen to follow and friend me, not strangers who have already decided in their minds what side of the fence they stand on. It’s fair to say, working as an addictions counselor that I deal with some pretty heavy stuff day-to-day, so using social media as an outlet to mindlessly laugh at some funny memes can be a great escape. I soon learned that I can educate those closest to me with a ‘one-two combo’ of comedy and truth. I share videos and memes that are relevant to popular culture that accrue ‘Likes’ and comments, this feeds the algorithms for most social media platforms. In doing so, when I post a status or meme that speaks to addictions or recovery supports those who ‘liked’ a funny meme recently also get a healthy helping of education as well. 

Using Social Media to Create Change 

While we all may have different reasons for using social media, each of us has the ability to create change while doing so. One thing that plagued me was how comfortable the world had gotten sharing images of Black men and women slain at the hands of police brutality and White Supremacy, constantly contributing to Racial Trauma. Eventually, I decided that I could change this narrative by sharing posts and articles that celebrated the achievements of young Black men and women and support the work of young entrepreneurs and thought leaders. I also saw my social media platforms as launching pads to discuss how race has played a major factor in failed drug policy, health disparities, and wage gaps — all systemic challenges that are the root causes to substance use in minority communities. 

Without the use of petitions like Change.org and crowdfunding pages, many have been able to use their sphere of influence on social media to create change. From Recovery Community Organizations to Food Pantries to Naloxone Access Programs, social media posts like this one has brought about change. Social media allows us to share ideas and plant seeds among decision-makers and those who have access to decision-makers. 

Show Up Responsibly 

Today, I choose to show up responsibly by increasing awareness and sharing articles that matter to me. Articles of recovery that share the message of hope and strength. I share links for those in and outside of the community who would like to educate themselves on addictions in their own time. Working in Collegiate Recovery, I see that many people outside our sector aren’t very familiar with the work I do, so I love posting articles and events related to what’s happening on college campuses. I also like to share memes that celebrate recovery rather than content that continues the stereotypes and stigmas we are used to.

As a Recovery Ally, this plays well because it allows me to share the story about addictions and recovery that those in recovery may not be able to share due to their own anonymity or the stigma faced by living with a substance use disorder. It’s an opportunity for me to demonstrate to other allies how to show up responsibly for those without a voice. In my rant, which I affectionately referred to as “884 word dissertation”, I meant well but I inserted myself in the comment section of a friend who simply wanted to honor those she had lost. On that day, I was no more right than any of the others who had so much negative to say. At that moment, I had made the post about how much knowledge I had acquired and the science of addiction, not the compassion my friend was seeking. 

Before you hit ‘Share’ 

It’s been said that April 1st is the only day of the year people will read beyond a headline to verify if an article on social media is real. More recently, we have seen an emphasis on weeding out what has been deemed “Fake News” or articles that don’t accurately portray a series of events in recent history. We can debunk most fake news articles by vetting the credibility of the publisher, verifying the date of the article, cross-checking sources, or using a fact-checking website. Before you hit ‘Share’, these simple steps can be the difference in educating the masses or sharing another article that misrepresents the truth. 

“Myers-Briggs is basically astrology for people with LinkedIn profile”

 

The Humanitarian Response to Substance Use Disorders

There are over 250 labels identified to stigmatize people with mental illness that range from common derogatory terms to terms related to violence.

Don Coyhis, Founder and President of White Bison, once said, “Words are important. If you want to care for something, you call it a ‘flower’; if you want to kill something, you call it a ‘weed’.” This is a quote that has stuck with me and prompted me to learn more about Recovery Messaging – the language and terms we use to describe those living with substance use disorders. The language we use has remarkable impacts on how society views mental health and substance use disorders. Whether you are a person in recovery, a family member of a person in recovery, or an ally like myself, I believe that when we change our language, we can change our culture. We are Change Agents.

Stigma and Shame

Stigma is the “Scarlet Letter” worn by those affected by addiction, it can be felt first-hand and secondary. Stigma has led individuals who are living with substance use disorders and other mental health challenges to do so alone and in secret. Stigma leads to silence and in today’s climate, we no longer can remain silent. Shame is killing thousands of individuals a year. Educating ourselves and those around us empowers our community to support those who are most vulnerable.

Be Equipped

Utilizing resources in your community such as your local coalition, Recovery Community Organization, or Collegiate Recovery Program you can receive a bevy of training that will help you to better engage your circle of influence and change the tide right in your backyard. Recovery Messaging Training is a great way to learn “Recovery Dialects” that reduce stigma and offer a pathway to connection and citizenship without tearing down those we intend to help.

 

               

Opioid Overdose Response Training is becoming as common as CPR Training across the country. While opioid-related overdoses continue to rise, there is a marked decrease in the number of opioid-related deaths in our country. This has largely been credited to everyday people like you and I being trained to recognize the signs of an overdose, and appropriately administering naloxone – the life-saving medication, during the crisis event. Another great resource for those with lived experience is Recovery Coaching, a peer-assisted, strength-based approach that is useful in helping a person in or seeking recovery to make informed decisions about their use and define an appropriate course of action no matter if that is abstinence or harm reduction. Recovery Coaches also assist individuals to find resources for treatment, detox, or to create a plan to recover on their own.

Be Empowered

Whether you elect to partake in just one of the trainings above or all of them, knowing your voice matters in your circle of influence makes all the difference. We often don’t recognize how much influence we have. If you engage in social media, are a part of an organization, or working a regular 9 to 5, you have a captive audience. Simply using Recovery Messaging in your day-to-day life can do a world of good.

Be Engaged

Knowing what is happening in the recovery community in your city is really important. Whether you are in recovery or not, being an active participant in advocacy and holding your community accountable for creating avenues to a healthy recovery is really important. Use your voice to create the change you want to see in the world.

Get Connected

There are many resources to help you get started. Below you will find a few links that can help point you in the right direction. There are often national and regional conferences hosted where you have an opportunity to further your learning and have a greater impact on your community.

Association of Recovery Community Organizations

Association of Recovery in Higher Education

SAFE Project

Harm Reduction Coalition

Naloxone Training

“In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” -Jennifer Dukes Lee