The Birthing of the Modern Recovery Movement & Marty Mann Recovery History Interview with Bev Haberle

October 27, 2022
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Forward – I have been thinking for some time about the linkages across recovery history. We don’t always do the best job at recording and teaching our own history. It is vital to the future that we understand our own past and how it has shaped our current environment. We must understand where we came from to take the next steps towards our goals. History tends to echo similar themes across time. Recovery in America in our era starts in the late 1930s. Much of what was accomplished originates with Mrs. Marty Mann. When considering our original modern recovery advocate, I knew the person in my network with the one of the longest institutional memories who could provide me insight was Bev Haberle. She generously agreed to this interview.

Accolades for Bev and what she had the foresight to do over the course of her career. When her organization, PRO-Act had received one of the original Recovery Community Support Project (RCSP) grants, she helped preserve a vital chapter in recovery history. Grounding efforts in our own history is an important part of guiding efforts forward. She focused an initial project of the grant on highlighting the work of recovery pioneer Marty Mann. Bev gathered together people who had personal recollections and handwritten notes of Marty and her work. This was occurring as writers were working on a biography of Marty Mann’s life. The authors attended the event and some of those handwritten memories made it into their book. In this way, Bev helped preserve vital facets of recovery history.

Bev also attended one of two services for Marty that were held after her death in 1980. She went to the one in New York at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. There was also one on the west coast. She recounted to me how she and a friend drove to New York to honor this recovery pioneer who changed how the world saw alcoholism. On the drive to NYC, they spoke about the tribute to her life that they would be a part of. They walked into an event that was more sparsely attended than they had hoped. It stuck with Bev as less than what Marty, noted as one of the most important women of the 20th century deserved. We talked about how it may have been that she was a woman or that she was gay, but we agreed that in any proper accounting of modern recovery history in America, Marty Mann played the lead role, and we should do more to preserve and honor her life’s work.

As I sit here and write this from a coffee shop in Saint Paul Minnesota, the birthplace of the New Recovery Advocacy Movement just 21 years ago, I am in awe of how much we owe to our first recovery advocate, Marty Mann. As a person actively examining our history, I am struck by how we have failed to properly honor her or her work. To steer the movement in the direction we want it to go, it is important for us to examine our own history and honor the work done and account for the lessons we can learn from.

It is the case in this chapter in recovery history that a woman led the cause, and the men got most of the credit. That Marty Mann lived in an era in where a woman had an even more challenging time navigating these headwinds makes her story even more remarkable.  As her Wikipedia link notes following a brief marriage, she lived as a lesbian for the rest of her life. She kept her maiden name, and she used the “Mrs.” title to protect her privacy. To consider that she stood up, shared her lived experience, and founded the National Committee for Education on Alcoholism (NCEA) during a time when there was deep prejudice against people with alcoholism, against homosexuality and as a woman in the 1940s and 50s is beyond remarkable.

I have written about the ties to Marty Mann in Bethlehem, PA., the community I was raised in and what it means that we fail to document our own past. We had one of the first Alcohol Committees in the nation. I knew some of the people involved. I failed to appreciate the history at the time. They are all gone. We should have preserved what they knew. It was not recorded and is now lost. Our local library only has reference to one of the first alcohol committees in America in a 1955 phone book. Beyond that, there is this picture, an address in a telephone book and reference to it in the pamphlet Resources on Alcoholism published in January of 1955. We failed to appreciate that it was worth writing down. That is actually a lesson we must learn from today.

I know others who are invested in preserving such history. Bill White has been instrumental in preserving volumes of our history for future generations. Last winter, I toured High Watch with Greg Williams who helped me to gain greater appreciation for Marty, her connections to and her talks at High Watch. Greg is a “go to” resource as a fellow historian and his efforts to try and sustain and preserve our history are also notable. Such history is important for other reasons as well, the arc of National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) from its foundation by Marty Mann in 1944 through to its closing is not a unique story. We would do well to understand its successes and what happened to it internally and externally that led to its ending and work to prevent such dynamics in our current institutions.

I am grateful to Bev for our conversations about this history, insights she has on the links to our own home state of Pennsylvania and the importance of collecting and preserving our past. We can look at the dynamics we have experienced through history to help us anticipate, prepare, and respond to things going on now. Beyond that, honoring those who worked to get us where we are today can instill humility in us and help us appreciate how hard it has been to carry our movement this far. As Tom Hill told me last year in an interview I did with him, “There is a long hard road that got us to where we are today. Someone fought extremely hard for the seat you are sitting in. Acknowledging that can be a humbling experience and understanding that you are standing on the shoulders of many of came before you.”

Marty Mann was born on October 15, 1904, to a family of means in Chicago. Her father eventually died from alcoholism. She traveled the world and worked as a magazine editor, art critic, and photojournalist for renowned magazines such as Vogue and Harpers. Her own drinking progressed to the point she became homeless in London shortly after which she attempted to take her own life. She came back to the US and learned about AA. She met Dr Bob and Bill W. in Bill W.s house and she got sober. She started the modern recovery movement by constructing a narrative of recovery that the American public could identify with and see us as worthy of helping. Marty founded the Yale School of Alcohol Studies (which became what is now Rutgers Center of Alcohol and Substance Use Studies) and what is now NCADD. It was called NCA when it organized Operation Understanding in 1976. She died in 1980 at the age of 76. Syracuse University has a collection of her papers, an inventory of which can be found here.

Marty Mann

  • Some of the earliest programming was started by Marty Mann and the National Committee on Alcoholism. Do you have any insight or personal or secondhand accounts of what she did and how it influenced the development of recovery capital in your area?

It was the first organization in the nation formed to provide education and advocacy, initially on alcoholism and later to include other drugs. It was known initially as the National Committee and then became the National Council on Alcoholism (NCA) and finally the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). You mentioned that the city you grew up in (Bethlehem) had one of the first and that it was operational by the mid-1950s. By the 1960s, nearly every county had one in Pennsylvania one and in that era, they were known as local affiliates. Some states also had state affiliates. There were requirements to be an affiliate, including having a 24/7 call line to provide information and support for persons experiencing problems with alcohol. These lines were generally staffed by volunteers and connected people into local recovery support fellowships. No other organizations were focused on these highly stigmatized issues in that era. They educated people about alcohol and helped them find services. They helped develop recovery capital and communities of recovery advocates around the nation. Everything that came afterwards was built on this foundation.

In Bucks County, that affiliate led to the formation of the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania, Inc. When we look back to the establishment of funding through the federal block grant nationally through the efforts of Harold Hughes in the US Senate, it was these organizations all across the country who she connected with to advocate for funding to support that groundbreaking legislation that led to the development of our whole field.

The efforts of Harold Hughes would not have borne fruit without the work of Marty Mann through NCADD that started a generation earlier. Hughes asked her to testify at public hearings at the request of Senator Harold Hughes, and set in motion legislation that pioneered research on women’s treatment programs, that eventually established residential care for women and their children. Bill White wrote a post titled Honoring Recovery Ancestors a few years back that has a picture of them together. There are some really great pictures of early recovery leaders and their association with NCADD that can be found here.

In Pennsylvania Milton Berkes from Bucks County spearheaded efforts to develop a service infrastructure for that federal funding as it came down to the state. His signature legislation was Act 63 of 1972 which established the funding and service infrastructure. At the county level, this led to the establishment of the single county authorities. Early discussions included elevating the NCADD local affiliates to act in this role but it in most instances this did not happen. One of the SCAs, The Council On Chemical Abuse in Berks County has its origins in an NCADD affiliate. When I look back at that era, the local affiliates that came out of her work had significant influence on the way that services were developed in that era across our state and the rest of the nation.

Thinking back to those times, I recall that there was a lot of discussion about what it meant to be an affiliate. There was a lot of sharing and collaboration amongst these entities here in PA and beyond. As the National Council grew, there was a sense that it was no longer representing the needs of the local affiliates consistently. This was in a period in which a few well to do board members of NCADD with strong views held sway over the direction it took. The areas they focused on at times did not always mesh with the interests of the local affiliates. There was some push back to national to become more representative of local affiliate interests. These are dynamics we see in organizations across history in our space.

I think that at the time she was fighting stigma and educating the public about Alcoholism she not only was doing groundbreaking work, but she publicly used her own lived experience as part of that effort. This was highly controversial for anyone but particularly for a woman. anonymity was sacred and she was speaking out publicly. The power of our stories was recognized but not at the level of the press or other media. Women were certainly the minority in AA at the time and a woman that showed leadership, strength, courage and had power did not get positively recognized or get credit for what they accomplished in the 1950’s and still many times today. She also was surrounded by powerful men that I believe she gave the credit to in order to continue their support (financial and other). We owe a lot to her as well as many of the other early pioneers . I feel a great sense of gratitude to Marty Mann for the foundation of work she did to create an organize the grass roots community to fight to reduce stigma and educate the public. What she started led the way for today’s Recovery Community Organizations. We as a field are in a better place because of her work.

  • Is there a particular moment or memory or secondhand account that stands out to you in respect to those early days and early pioneers that you would like to share?

Marty Mann had an incredible work ethic. She tirelessly traveled across the country to educate people that alcoholism was a disease and not a moral failing. She worked to advance science to support our understanding of alcoholism. She contributed immensely to our current understanding that people like us deserved compassion and help. We do get better! She was the pioneer who took on stigma and shifted public perceptions. This was particularly true for women, who face extra stigma in our society. When we think today of all of our efforts to put a face on recovery, we owe a great deal to Marty as she traveled America and spoke about the need for compassion. She really knew how to capture people’s imagination and to mobilize our community.

All of her early objectives emanated out of three ideas that are now well accepted but in that era were viewed as revolutionary. Those three concepts were:

  1. Alcoholism is a disease and the alcoholic a sick person.
  2. The alcoholic can be helped and is worth helping.
  3. Alcoholism is a public health problem and therefore a public responsibility.

Her work to establish Alcoholism as a medical condition led to the formation of the New York City Medical Committee on Alcoholism in 1951 with Ruth Fox, the first medical director of the National Council on Alcoholism. This eventually led to what we now know as the American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM). She helped start the very foundational institutions we have today. At the same time, she established local committees of  “concerned others” to provide resource centers where people with alcoholism could find help.

  • How did you get into this work? Can you see how it connects to her efforts? How did this influence your work in the recovery space?

I got into recovery in 1971 and was involved in a local church. There was an interest in helping people within the faith community. Before I had gotten into recovery, I had worked for the phone company. I knew how to connect and engage with people on the phone. It was a skill set that was seen as useful, and I was recruited as a volunteer by a Presbyterian minister by the name of John Sparr. Stepping into service changed the direction of my whole life as happens for so many of us.

This was part of a network of such efforts occurring in the Presbyterian church that could never have occured had Marty not initiated her efforts to normalize alcoholism and get people help. It may be hard for people now to understand how revolutionary it was to have these conversations in the faith community. We started talking about what had been a taboo subject and people responded. We helped a lot of people just by talking about alcoholism, which had been seen as a topic too shameful to discuss before Marty. Our efforts grew from there.

We ended up pulling together a number of committed and likeminded individuals and eventually, my volunteer work turned into a paid position in the newly formed the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania in 1976. I was hired as the volunteer coordinator. The only other position was secretary. As it started to come together, there was a desire to bring in an experienced leader and the Board conducted a national search.

They found a number of qualified individuals but realized that they could not afford any of them, so they offered me the position. I accepted. We built it from that point into an agency serving multiple communities. I was the Executive Director for 42 years until I retired in 2018. Building it up and serving our community was my life work. We were the NCA affiliate, those seeds sewn by Marty Mann in the mid-1940s ended up taking root in our community and quite literally thousands of lives have been transformed. She laid our foundation as she did for so many organizations like ours across the nation.

  • Are there any lessons we can learn from the arc of the NCADD and its successes and struggles? Are there lessons for us now?

As we have talked about so far, Marty created and then cleared the path in so many ways. It is also true that there were a lot of challenges. She helped found the Yale School of Alcohol Studies in the 40s, but there were politics with the school that led to changes. Because of a lack of funding, the school moved to Rutgers. Funding was a perennial problem for the National Council from its very inception. In the early years, Marion Barbara ‘Joe’ Carstairs helped keep the doors open and R. Brinkley Smithers later stepped in to write checks to help the NCA fulfill its mission. General funding drives to the public failed to yield significant donations, which placed the organization in a precarious position. This was then and is now a result of stigma; our condition does not garner widespread philanthropic support. Fundraising is still a huge challenge for organizations in our space today. There is not much in the way of private charity in our space. It just does not have the same appeal as a cure for cancer support or children-oriented service organizations. We still need to change that in America. 

In part because of the way the organization was funded, the small group of people writing the checks had significant sway over the direction of the organization. At times it got sidetracked. As I noted in a prior question, local affiliates did not feel heard at times. The national office became worried that the organization may splinter as the local affiliates asserted their views. This was a fate they avoided, probably in no small part to Marty and her ability to draw people together. We see these dynamics in our era as well. We need to avoid being splintered and to sustain common purpose to be effective. History is not linear; we can lose the gains we have made.

There were also some rapid shifts in leadership as the organization attempted to secure funding. In 1968, the NCA Board hired William W. Moore, Jr. to succeed her and Marty Mann became founder-consultant.  He had headed the American Heart Association and came to the NCA with a background in management of a large, voluntary health organization. He ended up pulling the organization in a different direction. George C. Dimas replaced him in 1972. It can be the case that organizations struggle when pioneering leaders transition as new leaders may have very different visions. Marty remained a visible leader during these times and beyond, and it may have led to some conflict of confusion. During this era, Marty was focusing all her energy helping Harold Hughes pass the historic Hughes Act on December 31st 1970 on the very last day it could be enacted into law.

Since its early days, there were varying views on how to define and treat alcoholism, and these internal struggles may have made sapped its energy or made it seem less coherent as viewed externally. We certainly see similar dynamics with infighting and division now. It is interesting to note that in the early days of NRAM, when we all were working towards established goals, we achieved some of our greatest successes.

  •  What would you tell future leaders about what you have from your decades of service to our community?

The constant in this work is that it is built on foundations of help, hope, heart, and healing as a constant. NCADD required all Affiliates to have a Help line usually answered by a person in recovery. Help and Support are important elements in building hope, and it is important that future leaders understand that. They are foundational components. These elements work at every level. In addiction we are without hope. Through recovery, we get hope, we heal, and we get heart for life and often commit to service. We then help others heal and gain hope and heart. We thrive when we are able to do these things for ourselves and in service to others, and when we do this whole communities heal. We call this recovery capital. It has also always been about fostering these elements in community.  We need enough funding to appropriately fund Recovery Community developed and led recovery support to help folks initiate and sustain long term recovery. Quality clinical treatment for those who need it, honest behavioral health services designed to meet the needs of those with co-occurring disorders and services designed to meet the needs of specific populations, people of color, women, older adults and youth. We need to change this thinking on a policy level so that resources go to community building efforts instead of treatment-oriented services. It can be really hard for people who are used to the treatment orientation to even understand this. But it is what has always worked.

There has also always been an inherent disdain for people experiencing substance use disorders in our society. We are a marginalized community. There are very real dynamics of oppression that occur, and it can get demoralizing for people who work to change it. There are also dynamics in marginalized communities to divide and fracture, to go after each other to be seen as more favorable or simply because of the pain and trauma associated with experiencing discrimination hurts people and they channel it in ways that hurt others. These dynamics must be overcome for any marginalized community to accomplish its goals, including ours.

Our own history bears this out. When we come together in common cause, we do great things. When we fracture, we become less effective, and we lose ground. One of the resources that future leaders have that we did not have to the same degree in our days is that we are starting to document our history and have the opportunity to learn from it. When the new recovery advocacy movement was born a generation ago, William White had just published Slaying the Dragon. We were very aware of how fragile what we had was and how important it was to find, protect and work on common goals. That is still very much true today. The work of Marty Mann and the history of that era shows some of the very same patterns of challenges we face now. I would tell young leaders to study and learn from our history and find common ground to work on together to take us forward to new heights.

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