Introduction: I met the ever wonderful Danny Bowyer on the Peer Work training (those with lived experience support others in their recovery journey) i completed last summer; Danny was a Tutor who did a session on Recovery Language and quite frankly i disagreed with 90% of the things he said. It is therefore a testament to my absolute respect for him, his approach to recovery language and his ability to discuss and explore alternative ideas that i went out of my way to ask him to write a piece on it. Whilst i don’t agree with some of Dannys opinions i do think the intent behind them is something we both strongly agree on and he is 100% the best person to articulately and compassionately share the concept of recovery language with you and i am very privileged he agreed to do so.
Over to you Danny..
I will start off by saving us all some time and sharing with you an article I co-authored with a colleague about what Recovery Language is (please click here ) but what I would like to talk about in this space is why it means so much to me.
Language throughout human existence has always evolved, naturally it develops to meet the needs of the user and each new generation adds its own little twist. Slowly language is ushered forward to reflect the tastes, sensibilities and experience of its time but what if there was a way to revolutionise language? To shake it loose from its lazy evolution and mould it into something not just fit for purpose but something that reflects the very best in humanity. Three years ago, I was introduced to Recovery Language and it has changed not only the way I speak but the way I see the world and the people around me. Up until that point in my life I had been aware of the damage that words could do, but I had no idea how much good they could do.
By the time I encountered Recovery Language when training to become a Peer Support Worker I was already fully on-board with the idea of being ‘politically correct’. I had already consciously erased from my vocabulary words that were discriminatory to me and others and so Recovery Language felt like a natural fit. Recovery Language I discovered is so much more than simply avoiding negative terms. It was the systematic process of removing the negative and filling that space with positivity. Not the mawkish tone of positivity for positivity’s sake but learning to see the positives that are ever present when all I had been shown before was how to look for deficits.
So, my eyes began to open, first to my own journey. To anyone who knows me now modesty may not seem like my strongest trait, I am fully aware of my strengths and I am filled with belief in myself and my future but as a child I was self-consciousness and lacking self-awareness. I began to appreciate myself, not as an accident of circumstance but as a whole person with an arsenal of strengths and skills that had driven me forward through my life. I was full of wonder; it felt I had stumbled across a well-hidden secret and it was that I was a good person! It is very rare for children to be raised with the attention they need and even rarer that children are validated for the strengths they possess. For children who perform well in their school work for example they may be given praise for their accomplishments but less so for the skills they have mastered to get to that point. Many grow up unaware of what makes them unique, gifted and full of potential. Beyond not being versed in seeing the positives there is the darker side of language in that many adopt the language of oppression handed down to them. If I take myself for example from a young age I was given labels whether they were meant to impact on me or not, they did. From gender, religion, social and economic background, heritage just to name a few but each comes with its own expectations and set of rules that moulded me into the way I was perceived and did not allow for me to explore my own identity and make my own choices. When I entered into mental health services at 22 I took on a new label and identity, one that I felt more than others was restrictive and stifling and it wasn’t until I encountered Recovery Language that I could find a way to shake it loose.
Recovery Language does not focus on a diagnosis; diagnoses negate the view of a whole person. They come steeped in the misconceptions, stigmas and prejudice of society. They can spread across the depths of a person until all else sits beneath. All I am, all I was, all I had done and would do sit idly beneath a diagnosis. But Recovery Language spread throughout my vision of the world not just mental health but to people, whole people, unique people, who are the sum of their unique perspectives and experiences, each rich and interesting and each with a story to tell. Recovery Language allowed me to explore them, to draw them out, to walk alongside them and connect with them through empathy and compassion.
Not only was Recovery Language a vital tool for me as a Peer Support Worker but it became my language, it had power and relevance wherever I spoke. Recovery Language acted like a fluid in which hope could glide through unopposed and hope is one of the greatest things one person can offer another. I believed in the world around me for possibly the first time in my life, the world was a better place when I learned to look for the good.
For me peace is at the core of wellbeing, examining myself with new eyes I was able to learn enough about myself to begin to foster and nurture a sense of peace in my life and move beyond the distress of my past. Then by adopting Recovery Language I could articulate that sense of peace, to share it with others. Some embrace my language, some take parts that fit for them and others reject it wholesale but almost all appreciate it. By going on the journey I have been on, by using and developing the strengths I have, by making the choices I have made I have found my home in Recovery Language and subsequently it has allowed me to own my experiences, choose a new perspective and share with others, to speak in a way that actively reduces stigma, promotes personhood and conveys hope and understanding.
The power of language is being recognised more and more within mental health services with greater effort being made to understand its impact and explore new ways of communicating. My hope is that one day it will become the prevalent tongue not only within mental health services but across the world, a world that spoke Recovery Language would be one of greater mutuality, understanding, compassion and hope. Long live the language revolution!