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Taking Issue   |    
Recovery: An Opportunity to Transcend Our Differences
Wesley Sowers, M.D., president
Psychiatric Services 2007; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.58.1.5
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It has been refreshing to see all the recent interest in recovery and the movement toward service systems that promote autonomy, choice, and collaboration. One aspect of recovery that is seldom mentioned, however, is its universal applicability and its potential as a vehicle that allows us to transcend our differences. Our service systems often reflect the fragmented and divisive culture in which they have been conceived—a culture that emphasizes those things that distinguish us from one another rather than those things that we share. As a result, our systems are mired in the politics of conflict and in struggles for power rather than being grounded in peace building and collaboration. Most of us have had a hard time seeing this, even as we divide our worlds into "us" and "them."

If we allow ourselves to look, it is hard to deny that we are really not so different from the people we treat. We all have something to recover from, whether it is mental illness, addiction, physical disability, loss of loved ones, victimization, or loneliness. The list could go on. The process that we must employ to overcome these kinds of barriers to living a meaningful and satisfying life is the same regardless of our affliction, even though the magnitude of the challenges we face may be quite distinct.

For change to occur, we must first recognize what we need to change. Although there are some things that we have no control over, we must come to believe that we have the power to influence what happens to us through the choices and efforts that we make. It is through this belief that people develop hope and find the courage to confront the challenges they face and accept responsibility for change.

There are those who have insisted that recovery from substance use disorders is distinct from recovery from mental illness, but an understanding of recovery in its most progressive sense makes clear that such assertions are more political than rational. Recovery creates a community that all can take part in as it erases the distinctions of position, age, skin color, religion, language, and education and joins us in our common humanity.

If we fail to recognize this capacity for recovery to unite us, we will have squandered a great opportunity to integrate our highly fragmented and siloed service systems. If we fail to understand that we are all engaged in a similar struggle, we will miss the opportunity to empathically engage those who seek comfort and hope.

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