R.A.W. Luncheons: The Opposite of Addiction is Connection

Alicja Carter
December 3, 2022 / 5 mins read

When was the last time you felt connected to someone? Maybe when sharing coffee with a friend, cooking a meal with your family, or petting your dog after work. Congratulations! Having strong social ties can add years to your life.

Unfortunately, 2022 research from Cigna and Morning Consult finds that more than half (58%) of U.S. adults consider themselves to be lonely. Loneliness can be physically, mentally, and emotionally dangerous for anyone, specially those suffering from an addiction or other mental health conditions.

Cesar Gamboa states, “Many people with behavioral health conditions are not fully engaged in their communities, either through personal relationships, social events, or civic activities. They often remain socially isolated and excluded even though their recovery would be greatly enhanced by social connection (Addiction Now quoting SAMHSA).

In an article entitled, Can Connection Cure Addiction?, Johann Hari writes, “Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find—the whir of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because they couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.”

Gateway’s Wellness Program recognizes that creating and supporting opportunities for all people to experience authentic social connection is absolutely necessary for people to begin to “Expect Hope.” These relationships, which create a sense of belonging, become a foundation for accessing resources, sustaining recovery, and exploring greater well-being in other areas of life, including one’s higher purpose.

Gateway’s R.A.W. (Recovery Action Wellness) Luncheons have been one dynamic example of many people working together to break down the stigma of addiction and bridge the gap to community. R.A.W Luncheons, originally called Wellness Lunches, got their start on June 24th, 2015 with 6 people in attendance. The Shawnee Public Library, Shawnee Senior Center, and Mission Shawnee were all gracious hosts throughout the years, reaching an average attendance of 55 people by the end of 2019. These lunches have always been less of a meeting and more of an experience with the primary focus being sharing local resources and making connections, eating a delicious and affordable lunch, and listening to a personal story of recovery.

When the Coronavirus Pandemic made its way onto the scene in 2020, Gateway pivoted from in-person gatherings to virtual Connection Calls and continued to do so throughout early 2022. An average of 25 people joined each call and people continued to cultivate healthy bonds and spread the message of hope in recovery.

In 2022, the planning team decided that it was time to gather together again in person. All five of the R.A.W Luncheons were held at Life.Church, Shawnee, between 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. The luncheons, which typically hosted between 100 and 150 individuals with projected growth for 2023, were open to the entire community, which included Gateway staff, patients, graduates, family members, volunteers, community organizations and individuals, and sponsor representatives.

Gateway and community volunteers were essential to planning and carrying out the vision. Businesses and organizations such as First United Bank, Shawnee Milling Company, SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital - Shawnee, Gateway’s Community Service Team, and Citizen Potawatomi Nation, sponsored the cost of the food so that money was never a factor in someone coming to participate. Those that attended expressed feeling seen, hopeful, and a necessary part of something deeply important. Additional sentiments include:

  • “The R.A.W. Luncheons allow me to be present with people in the community that I would not be able to connect with otherwise.” -Treatment Staff
  • “These are a great resource for staying informed about community resources that can improve my recovery and wellness. They are also a great way to expand my personal healing community.” -Person in Recovery
  • “It feels good to celebrate and encourage others. We are all working towards wellness in our own specific way, but still together.” -Gateway Volunteer

Gateway looks forward to its continued partnership with Life.Church to host four R.A.W. Luncheons in 2023. The 2023 dates are still to be announced. If you or your organization would like to team up with us this year, we would be honored to work alongside you. You are welcome to participate as an attendee, volunteer, resource table, or sponsor. Please email Alicja Carter at acarter@gatewaytoprevention.org or text 432-2750 to share how you’d like to be involved. Your partnership makes it possible to create a moment in time where everyone present can feel a sense of belonging, purpose, and hope. The good that flows from that can never be measured.