Using Advocacy as a Self-Help Tool
To truly experience wellness and recovery I have learned that I want to be, and have to be an advocate for issues that I feel passionately about. A big part of recovery for me has been learning to advocate for myself. When I began work on my recovery, I had no idea how to ask for what I wanted, needed and deserved. I don’t think I even knew what it was that I wanted. Over the years that has changed dramatically. I have become a seasoned self advocate. I know what I want for myself and work on it until I get it, or until I decide it is really something else I want and start working toward that. From time to time I have advocated for another person or a program. But now, with major cuts proposed in programs that are very important to me, and with the focus of our government being oppositional to many of my beliefs, I have become convinced that I must become a strong advocate in my community, region, and even nationally.
As I have gotten more and more involved in this advocacy work, , I have discovered that for me–perhaps not for everyone–advocacy is a wellness tool. I need to include it in my toolbox of things to do to keep myself well and to help relieve symptoms if I am feeling badly.
How did I discover this? Usually by January I am fighting to keep seasonal depression at bay. This winter that was not so. Today, as I write this column. it is March 1 and I realize I have missed my mid winter depression. Why? I think it is because I have been working hard on a public issue that I feel passionately about. I have called and written officials at all levels, I have gone to public meetings and spoken out–even when I knew my views were strongly opposed. I arranged a public education meeting that drew so much attention to the issues that there were front page stories in our two newspapers and a radio interview. The phone keeps ringing off the hook. Everyday there are arrangements to make. I call people I thought I would never have the courage to call. I even had a dialogue with the governor on interactive television.
I hope advocacy is a wellness tool for you as well because we are all moving into a time when the things that have been most helpful to us in our recovery–programs, services and technical assistance centers–are being threatened with cuts or loss of funding. I get at least one e-mail every day about troubling cuts of effective programs that benefit all of us. Our governments don’t seem to realize that it is much more cost effective to provide supports to our recovery, than to pay exorbitant costs as we go into crisis again and again and again. We all need to do everything we can to insure that the funding for the programs we find most helpful is not cut or eliminated. The more of us that speak out, the more likely it is that we will be heard.
Begin by thinking about those services that have been most helpful to you. They may be mental health services, vocational rehabilitation or it might even be your local library or an adult education program. Then be watchful. Read your newspaper, Listen to the radio. Talk to your peers. Read your e-mails. If things that you care about are being threatened with cuts, make a commitment to do something about it. If officials hear from enough people, they can change their view and their vote.
Get together with others–friends and community members– who have similar concerns and work together to develop and implement strategies to influence the people who make decisions. Set a time and place to meet, call several others that you know are concerned about this issue, ask them to come and bring along several friends. You may decide to make calls, do a mailing or set up an informational meeting. If you are lucky, others in the community may already be working on this issue and you can join their efforts
You could begin by making phone calls. This is not as easy as it sounds. You may be, as I was, a bit reluctant to call someone you don’t know. Try to let go of these fears. Figure out who it is you need to influence and give them a call. Perhaps it is a town or city official, your legislators, the governor or even the president. It’s scary the first time you do it. If the person you are trying to reach is not in, leave a voice message asking them to call you back. If they don’t call you back, call again the next day. Keep calling until you have a chance to tell them how you feel about these cuts. Ask them to keep you posted on what is happening with regard to this issue. Call them back when you have new questions or concerns. Keep your calls brief and to the point.
Send letters and e-mails–even if you don’t feel you are a good writer–clearly stating your case. I have been told that officials pay more attention to letters, but if all you have time for is a quick e-mail, go ahead and send it.