The first Tennessee Peer Specialist Conference was held this past Monday in Murpheesboro, Tennessee. IT WAS AMAZING!!
170 people attended. Even more importantly 170 people participated. It was as much community as it was conference. No one was there simply to listen. Stories, experience, and ideas were freely shared and eagerly heard. The content- the ideas and knowledge- of the breakout sessions was exciting and riveting. And that was independent of what the presenters shared.
I kept wishing we had videotaped it all and what a great anti stigma piece it would be. We didnt just talk about the reality of recovery. It was there living and breathing, in flesh and bone, living testimonies to hope and better life. Even neater was that everyone there knew that part of recovery for them was what they could give to others coming from a place that had once been theirs. They knew recovery was a journey you took with others and wanted to know how to invite others.
The commisioner of mental health Doug Varney gave the welcome to start the day. He told participants they had a voice that needed to be heard and heard loudly. He said it was a new voice, but a much needed and voice. By the end of the day the thing I was most sure of was it was a voice that would be heard.
Joe Rogers gave the keynote speech. He talked about the “power of peers.” Part of what he talked about was where we had come from, that fundamentally it has been a movement for human dignity for people often treated like they had none, like they deserved none and like they needed none. He talked about where things are now. He talked about the incredible flexibility of the peer support model and the many creative ways it was being implemented literally around the world. He left no doubt peer support can and should be an integral part of the mental health system. He left no doubt that the future of where it goes is ours to decide. And by the time he was done I felt as much hope as I have in a long time.
I wish you could have been there. I feel so lucky I was. This conference was born in the conversations of a few people who were originally told it could never happen. They chose not to be “realistic” and a dream became a reality for many. Many more gifted and committed people joined and the conference was given birth. It will be a hard act to follow, but we all feel this is only the first act of many.
Perhaps all of us know people who didnt make it. I know I do. Most of us at time have wondered if we were going to make it. Recovery can be real. For all of us. When we speak together, when we are a community we help to make it more real and more possible for so many people who long ago stopped believing in hope.