Pat Taylor: A Pioneering Leader in the New Recovery Advocacy Movement

April 25, 2023
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One of the major accomplishments of the earliest stages of the New Recovery Advocacy Movement was the founding of Faces & Voices of Recovery in 2001. Pat Taylor was its first Campaign Coordinator, heading the organization from 2003-2014. One of my early memories of her is watching her facilitate meetings of the Association of Recovery Community Organizations at Faces & Voices of Recovery (ARCO) where much of the early national recovery community gathered and worked to move forward, together.

For me, the most significant of these ARCO Executive Directors Leadership Academy meetings was on November 15, 2013, in Dallas, Texas. Bill White addressed the gathering with his thoughts on “The State of the Recovery Advocacy Movement.” It was an important time for me as I was learning about RCOs, and the work being done to strengthen recovery efforts across America. Pat was there, helping to hold the whole thing together in her own way.

One fact I want to highlight. Pat is not in recovery from an addiction. To the best I can determine, this did not matter in the least to any of us involved with Faces & Voices of Recovery. It certainly did not matter to me; it was something I soon forgot as I saw her in action embracing and supporting the needs of the fledgling national recovery community organization she led. She has lived most of her life working alongside us and her servant leadership style came through in everything she did. I have known a few other such recovery allies who take the time and energy to understand us and to listen and support our goals in ways that it matters little if their lived experience differs from ours. Her leadership personified that we embrace authentic allies who work with us in ways that resonate the “nothing about us without us” rallying cry that started at the very beginning of the new recovery advocacy movement and echoes through our current era.

Pat has over 50 years of experience developing and managing local and national public interest advocacy campaigns on a range of issues including healthcare, community development and philanthropy. While at Faces & Voices, she led the organization’s development into the national voice of the organized addiction recovery community, building a membership of over 40,000 individuals and organizations, creating ARCO and launching the Council on Accreditation of Peer Recovery Support Services. Today, Pat serves on the board of The Recovery Advocacy Project. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the author of numerous publications and recipient of numerous awards for her work.

  • What brought about the formation of Faces & Voices of Recovery? How did you get connected to it?  Is there a special memory you have about those early days?

Faces & Voices grew out of the efforts of many individuals and organizations focused on mobilizing and organizing the recovery community. Many were part of the National Forum, which met regularly in Washington, DC to advance addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery policies. Participants included Johnny Allem, Johnson Institute; Paul Samuels, Legal Action Center; Paul Wood, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence; Sis Wenger, National Association for Children of Alcoholics; Bill Butinski, National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors; Claire Ricewasser, Al-Anon; William Cope Moyers, Hazelden Foundation; and many others. Jeff Blodgett organized the St. Paul Summit for the Alliance Project, bringing together local recovery advocacy groups, already strong and active at the local level, to develop a more organized constituency that would prioritize addiction recovery at the local, state and national levels. 

Before coming to Faces & Voices, I ran the Alcohol Polices Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest and worked at Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems at George Washington University. It was people in recovery who showed up to testify for legislation to require warning labels on alcoholic beverage containers and to advocate for raising alcohol excise taxes. Through this work, I knew some of the people who organized the Summit and helped launch Faces & Voices.  So, when I heard about the job opening for a Campaign Coordinator, I was familiar with some of the advocates. I was intrigued and excited by the opportunity after learning more about the campaign. 

Faces & Voices took off after the Summit and did not become its own 501 (c)3 until 2004. As it was getting off the ground, Susan Rook, who was in recovery and had worked for CNN and Rick Sampson, who had been at SAMHSA, were its leaders. One of their early efforts included calling attention to the Christian Dior advertisement campaign for their product Dior Addict to highlight how the medium was being used to sensationalize, stigmatize and sell their perfume. Those early efforts led to some major stores pulling the product from the shelves, an early victory.   

You asked me about my memories from the early days. One is learning about the importance of taking time and spending resources to understand the priorities of the recovery community. When I called to introduce myself to Faces & Voices board members, many brought up the Million Man March that had happened a few years earlier in Washington, DC. They wanted to organize a similar event to put a face and a voice on recovery, and stand up for recovery with family members, friends, and allies in the nation’s capitol. 

As an organizer I was excited and kept this in mind as Faces & Voices developed programming. There hadn’t been many public recovery events since Operation Understanding in 1976. Faces & Voices worked with HBO on the release of its Addiction program, with A&E on its New York recovery rallies and helped organize Recovery Month marches and rallies that included voter registration, participation by elected officials, recovery entertainment and activities, fueling the building of a movement that operated in the public space.

When Bill White wrote that the central message of this new movement was that permanent recovery from alcohol and other drug-related problems is not only possible but a reality in the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals and families, it was a dramatic turning point and spot on. He articulated what many people had been thinking individually — that the views and needs of people in recovery, family members, friends and allies could not be ignored if we wanted to make it possible for more people to recover from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. To shift from “treatment works,” and “addiction is a disease,” this new collective movement would need to work to make policies and practices recovery-focused and recovery-oriented. At the time, we didn’t even know how many people were in recovery in the U.S.!

Bill White has played a number of important roles in the New Recovery Advocacy Movement. One that probably no one anticipated is that his efforts to document recovery history through his work including Slaying the Dragon was and remains vital to the development of the movement. In all of his writings, presentations and consultations, he has helped us understand that people in recovery, family members, friends and allies have unique knowledge and skill sets that must be front and center if we are going to make it possible for even more people to find and sustain recovery.

His work contributed to the development of Faces & Voices’ mission to mobilize the addiction recovery community to seek and implement public policies that support recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs; break down barriers that preclude access to recovery; change public attitudes to prioritize addiction recovery and show the public and policymakers that recovery is a reality for over 23 million Americans and their families in communities across the country. 

One thing we got right was working hard to make sure that the voice of the recovery community was front and center in all of our work. Early on, we wanted to develop recovery messaging, so that the public could understand the reality of recovery and so that advocates had language to talk about their recovery. We tested different messages using focus groups of people in recovery. They rejected words like “survivor” or “champion” used by other movements and embraced person-centered language. We started using the term “person in long-term recovery” after listening to people with lived experience.   

Another is that at the Summit and throughout its history, Faces & Voices worked hard to embrace all pathways to recovery, including people using various pathways in its leadership as well as family members. We also learned to appreciate the power of the bipartisan nature of our work and the power of story. In St. Paul,  Senator Paul Wellstone (D) and Representative Jim Ramstad (R) spoke out, transcending the partisan divide.  Just as Republicans and Democrats alike are affected by addiction, recovery leaders emerged from both sides of the aisle. That started at the Summit and continued with the formation of the bipartisan Addiction and Recovery Caucus, passage of the Wellstone Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, among other efforts.

One thing that was missed, and there were others, was understanding and promoting harm reduction policies and practices.

  • What was the relationship between Faces & Voices at the national level and recovery community groups across the country? Our history illuminates that inherent tensions can occur. This was true in the era of Marty Mann and the NCA and other eras in recovery movement history as well. Reflecting back, what helped pull groups together in the time you were involved with Faces & Voices?  

We had a very close relationship, highlighting the work of those organizations and including recovery communities in all levels of decision making, formally and informally. We worked to develop programming and activities that would strengthen their ability to carry out their missions on the ground back home in their communities.

We also worked hard to have a board that represented the diversity of the recovery community – including recovery pathways, regions, race, gender, and recovery status. One important effort was to have At-large and regional representatives on our Board to ensure connection to local communities. Local groups could interact with regional Board representatives, who could bring local concerns to the national organization.

In those early years we worked to grow Recovery Month participation by local groups, as members of the Recovery Month Planning Partners at SAMHSA and through Faces & Voices networks. We developed programming like Rally for Recovery! National Hub Events that occurred in different communities across the country year to year. People organized runs, marches, marathons, rallies, concerts, and speaker events. And we made sure to use these opportunities where the recovery community gathered, to register voters and engage elected officials.

Over the years, we developed opportunities for individuals and organizations to be part of the movement. We developed Recovery Community Organization Toolkits that local grassroots communities could use to develop their own RCOs to strengthen recovery capital in their own communities. Groups could then get involved in the Association of Recovery Community Organizations (ARCO). We organized leadership academies that brought leaders from RCOs together from across the nation so they could share their experiences, learn together and help inform us on how to support their needs. We worked hard to use our national presence to strengthen the RCOs across the nation. Working with RCOs we developed CAPRSS to set accreditation standards for RCOs.

There was a tremendous void in recovery research. Working with Alexandre Laudet, we put out the very first national survey The Life In Recovery Survey to quantify and measure the effects of recovery over time. People across the country took the survey and it’s been widely shared, illuminating the power of recovery to transform lives and communities.

The talented and dedicated people who served as Board members and those who worked at Faces &Voices were critical to its growth and development. They were amazing and many went on to serve in key positions, influencing public policy and perceptions of recovery. People including Carol McDaid, Dona Dmitrovic, Tom Hill and Tom Coderre, helped build Faces & Voices from the ground up.

It was important. When Bill White made that presentation, we were in a period of transition in the recovery movement. Faces & Voices was over ten years old!  Peer support was beginning to look more professional, and issues around the risks and benefits of professionalization of lived experience workers were surfacing as well as the role of advocacy in the movement. He raised the importance of keeping eyes on community building recovery capital and anti-discrimination efforts that were necessary to more fully realize opportunities for long-term recovery.

Here’s one example of the changes in the movement. The Association of Persons Affected by Addiction hosted the Leadership Academy at their recently opened Recovery Community Center. They were just getting off of the ground twelve years before. They had reached the level of operation that they were undergoing CAPRSS certification in 2013. 

Recovery-oriented services were expanding rapidly across the country and recovery was coming out of the closet for many Americans. New organizations like Shatterproof were being formed and the Anonymous People, which at its core is the story of Faces & Voices of Recovery, had been recently released and was being aired across the country. There were so many new voices, interests, and ideas to think about. The movement was growing with all of the opportunities and challenges that came with it. 

When I reflect back on that moment now, what we were working on was recovery representation across our whole system of care and support. We knew it had to be about more than peer services incorporated into the treatment system.   

What do you see as the greatest accomplishment during the era you were at the helm of Faces & Voices of Recovery?

There was not just one thing. We were working on a number of fronts to advance recovery. We put together ARCO and the Leadership Academy to focus on and support recovery community organizations. We developed CAPRSS to support standards for peer recovery support services and keep the recovery community in the driver’s seat. We developed and released the Recovery Bill of Rights, a statement of the principle that all Americans have a right to recover. In many ways, that statement reflects what Faces & Voices accomplished, the recovery community coming together as an organized community and constituency, building its own agenda, and acting collectively to implement it with support from allied organizations.

  • What insights do you have now looking back at the recovery movement and what it has accomplished?

I look back and realize that a lot has been accomplished. If you think back to what was happening at the first Recovery Summit in 2001 and what’s going on today, it’s truly inspiring. Hundreds of recovery community organizations and recovery-oriented policies developed out of our efforts. Hundreds of thousands of people have participated in public events celebrating recovery, with many of them registering to vote and participate in local, state and national elections. There were successful efforts to expand legal protections for care through the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) made possible because of the advocacy of the organized recovery community. We showed America that there is hope, that recovery is a reality and that recovery voices matter.   

Even as I say this today, addiction is exacting a devastating toll on families and our communities. So much more needs to be done. To continue moving forward, we are going to have to work even harder to be inclusive of all the diverse recovery and other allied groups that have formed. There is going to need to be a concerted effort to figure out how to bring all of these groups together and work on issues of common concern.

What are you doing now?

One of my passions is gardening, so I’ve had a chance to build my small landscaping business. My daughter and her family moved from Austin, TX into our house in Maryland, so my husband Bill and I are now renters.  We’ve been traveling a lot and during the pandemic, we were zoom school proctors for our grandson, quite the experience.  I also still have my hand in recovery efforts and serve on the Board of Directors for the Recovery Advocacy Project, I’m really excited about the work they are doing.

  • What would you tell future recovery community leaders to pay attention to in respect to risks and opportunities?

I’d suggest one way to move forward is to organize to address the way that discriminatory policies create barriers for so many people to get their lives back on track. We should actively work to eliminate discriminatory policies where they exist in healthcare, employment, housing, and quality of life issues. If these policies are ignored – or in some cases, strengthened, it will be a missed opportunity for building recovery-oriented communities.

I’d encourage them to pay close attention to what can happen if there is an overemphasis on peer services in their organization and community. It’s very important to keep a focus on advocacy and building strong communities of recovery.

There’s an untapped opportunity that has been well used by other social movements – running candidates for public office.  A few people have already run and won as persons open about their recovery in the U.S.  As a matter of fact, they used their recovery status to recruit supporters and build support for their campaigns.   

And last, we need to build a dynamic movement that is creative and inspires others to join in.    

  • Is there a question I did not ask you would like to answer? 

I think it’s important to highlight how and why it’s important for people to join us and get involved. While some people who were in the formative stage of the movement ended up with government appointments, there are so many opportunities to organize and act locally and engage a new generation of recovery advocates.  


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