Harm Reduction and the 12 Steps

May 4, 2020 4:42 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

I am a person in recovery from addiction to anything that numbed my soul. I am a person….who has made a choice to be a harm reductionist. I found the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous four years ago. My belief for myself at this moment in life is that only complete abstinence from any mind-altering substances will prevent me from death by an overdose. I have had this belief deeply ingrained into my brain. With that being said, I also believe that each person defines their own recovery. It is not always easy because, as I stated above, it has been ingrained into my brain, but it is completely necessary. My job on this planet is to help those who need help. In AA, I was taught to help people get to meetings, into treatment, etc. But that was not always what was needed most. What was needed most was understanding without judgment. Compassion without pity. Safety without shame. Love without attempting to control the outcome. Empowerment without bias. Listening to the other person’s goals and finding ways to help them achieve those goals…no matter what those goals may be.  


I truly believe that when I was trying to impose my ideas of what recovery “should be”, people did not come back to me for help if they were having a hard time. They possibly felt judged by me, or maybe they had shame and guilt because of my words. I honestly wanted only good things for them, however, my good things may not have been their good things. And, most likely, not even close. My beliefs about abstinence being the only were more damaging than I ever could have imagined. I hear people talk in the rooms about people who have a relapse and that it is normal. Who decides what is normal? Just because I cannot use today does not mean that the person sitting next to me cannot. They may be taking medication every day that is saving their life. I don’t know. I don’t care. All I know is that I am so happy to see them take control of their circumstance by choosing to do something about it. When I first came into the rooms, I brought plenty of people who were under the influence with me. Those tend to be some of the strongest people I know today.  


I have worked in the substance use field since I had six months free of any mind-altering substances. I have learned so much in the work that I have done. One of the most interesting things I have learned is that treatment centers that push the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Step program have not even read the Big Book of AA, however, they hold meetings at their facilities and encourage clients to include this into their recovery plan outside of the treatment center. How can we hand out a worksheet for step work if we don’t even know where it originated? I feel that everyone who is trying to stay free of substances and behaviors should attend these meetings at least three times to see if it could be one of the tools to keep them connected and accountable. But they need options and there are so many out there that I do not think treatment centers are aware of or educated on. I currently chair Narcotics Anonymous on-line meetings and I facilitate SMART Recovery meetings. I think they are both equally important in my recovery. In NA, I am not supposed to talk about other 12 Step recovery programs, but I do because we are supposed to share our experience, strength, and hope and all of it is relevant.  After all, it is mentioned in the readings that we are encouraged to be honest, open-minded, and willing!  


Since I started my recovery journey, there has been so much loss of life because of drugs. The one thing I am certain of is that if we shame people that are using, their chances of survival are slim. The greatest gift I have received in my recovery is compassion from others and to know that I am not alone. If we truly meet people where they are at, and take them where they want to go, their chances for survival have increased immensely. I have seen it for myself. The power in connection is so important to anyone that feels alone. When you take their hand and assure them that they do not have to do this alone, something magical happens. When you actually listen to their hurt and pain and can share your own struggle, they are no longer alone. It is true, we cannot help someone if they die. My purpose in this life is to keep people alive and guide them in their path, the one they choose. Not the one I think they should choose.  


Today, I work with an amazing team that all has the same goal. Meet people where they are at.  We encourage safety and prevention. Harm reduction in every aspect of the words. We educate on substance use, and addiction and do all we can to stop the stigma. We navigate treatment and resources depending on what the person wants. We do this with big hearts and open minds. We have lost so many but that does not slow us down. In fact, it makes us work harder.  We try to connect with anyone that may be struggling, and we encourage them to be the best version of themself. As overwhelming as it gets sometimes, I have to remind myself that I can only help one person at a time. I am not here to save the world. But I am in the right place to change someone’s world. And that person can go on to change someone else’s world and so on. Only we can make the difference and I believe that Live4lali has already done so much and saved so many lives. I can’t wait to see what is next. We respect the rights of those who use drugs. We share evidence-based information in regards to all aspects of substance use. We commit to social justice and changing the ways laws are written. We encourage any positive change in a person’s life. Life is precious for everyone that breathes it. And it is short. We all deserve to be here. No one is better than anyone else. I wish I knew all of this four years ago. I cannot help but wonder how many of my friends would still be here standing next to me in this battle we fight every day.

Michelle Kavouras is Live4Lali’s Outreach Coordinator in McHenry County. Michelle’s passion to help others comes from her own recovery. In her own words…”About five years ago, finally feeling sick and tired of being sick and tired, I searched for help. It took me over a year to finally get the help that she needed, but that was not without the efforts of others that had tried to help her. Those people that gave me a word of encouragement, drove me to meetings, called me just to check on me, referred me to support, listened when I cried, joined me in my successes, and wanted to see me thrive are the most important people in my recovery. I was ready to give up so many times, but when I saw that I was no longer alone, I got the courage to fight. I want to be that to those who don’t have it! So many people are just left to “hit rock bottom.” Why wait for that? Rock bottom for some means death. You can’t help someone if they are not here to be helped. I am currently pursuing my CADC at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, IL, and will soon receive certification as a National Certified Peer Recovery Support Specialist. I am blessed to be a part of this team of compassionate, unconditional, empathetic, determined, graceful people. My self-care consists of listening to music (live and recorded), fellowshipping, traveling, spending time with family and friends, and enjoying nature.


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