This is an important photo in my recovery journey and the advocacy stuff I do.
Taken at Behavioral Health Day at the New Mexico State Capitol Building (aka “The Roundhouse”) in 2012, this was my first full term as president of DBSA Albuquerque. The photo is of me (obviously) and Dr. Chris Morris, then with Optum Health.
DBSA Albuquerque had a table for the event and Chris dropped by to say hi. When the crowd thinned out a bit, Chris asked to have a private word with me.
By this point early on in peer advocacy, I was fairly well-networked and fairly well-known as a peer advocate. And, it was already a thing I was torquing off prominent stakeholders who’d been in the community much longer than the two years I’d been around.
So Chris pulled me aside and said, “Steve, you know you’re making people mad and upset, right?”
Sadly, I knew this. And it was a mystery as to why.
Chris then said, “Why should anyone be mad at you? What are you doing wrong? You create new support groups, you hold peer focus groups for advisement, you bring peers to meetings so they can have a direct voice, you set up peer education events, you write opinion pieces and letters to anyone you feel can help peers, you hold community education developed and presented by peers. Why should anyone be angry with you? You’re not doing anything but trying to help peers be empowered.
“This is the reason: You are threatening people’s power, money, or both. You are outside their influence and they can’t control you. This is why people are angry with you.”
Wow. A bit of a gut-punch to hear that. I really was naive early on.
Chris then offered advice which is a cornerstone to how I approach advocacy to this day. Chris said this:
“Don’t stop doing things your way. If you do, then you’ll put yourself where others can control you … and stop you.”
These words mean everything to me and are a constant reminder to keep straight on what my friends are saying and the goals I hope to accomplish. Chris’ words are also a reminder of how limiting bureaucracy is and how building new, novel solutions to peer needs is more efficient and successful than trying to fix broken systems.
Chris’ words also guided me to the very foundation of how I view behavioral health advocacy:
The enemy of innovation is asking for permission.
And, yes, I still piss people off. And, yes, people still try to stop me.
Dr. Chris Morris is a hero of mine. With complete sincerity. Thank you, Chris.