When we talk about the behavioral health challenges facing our state – whether it’s alcohol addition, opioids or suicide – most of us think of individuals whom we love. In my family, and in too many Alaska families, we have seen first-hand the devastating impacts of addiction. We have also seen the beauty and grace of recovery.
I truly believe Alaskans are a more resilient people than most. And when confronted with the enormity of the challenges we face as a state, I draw hope and inspiration from the thousands of Alaskans who are living proof that recovery is possible. During our hardest moments, let us not forget that. Recovery is possible.
As we approach the end of this Recovery Month, a national observance dedicated to increasing understanding of mental health and substance misuse and celebrating those Alaskans who have chosen the path to recovery, let us continuously celebrate those who have struggled and come out the other side stronger. They are sitting next you in the office, they are raising successful children, they are children returning home.
More investment in prevention and treatment is critical. I was pleased to see the Legislature fund the administration’s request for more behavioral health grants. But if we’re going to turn the tide, every Alaskan must step up.
First, we must change the way we talk about addiction. People choose to use drugs, but nobody chooses addiction. It’s a disease, a disease that we cannot effectively treat through the barricade of stigma.
Second, we must change how we talk about recovery. Nobody can be forced to recover. But that doesn’t mean everyone else if off the hook. Whether someone is battling alcohol addiction or misuse of another substance, each of us has the ability to be a positive influence on their journey to sobriety, whether it’s directly as a friend or family member, or indirectly by offering support services and resources as an employer.
Third, and crucially, we must celebrate recovery. Recovery is a lifelong process and a daily commitment, and support is helpful through every step of that journey.
I am encouraged to see strides being made every day to help Alaskans choose sobriety. There is a larger conversation happening about substance misuse, sobriety and recovery — both nationwide and here in our state — which is helping to reduce the stigma that exists around this topic. Recently, Cook Inlet Tribal Council opened a brand new residential treatment center in Eklutna, dedicated to helping Alaskans overcome drug and alcohol addiction. Our state is also fortunate to have organizations like Recover Alaska and Alaska 2-1-1, which are committed to connecting Alaskans with life-saving resources throughout every step toward sobriety.
To those who feel overwhelmed by the challenge before us, remember this: while our state’s recovery will be built one Alaskan at a time, none of us are going through it alone. Offer love and support to the people in your life. Be brave enough to accept it when you need it. Together, we can create a support system that stretches from coast to coast.
• Donna Walker is Alaska’s First Lady, the Honorary Chair of the Alaska Children’s Trust, a former caseworker for the Office of Children’s Services, an attorney, mother and grandmother. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.