Recovery Cards Project brings healing words for the holidays


Step into a Hallmark store or any festive shop, and you'll find yourself surrounded by an overwhelming array of greeting cards. Birthdays, graduations, you name it – there's a card for every occasion.

In 2022, the global greeting card market hit a whopping $19.25 billion, as reported by Grand View Research.

Despite the immense financial and creative investment in the diverse world of cards, one significant area remains largely untouched – cards addressing recovery from addiction. This omission leaves the issue shrouded in stigma, making it seem distant and difficult to approach.

Colorado's Behavioral Health Administration (BHA) is stepping into the greeting card scene with its innovative Recovery Cards Project, an extension of the Lift the Label public awareness campaign. This initiative aims to fill the gap in the market by addressing sensitive subjects like addiction recovery and the grief of losing a loved one to addiction.

Through the project, local artists are empowered to craft and pen messages for those navigating addiction recovery and handling the often hushed-up topics like loss due to addiction.

Charlotte Whitney, the Deputy Communications Director at BHA, emphasizes the power of expressing sentiments through cards: "It takes the words out of you having to know them. It puts them in a card so you can share with somebody and give them that message of hope, recovery, or support they’re trying to solicit from you by stating they’re in recovery."

This meaningful project took flight in 2019, fueled by a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), enabling local artists to create these vital cards free of charge. The Recovery Cards Project website allows users to order cards covering various aspects of recovery without any cost.

According to Whitney, the impact has been substantial, with over 100,000 cards distributed in the past four years, involving the creative contributions of around 40 artists.

The spark for the Recovery Cards Project ignited from the stories consistently shared during public outreach by the Lift the Label team.

According to Charlotte Whitney, Deputy Communications Director at BHA, the team encountered many individuals expressing a common challenge: people often struggle to find the right words when someone discloses they're in recovery or shares the heartbreaking news of losing a loved one to an opioid overdose. This discomfort can result in conversations being abruptly halted, leaving the person sharing their experience without the support they seek.

Whitney explained, "It shuts the conversation down because the person on the receiving end just didn’t have the comfortability talking about the subject."

Denver artist Madison Magor, a contributor to this year's collection of cards, stressed the importance of breaking the silence. "That shutting down of communication due to a lack of comfort with the topic can make things worse," Magor said. Sometimes, all it takes is initiating that conversation.

"The card is really a catalyst for that," expressed Magor. "Sometimes when it’s harder to say what you’re feeling, it’s a little bit easier to write it… It’s really just a conduit to building a deeper connection with your loved ones where addiction isn’t stigmatized for you all to talk about it together."

According to Whitney, greeting cards remain a time-tested and thoughtful gesture.

Magor, in her contribution this year, focused on self-love for those in recovery, employing her digital art skills. Reflecting on her own struggles with shame and isolation during her young adult years of drug use, Magor emphasized the exacerbation of these feelings.

Reaching out, even through a simple greeting card, can play a significant role in reducing loneliness and dispelling negativity around the topic, as per Magor's perspective.

"Shame really fuels addiction, and addiction also thrives in isolation," she said. “Everything that we’ve been taught in our lives says you’re not supposed to do XYZ. You’re not supposed to do drugs and act like this… So, by destigmatizing it, you help people understand that it isn’t a disease.”

Helpful during the holidays

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlight December, January, and March as the most perilous months for drug-and-alcohol-related deaths in the United States. Since 1999, nearly 91,000 drug deaths have been recorded in December alone.

While the sentiments behind the designs of the Recovery Cards Project are intended for year-round use, often emphasizing self-love and reinforcement rather than tying to specific holidays or events, they prove to be particularly valuable during the holiday season, as noted by BHA.

“Everybody is navigating different situations," shared Whitney regarding holiday mental health challenges. "We all experience heightened depression and anxiety around the holidays.”

Acknowledging the strain on mental health during the holidays, the Denver Department of Public Health & Environment (DDPHE) issued a press release on December 14. It emphasized the importance of seeking support from various resources for those grappling with mental health and addiction issues during the season.

“Know that you are not alone, and help is available to those that need it," reassured DDPHE Executive Director and Public Health Administrator Bob McDonald in the release. “While it is our hope that everyone has a joyful holiday season, it’s easy to forget that this season can drain our mental health.”

The holiday season can be particularly challenging for those struggling with addiction or in recovery, as noted by Magor. Family gatherings, or the absence thereof, can exacerbate the difficulties.

“The holidays are such a family and community event. Not everyone has a strong community or support system like that. So, naturally, you have a bunch of people looking toward others like ‘everybody is in their own circle, and I don’t have anyone,'" she shared.

During events, people may reflect on relationships damaged by addiction, either their own or those of others, when individuals are absent, noted Whitney.

She also highlighted the impact of overdose deaths as a defining and somber factor during the season. “It is hard to go into the holidays remembering that there’s less people there than there was the year before," she remarked.

In such challenging times, something as simple as a card may play a role in easing pain or fostering a connection.

In addition to the Recovery Cards Project, BHA offers a comprehensive directory of resources for individuals facing addiction or mental health crises in Colorado. The detailed list can be accessed at

For those in the midst of an emergency mental health crisis, help is available through the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, a 24/7 crisis line staffed by trained crisis counselors.