With media writing the script for drug and alcohol addiction, it can often be difficult for even the most well-intentioned health care providers to see past the stigma and empathize with real individuals seeking treatment.
This poses a significant problem for the treatment of addiction in particular where research suggests that lack of compassion in medical professionals can actually impede recovery. However, graphic medicine could give care providers access to patient-centered narratives of recovery and lead to compassionate addiction care.
What is graphic medicine?
Since the 1970s, many of the top medical schools across the United States have developed medical humanities programs. The medical humanities have use strategies of disciplines like English, History, and Philosophy to “humanize” medicine, fostering ethics and empathy in health care providers.
One branch of the medical humanities is graphic medicine, a subfield dealing with comics (referred to as graphic narratives) of patient and/or caretaker experience of an illness. Graphic medicine can cover a wide range of medical issues such as mental illness, sexually transmitted disease, and cancer.
With many different strategies of conveying experience at their disposal, graphic narratives have an added value over other types of storytelling. The use of dialogue, narration, and images and the potential to include multiple character perspectives lend to a richer understanding of practicing recovery.
In short, graphic medical narratives enable care providers to see treatment through the eyes of patients and their family members. Flipping the script of addiction recovery, in turn, allows for a more compassionate sense of what it is like to be practicing recovery.
A graphic booklist for addiction recovery care
Perhaps because of the continued stigma of drug and alcohol addiction, there are not as many graphic narratives on addiction and addiction recovery as there are in other areas of medicine. Nevertheless, graphic narratives have much to offer care providers with several graphic narratives closely related to addiction and addiction recovery, including:
- Sobriety: A Graphic Novel: a Gold Winner of the Midwest Book Award in which Daniel Maurer explores the process of recovery through the perspectives of five members of a Twelve Step group. Maurer himself is openly in recovery.
- “The Infinite Wait”: a graphic novella about Julia Wertz’s experience of addiction in a time of her life when she had also moved away from home and was diagnosed with Lupus.
- Drinking at the Movies: a graphic memoir on Wertz’s coming of age story, including the beginnings of her alcohol addiction.
- A Child’s Life and Other Stories: a collection of autobiographical stories by Phoebe Gloeckner on a childhood characterized by sex, drugs, rape, and AIDS.
- Asylum Squad: Sarafin’s continuation of an earlier work of graphic fiction, first started in a Toronto mental institution, about four apparently schizophrenic superheroes. The web series is partly based on Sarafin’s personal history of mental illness and addiction.
There are also many graphic novels on psychological disorders closely associated with addiction—for instance, Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me, a memoir on bipolar depression that touches on the high risk behavior of manic periods, and Psychiatric Tales: Eleven Graphic Stories about Mental Illness, written by a former health care assistant on an acute psychiatric ward that includes some references to addiction. Such texts have clear relevance to an addiction recovery care community even if they do not address the topic of addiction directly.
Practicing care with comics
As a part of training or professional development curricula, graphic medicine could greatly improve care providers’ understanding of addiction and translate to superior care. Graphic narratives written by likeminded and supportive peers, like Psychiatric Tales, could even give care providers a deeper understanding of their own professional lives and self-care practices. Not bad for a sit-down with a comic book!
We can start you on the road to recovery.