A professor recently told me that people go to grad school for two reasons. Some go to learn how to do the job they want when they get big. Others go to school for the prerequisite degree to get the job they already know how to do. She was implying that I fell into the latter category because of my lived experience as a person in sustained recovery and the fact that I’m already doing what I want to do when I get big. I’m an advocate. However, I need the letters behind my name so I can get a seat at the big table in that back room where folks make the decisions that decide my people’s fate. Better yet, an MSW might give me a shot at the big chair. I want the big chair. I want to lead an organization that solves unsolvable problems – one that ends needless suffering – one that is ethical and makes sense – an organization whose team members love their jobs and feel valued. I don’t want much.
In the movie The Anonymous People, Stacia Murphy, interim executive director of The Alcohol Council of New York casually says, “Advocacy is anger.” I am angry – most of the time. It’s a blessing and a curse. When I learn of persons in recovery being discriminated against by employers or landlords or schools, exasperation brings tears. When I witness people seeking recovery being turned away by treatment providers, indignation turns to rage. Instead of setting something on fire, I study up on recovery advocacy (the writings of William L. White) which gives me that hope shot. I join the national recovery movement – a vanguard of citizens affected by addiction, raising their voices to end the stigma of addiction and raise the profile of recovery. Volunteering with a grassroots recovery community organization, I engage in purposive change activities (education, advocacy, support) with the goal of a more just social order. I empower others to speak for changes on their own behalf (messaging training, coaching). I work at a residential recovery program that offers services on demand free of charge for those who need the most and have the least. I stick with the winners.
I realize that the UNC School of Social Work is giving me more than letters. I do believe that “advocacy is anger,” and I come about that anger honestly. Up to this point, I have had the wits enough about me to swing on the coattails of leaders who are effecting sweeping change (because they can and they do) – men and women who have what I want. What I get from my formal education is the knowledge base and skill set to help me harness that exquisite anger effectively to become a leader myself. As another professor noted on my latest paper, “…harnessed anger and clear direction can move toward major change—at multiple levels.” I am graduating in May and I will be looking for a job. World domination!