A Call for Local Recovery Historians


Sergi Melnikov

The famed historian Barbara Tuchman once observed that the historian's greatest challenge was capturing the history of the present or as she put it, history that is still smoking. There is much within the worldwide history of addiction recovery that is still smoking, including the:

1) international growth and philosophical diversification of recovery mutual aid organizations,

2) astounding growth of electronic recovery support media and virtual recovery communities,

3) cultural and political mobilization of people in recovery via a rapidly evolving recovery advocacy movement,

4) emergence of recovery as a potential organizing paradigm for drug policy,

5) shift toward recovery management and recovery-oriented systems of care as new frameworks for the design and delivery of addiction treatment and recovery support services,

6) proliferation of new recovery support institutions and new peer-based recovery support roles, and

7) the dramatic increase in recovery-focused research activities.

Collectively christened the recovery revolution, these developments are touching individuals, families, communities, and cultures in profound ways that warrant careful historical documentation.

As a historian of addiction treatment and recovery in the United States, I can assure you that many past chapters within this history have been lost with only faint rumors of their existence remaining. It is my hope that the same will not be true of recovery within our current era. For those of you with a potential interest in preserving this history, listed below are activities that could help prevent such a loss.

* Collect documents, photographs, audio, video, and other artifacts that document the history of addiction treatment and recovery in your local area.

* If you are a member of a recovery mutual aid organization, other recovery community organization, or treatment organization; help create a local archive that captures and disseminates this local history.

* Record interviews with treatment and recovery elders telling their own stories and sharing local recovery milestones.

* Learn some of the basics of historical preservation to assure the safety and integrity of these collected resources. (Many invaluable historical documents have been lost to flooding, fire, theft, humidity, and insects.)

* Share aspects of these stories through presentations, articles, monographs, and books.

* Offer copies of these materials to one or more of the major addiction studies archives to assure their availability to future historians. Such archives include the Brown University Chester H. Kirk Collection on Alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymousthe Pittman Archive of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, and the Illinois Addiction Studies Archives.

I have proposed through my writings that people in recovery should be viewed as a people--an indigenous culture with their own distinct institutions, languages, symbols, rituals, music, art, and rituals worthy of historical investigation and preservation. Perhaps you can play a role in such historical research and preservation. The shift to a recovery paradigm deserves careful national and local documentation. Those of us on the front lines of this movement must serve as witnesses and the archivists of this revolution in thinking and service practices.