Changing the Face of Addiction by Creating Positive Memes on social media

On October 1st, 2015 I posted a picture of myself on Facebook holding a sign that read:

I'm a convicted felon in recovery. Forgive me my past. Allow me my future.

This photo was accompanied with a public statement about why I was going to the UNITE to Face Addiction Rally, a history-making day, which took place on October 4th, 2015, in the effort to face addiction in the public arena. At the rally, tens of thousands of people showed up and 700 partners joined together for the first-ever rally and concert on the National Mall in Washington DC.

We called it: the day to end the silence. In a united front, with many faces and one voice, we shouted: NO MORE SHAME. NO MORE STIGMA.

My post read, “I’m going to UNITE To Face Addiction in order to spread the message that recovery is possible. I’m a convicted felon, but I deserve a second chance. We all do. Today, I have nearly five years in long-term recovery, and I’m not just sober, but I’m happy, healthy, and thriving both professionally and personally. My life has been transformed from an experience of shame and darkness to one filled with love, forgiveness, and acceptance. I speak publicly about my experiences and write about them in my book No Tourists Allowed in order to drive the National Recovery Movement forward and to create a positive conversation around addiction and recovery throughout the world. No more shame. No more stigma.” –Shannon Egan, Salt Lake City, UT. 

Today, I have 5 years in long-term recovery and I work at USARA as the Development and Communications Director. USARA is a Recovery Community Organization (RCO) located in Utah, and we advocate, celebrate, support and educate on behalf of addiction recovery and Utah’s recovering community. For my job I run our social media campaigns and I’ve seen firsthand the power of social media and how it can connect individuals in long-term recovery--and those currently seeking recovery from drug and alcohol addiction-- to their local recovery community. It’s also a powerful way to spread the message of recovery, eradicate shame, and stigma, advocate for change, and promote and strengthen the National Recovery Movement.

For example, in one day my ‘felon’ post went viral with over 1,000 Likes, 800 shares, and hundreds of supportive comments. The meme was spreading like wild fire and this is a good thing because it had a positive and powerful message: we make mistakes, but we recovery, end of story! Here's some tips on how you can help be apart of the change! 

Social Media: a Tool for Advocacy, Celebrating Recovery Community, and Promoting the National Recovery Movement:

  1. Share your successes: Always remember to choose content and photos that inspire and encourage as opposed to content that spreads fear and panic—no more posts about scary overdose epidemics! Yes, this is happening, but we don’t want to paralyze with our messaging. We want to empower, and the most effective way to do this is to spread hope. We must start eradicating the stigma by highlighting our personal successes—no matter how big or small. Tell your story!  My felon post is a great example of this.  #NotAnonymous #OurStoriesHavePower
  2.  Recovery focused hashtags: Hashtags are integral to the way we communicate online. Plus, they can be a fun! The same hashtags can and should be used for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The pound sign (or hash) turns any word or group of words that directly follow it into a searchable link.  As individuals in recovery, we need a way to connect our messaging to one another so we can create a stronger and more unified network.  In order to turn our content into a searchable and powerful link, we must use one hashtag for all our posts, and that is: #NationalRecoveryMovement. Some other key hashtags America’s recovery community is currently using are: #FacesAndVoicesOfRecovery, #NotAnonymous, #WeCanRecover, #RecoveryAdvocates, and #OurVoicesHavePower
  3.  Create a powerful and positive meme. Then, watch it go viral!: My felon post went viral for two reasons: 1) the message was short, sweet and struck a chord with our target audience: people in recovery; 2) The message itself was visual (instead of just text). While at the UNITE to Face Addiction rally I put the same message on a poster, and many people stopped to take their picture with it. Why? Because they had a similar story and the message meant something to them. They wanted to pass the message or meme along. Don’t know what a meme is? It's an important word in the world of social media and according to the Urban Dictionary, a meme is a: pervasive thought or thought pattern that replicates itself via cultural means. Here are a few pictures of people borrowing my sign at the UNITE rally: 

4.  Highlight your family and friends who are in recovery: use your social media platform to celebrate the recovery milestones and contributions of your recovering friends and family. Keep the content brief (2-4 sentences max!) and always have a positive, fun picture to go with it. Include the hashtag: #NationalRecoveryMovement. Here’s a few examples of how we celebrate Utah's recovery community. Click on the picture to blow up the text:  

Post a Fun, Recovery-Focused Selfie or Photo: The power of the selfie cannot be denied, especially since Facebook and its fans adore it. So, let’s jump on board and have some fun with it, shall we? Selfies and people-focused photos are essential ways to promote important concepts online, such as:

  • recovery community
  • fun in recovery
  • volunteering for recovery, service
  •  recovery community centers
  •  all pathways to recovery
  •  recovery-focused services and people
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Hopefully it's clear that as people in recovery, our social media platforms have the power to heal or harm, and paralyze or empower our communities-- and in a big way! With strategic social media messaging and visuals, we can play a critical role in offsetting the sensational and demeaning portrayals in the mass media of people caught in addiction’s downward spiral. Just remember, social media is about SOCIAL networks. Therefore, there must be an element of fun in your posts in order to promote social engagement. Without the ‘fun’, you will not be successful.

So let’s get our hashtag and selfie on, shall we?  

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Shannon Egan is the author of No tourists allowed: Seeking Inner Peace and Sobriety in War-Torn Sudan. She’s also an international freelance journalist and advocate for the National Recovery Movement. Despite training as a writer on humanitarian issues for the United Nations, Shannon prefers sharing her personal stories of addiction and recovery to infuse hope in those still struggling and spread the message that recovery is possible.   

Shannon Egan

Shannon Egan is an author, international journalist, and advocate for addiction recovery. Despite training as a writer on humanitarian issues for the United Nations, Shannon prefers sharing her personal stories of addiction and recovery to infuse hope in those still struggling and spread the message that recovery is possible.