Tony Vezina on the Concept of Resiliency

Keynote Speech at Peerpocalypse 2019

This post is an excerpt transcribed from Tony Vezina’s speech on 5/21/2019.

Photo by Kimberly Perez at Peerpocalypse 2019

Photo by Kimberly Perez at Peerpocalypse 2019

Resiliency means the ability of a substance or an object to spring back into shape, elasticity. I do think that when people recover, they are springing back into shape, but that doesn’t have to mean that they are conforming to normalized society.

That shouldn’t be the mission of recovery or the meaning of resilience. It could mean snapping back to something different. You know, for me, in my recovery, I came back as something very, very different than what I was. We’re talking about transformation and evolution. That’s been my experience and I have not arrived. It’s an ongoing process.

I think resiliency, as well as transformation and evolution, can describe what it means to be a peer. To bounce back, to overcome the odds, to get out of the struggle.

I think there is another part to the peer, and that’s the service part. Wanting to help others; having compassion and empathy; being there for someone when they don’t have anyone else; advocating for people when they don’t have a voice. People become beat down by the current system. I know I was beat down. … Peers are powerful. We need to be centered … and not give up the things that make this work powerful. We need to make sure we don’t become over professionalized, that we’re not devalued, and that we don’t have the vales of peer philosophy taken from us.

After you leave here today, I want you to know that the struggle isn’t over.

As the system continues to incorporate peers, we’re going to have to fight to stay authentic to ourselves and our values, and fight to stay true to what it means to be a peer.

There’s a big fight coming to do that. … It means that we really have client-centered care. Healthcare providers don’t even know what that means. It just sounds good. “Ok, client-centered care. Here’s your prescription, do what I say.” We need to have peer-based supervision. That’s really important, we have to fight for that. We need to remain non-medicalized. It’s really important, and really what that’s tied to is appropriate funding. My message today is don’t let your evolution stop after certification. Certification isn’t the end game. There is so much stuff to fight for.

Oregon has one of the highest rates of substance abuse. What’s up? What’s going on in Oregon? It’s horrible. There’s good treatment here, there’s good recovery here, there’s good people here. What’s going on? And because of that, substance use results in homelessness, mass incarceration, high foster youth rates, high school dropouts, loss of parental rights, increased health care costs, increased crime rates, and a bunch of deaths. I know that I’m preaching to the choir, but I’m not going to stop talking about it until there isn’t anything to talk about anymore.

I expect to see ever peer in Oregon standing up and advocating for a system of treatment where recovery is the expected outcome, where it’s the normalized outcome.

I’m not going to stop talking until I no longer have to spend weekends housing people in my recovery center while they wait to get into detox. I stay the night at 4D Recovery all the time. Some kid relapsed, got kicked out of his treatment center, and had nowhere to go until Monday. Why couldn’t he go back to the hospital to go back into detox? I don’t understand. So I’m not going to stop talking about it until people don’t have to wait. Because what happens when people have to wait? We die. People die. People have died so much, it’s a normal thing for me now. It’s like “Yep, another one gone.” And that is wrong. That should not be a normalized thing. When somebody wants treatment, they should get it, and it should be culturally-specific. And that’s just the way it needs to be. Period.

There’s a statewide advocacy organization working on this very thing, and I have the pleasure of serving this organization. If you haven’t heard of Oregon Recovers, I haven’t talked enough. Oregon Recovers is a peer-led advocacy organization working to ensure that ever Oregonian has access to a recovery-oriented system of care. It’s a change in the system. It’s not about just throwing money at the problem. It’s a change in the paradigm in the way that we deliver services. We’ve made huge changes in the past 2 years. … We need to lift everybody up. We need addiction peers, we need mental health peers, we need gambling peers, Peer Wellness Specialists, and Forensic Peers. We have to work together because the system needs to change. …

The system that we need to create is one that responds to individuality, meets people where they’re at, builds off strengths, recognizes cultural needs, and leverages lived experience.

In short, we need a behavioral healthcare system that believes that anyone can recover from anything, and I really believe it’s peers that are going to lead the transformation and evolution of the system. My ending words are stay resilient, keep fighting for your clients, never give up, and remember one thing above all: Your lived experience is the most powerful thing you have.

Photo by Kimberly Perez at Peerpocalypse 2019.

Photo by Kimberly Perez at Peerpocalypse 2019.

Kaity McCraw