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Sarah Flinspach and Tracy Gnadinger

Resilience: Paving the Road to Recovery

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Recovery can mean many different things for many different people. At the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, we believe that recovery encompasses so much more than a 12-step program; it’s an everyday commitment to health.

“Recovery must be the expectation – not the exception – for every individual who experiences active addiction,” wrote Tom Hill, vice president for addiction and recovery at the National Council.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) defines recovery “as a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives and strive to reach their full potential.” 

The pathways to recovery for individuals with mental and substance use disorders are not always smooth, but building resilience makes it possible to navigate setbacks and sustain long-term recovery.

Resilience refers to an individual’s ability to cope with adversity and adapt to challenges or change. Resilience develops over time and gives an individual the capacity, not only to cope with life’s challenges, but also to be better prepared for the next stressful situation.

Individuals in recovery (and their families) can build resilience by developing social supports. Social connection is a critical component for resilience and recovery. Peers can help build a sense of community and belonging.

Whole Health Action Management (WHAM) training is one opportunity for peers and providers to create a network that promotes resilience and facilitates recovery. Peer support upholds one of the science-based whole health and resiliency factors introduced in WHAM: a meaningful support network.

Peers trained in WHAM learn the importance of human connection for whole health resilience and self-management, particularly for those living with both chronic physical and behavioral health conditions. Using support groups, WHAM facilitators create a space where participants experience the healing power of knowing that they are not alone in their recovery journey. They guide participants as they create a whole health goal through person-centered planning and embark on whole health behavior change.

“My job as a peer specialist has been as important to my recovery as any medication,” said Jean Dukarski, who facilitated a regional WHAM training in August. Working as a peer provider, Jean has been able to build a community of support for herself and those she serves. Through mutual aid and support, peers walk together on their recovery journey.

“A good way to experience hope,” she explained, “is to spread it.”

Building a community of peer support through WHAM groups promotes resilience, activating self-management for better health outcomes. Research indicates that isolation increases stress, negatively affecting health.

Coming together to support each other, whether one-on-one or in peer-led support groups like WHAM, is an important strategy to handle stress and boost resilience among peer providers and those they serve to get on or stay on the road to recovery.