The Power of Connection


Johann Hari famously said in his TED talk, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”

We’re not suggesting for a moment that sobriety isn’t an important aspect of recovery; we’re saying — like Johann — that connection to others going through what we’re going through is vital. It’s the lifeblood of recovery. It’s what connects us to the shared experience of what it means to overcome one of the most challenging things someone can face. Peer connection gives us the ability to say those powerful words: me too. And it makes us feel we’re not alone.

In our digital age, smartphones and other hand-held electronic devices, computers, and TVs all encourage us to disconnect from one another physically and enter a realm where we lose touch with what it means to connect with another human. It’s so easy to block someone, or to swipe left or right, instead of honing our skills at setting appropriate boundaries and working on relationships. It’s something we need to be more conscious of in developing our recovery, because we need one another.

Knowing that our peers have walked several miles in our shoes, that they understand just how hard recovery is, and that it can sometimes feel challenging on a daily basis adds another dimension to our support network that no treatment center, doctor, or smartphone can provide.

Building meaningful relationships in recovery, where we feel empathy and connection, is perhaps one of the most vital aspects to sustaining long-term recovery. Nothing can replace that community of people.

This is why peer support is so successful. It creates a shared experience free of shame or judgment. Peer mentors are better placed than most professionals to meet people where they are, because we know what it is like to be in their shoes and how hard it was to ask for help. But just what is peer support?

What is peer support?

Mental Health America refers to a definition of peer support as “the process of giving and receiving encouragement and assistance to achieve long-term recovery.” Through providing support, knowledge, and skill training, peer mentors can connect individuals to resources, communities, and other people that are living with their condition — whether that’s a substance use disorder or a mental health disorder.

At MHAAO, we believe that peer support promotes these values:

  • Recovery is a choice

  • Recovery is unique to the individual

  • Recovery is a journey, not a destination

  • Focusing on strengths allows a person to recognize their potential and to make new choices

  • Self-directed recovery is possible for everyone, with or without professional help (including the help of peer specialists or peer providers)

Charles explains his experience of working with a peer support specialist. “When I first started working with MHAAO, I was really struggling. My children were in DHS custody. I was working as hard as I could to try to do everything right, but I was being told that I should expect not to get custody and be happy with seeing my kids twice a month at best.”

He continues, “I had almost no positive support in my life and I felt like no one was in my corner. My peer support specialist worked closely with me over 13 months. We worked together to build up a positive support system in my life and find permanent housing and a better job. His help with navigating the DHS child welfare system and with helping me learn how to advocate for myself and my children was invaluable.”

To find out more about peer support, or to get involved in peer support specialist training, check out our upcoming trainings.