RECOVER Project director steps down

Last modified: 1/11/2016 8:19:31 PM
GREENFIELD — Looking back on seven years with the Greenfield peer-to-peer addiction recovery community and 33 years in recovery, Linda Sarage sees changes in herself, in the community and in what might be termed the philosophy of addiction.

Sarage is retiring this month after serving as executive director of the RECOVER Project for seven years. She took the job after an early retirement from the Greenfield Public Schools to take care of her dying mother, and when she was offered the job by a friend who knew she was in recovery. Sarage said she had kept her addiction and recovery private, and knew that would end if she took the post.

Today she is proud to stand up and introduce herself in public as a woman in long-term recovery, knowing it might have an impact on someone listening, and she’s not alone. Anonymity, an old staple of addiction recovery, is losing ground to a different mode of thinking championed in the 2013 documentary “The Anonymous People.” Sarage said the film helped people in recovery wake up to the power an estimated 23 million voices would have if they spoke up.

Last October, she attended a rally in Washington, D.C., stood with thousands and heard the president speak about decriminalizing addiction and the need for expanded support, while lawmakers proposed new measures at the federal and state levels.

Massachusetts has a governor with a plan based on listening to what was needed and where the gaps are, she said. “And locally? The Opioid Task Force, with (Director) Marisa Hebble, who is a gem for us; we’ve got the support of the district attorney and the sheriff, the support of the court systems, truly changing the way that we look at addiction in our courts, in our jails, with the police, with the doctors,” Sarage said. “Things are changing.”

Perceptions are also changing. Where addiction was viewed as a personal failing, it is now widely recognized as a disease. Turn on the radio and you’ll hear an ad from the state’s new anti-stigma campaign. Sarage said the emphasis on addiction as a brain disease is partly why medical attention is improving, why new medications are more available, but she is concerned that the new thinking falls short, and misses a nuance that mattered to her in her early recovery.

“My concern is that that still keeps the focus of the problem in an individual ‘I’m the one with a brain disease, I’m the one who’s got the problem,’ and the truth about addiction is that it’s a societal problem,” Sarage said. “We’ve got a culture that’s an addictive culture, we’ve got policies and practices that alienate people.”

Addiction is a disease of “more,” the consumerist idea that we can never have enough, perpetuated in our culture, media and school system, she said. But that’s only part of it.

“I was told when I first was getting sober that my alcoholism was a cancer of the soul, and when the woman said that to me I knew that that’s what I had,” Sarage said. “It’s my perception of myself and my world and my place in it that really needed to change for recovery to happen and one day I turned around and realized that life was good and that I was a valuable member of society and I could be a daughter and I could be a mother and a sister, I could be a teacher, I could be a whole person. And then one day I could be director of the RECOVER Project.”

To Sarage, healing happens in relationships, and that’s what The RECOVER Project builds.

She won’t be leaving completely. She lives in Greenfield and will still be around. She also isn’t dropping her recovery advocacy mantle, continuing to work part time with other groups receiving Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grants for peer-to-peer services. That will be very part-time she said. At 63, she feels it’s age-appropriate, and time to slow down. Retirement for her means more time to spend with her grandchildren and for coffee with friends.

The work itself might seem enough to send anyone out the door, with the ever mounting losses and an apparently unbeatable problem, but Sarage sees both sides. Over 33 years in recovery she has seen many who didn’t make it, dead or imprisoned, but she has also seen those who did make it, and there are more of those.

“The important thing is that people know that recovery is possible and they can find resources here at the RECOVER Project, and that will continue beyond me,” Sarage said. There will also continue to be a pot of coffee in the kitchen at 68 Federal St. The new director remains to be chosen, but Sarage is pleased with the selection and confident in the future.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: 
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257


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