The Silences of Our Work, Part I: A Preface

Editor’s Note: Points is delighted to welcome Heather Sophia Lee, PhD, LCSW, an Assistant Professor of Family Medicine and Community Health at Rutgers’ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Lee is a practicing clinician and qualitative researcher who studies how stigma influences access to health and social services. Today, Lee opens her series on silencing and substance abuse with a reflection on her relationship to this work.

Some months ago, Points co-founder Trysh Travis read an article I published about integrating harm reduction and twelve step approaches to treatment, and asked how I became interested in addiction research. My answer: I began observing addiction and recovery long before I learned to study these processes systematically. I was born into the witnessing of addiction; it began with my father’s struggles and untimely death when I was nine years old.

This experience exposed me to the scripted language of recovery at an early age. But I’d argue that, even for people without this early formative experience, the scripts of addiction treatment and drug policy manage to shape the psyche. I’ve witnessed many contrasting cases in which the dominant response model to drug and alcohol issues (i.e., punitive, abstinence-based, and informed by an explicit set of assumptions) failed to meaningfully reach those in need of help.

Later, as a clinician-scholar, I believed there must be a better way to engage those in need of help and began exploring alternatives. I acknowledged that the dominant model does reach some people– but it fails to reach most people, and that was the population I wanted to engage. As I reflect on my personal and professional experiences, I think my work has been driven by something deeper and less tangible than clinical efficacy: the greatest injustice in treatment practice and scholarship is the silenced voices of those who struggle with addiction. I also believe that by facilitating space to desilence those voices, we will learn about our failings and be better able to help those who struggle with substance use and misuse in this country.

Image via Harm Reduction Coalition (harmreduction.org)
Image via Harm Reduction Coalition (harmreduction.org)

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