Event: The Family Recovery Conference, November 1
I am mother of a 25-year-old in recovery and the founder of The Family Recovery Conference. I created this conference because it’s an event and a resource I wish I’d had when I was starting my family’s recovery journey.
In the beginning, I was scared, confused, and sad. I felt extremely alone when my oldest child was deep into his addiction to prescription drugs. I understood that he was suffering, but I didn’t know how to properly help him. What I was doing wasn’t working. The message I was getting told me to go against my true mother-nature and disconnect from him completely.
In the summer of 2015, we intervened with love, compassion and professional treatment. We didn’t wait for an imaginary “rock bottom.” Our family defined for ourselves our threshold for pain. When we hit it, we moved with swift, strong, empowered action.
On our journey to recovery, I sought answers, solutions, and actions that would change the way we were treating addiction and substance use in our family. I wanted to end the suffering for myself, my son, and my other children. I turned my face towards recovery. I put my faith in the power of love, knowledge, and connection. I sought help from people who were living in recovery and professionals in the field of addiction medicine.
The help I got from those people healed us all and showed me how to create an environment that supported recovery in our family and laid the foundation for a beautiful life.
I kept sticky notes on the wall in my closet to to track what was working to keep us connected, what patterns I was seeing, what I knew for sure, what wasn’t clear, what actions weren’t working, what I believed, and what I was feeling. I wrote down what I learned from professionals, books, and blogs.
At the same time, I sought healing for myself. I added routines, structure, wellness practices, and therapies which are found in treatment programs. I learned about trauma, brain science, and family history. I stayed connected to my son while strengthening and healing myself from the impact and trauma of addiction in our family.
We felt embraced and supported in our struggle with active addiction. The recovery community showed its face and its full power during the first-ever Unite To Face Addiction Event in October 2015. That event showed me that I was indeed surrounded by people devoted who were living in recovery. It was an infusion of strength and power. Recovery was not only possible, but probable. Soon after, I was invited to a Family Education Meeting in Richmond, Virginia. Professionals, providers and families left the presentations with actionable solutions, a feeling of connection, and better understanding of how to help the person you love and yourself. It was exactly what I was searching for.
My understanding of recovery evolved as we healed as a family. I benefited from following the guidance I received from professionals, healthy peers, and a spiritual guide. I devoted myself to whole family wellness.
I feel that the millions of families struggling need better access to the amazing, intelligent, wise, innovative people driving recovery. By connecting with other recovery leaders, I hope to help others by sharing what I learned and experienced as a mother of a young person in recovery. I know that during the active years of my son’s illness, I felt like a hostage in my own home. I was unable to go places or even travel for fear of that something would happen in my absence. Now, I am no longer alone.
This past July, following the ARHE (Association for Recovery in Higher Education) ARS (Association for Recovery Schools) Conference, I felt called to create something for other families of recovery. I wanted to provide an experience as abundant, educational, informational, and connected as the one that helped me. I am a big believer in the “meet people where they are” philosophy. I felt a virtual event would be the best way to reach the most families, make attending easily accessible, and have the most impact.
I reached out to the people who’d had impact on our family recovery by providing treatment, support, guidance, knowledge, wisdom, solutions and massive infusions of love. I asked if they would allow me to amplify their voices. They said yes! The Family Recovery Conference was born.
This November 1, the first-ever Family Recovery Conference comes home, to you, where families live. The event’s 32 speakers and 30 hours will help with family healing, guidance, and answers to the question “What do I do?” Families will have the whole month of November to listen, learn, heal, connect, and feel loved, supported, and end the suffering.
It is our mission to change the way addiction is treated. We’re sharing the message that recovery is possible. We empower families to walk the path of recovery together, all the way to the other side.
Recovery is not only possible. It’s probable when we are together.
How Bad Was My Heroin Use? Let’s Run The Numbers.
Eight years ago, I was a smart, spoiled high school student, going through a typical breakup. On the rebound, I met a guy who was addicted to opiates. We began seeing each other and I began using opiates regularly.
I thought I was falling in love with the guy, but our relationship was actually based on me, relying on his drugs. I spent that year trying to get through school, losing friends, and making up excuses for my withdrawal. I had a lot of “colds” and missed school. The relationship became abusive, but I stayed.
I skipped 11th grade and graduated a year early, while still using. I began partying heavily. I relied on opiates through everything. I got pregnant with my daughter in the summer of 2013 and started college, only to drop out.
During my pregnancy, I worked at a gas station and quit using all substances. After I had my daughter, I began going out a lot and used opiates again. Within a month, I was using everyday. I became a CNA. Even though I was making better money, it went nowhere.
After a few months, I began shooting heroin and engaged in illegal activities to support my addiction. I lived in a car that was unregistered and unlicensed. After getting deep into the lifestyle, I quit my job, stole a lot of money, and went to Florida with my boyfriend. I cycled through 14 rehabs there, was drugged by a stranger, saw someone get shot, and ended up watching people overdose. I witnessed so many things I can’t talk about.
I spent weeks sleeping under the tri-rail in Miami, fighting with my boyfriend, and constantly getting robbed. I came home after six months and relapsed again. Heroin wasn’t my only problem. I had a slew of charges to face. I stole $50,000 dollars through bad checks, picked up a possession charge, and was caught driving multiple times without a license. I pled guilty to my boyfriend’s charges for fraudulence, conspiracy, and stealing. Three days before I picked up on my warrant, I prayed to God to either let me die or intervene so heavily that I couldn’t screw it up.
I felt I had no choice. I went to jail on six warrants after speeding to the jail to meet a bail bondsman for my boyfriend. I was put in jail on a $60,000 bail for three months and detoxed off a two-gram-a-day habit with 32 charges over my head in two states.
Although I was sick, I was free. My addiction couldn’t reach me, nor could my boyfriend. My prayers were answered. I was sent to rehab. I went to a halfway house, where I started working the 12 Steps, became a member of a home group, and helped run the house. I met a lot of beautiful people who taught me to sit down and shut up in meetings.
My final month of treatment, I took an hour-long bus ride and applied to take the entrance exam for a nursing program. After a year, I came home to my beautiful daughter, got a job as a waitress and got accepted into the nursing program. My nursing assistant certificate was given back to me after proving myself to the state. I got my license back and never missed any appointments or meetings.
This May, I graduated from the court system and had all of my charges dropped. So many people wrote letters to the court for me. I stood there in tears while a judge decided my record would no longer define the monster hiding inside me. He gave me a new chance at life.
I am now working as a nurse at a place that fired me based on my background check. Everyone at work knows my story and holds me accountable. I have real friends and, more importantly, a relationship with my daughter.
I lost two very close friends to addiction, but they both helped me get where I am. Sometimes I wonder why it was them and not me, but here I am.
In September, I will celebrate two years in recovery and go back to school to advance my nursing career.
You can do it. Even if you did heroin with dirty needles, even if you overdosed in a public bathroom like I did. You don’t have to die. You might gain weight, lose friends, feel insecure, get in another bad relationship, lose a job, and maybe even relapse—but you can do it. It gets better. Just keep coming back.
Biking for Recovery
My name is Jim Downs, aka BIG JIM. My story doesn’t fit in 800 words. I don’t think anyone can fit a lifetime of chaos and insanity in 800 words. I had 34 years of active addiction. I now am going on 3 years in recovery. What a difference my life is now compared to then. After graduating a free, faith-based 16-month Recovery Program, I left out the front doors a changed man with my new found intended purpose in life, to reach others in active addiction and help them find sobriety through a relationship with Jesus Christ. In 2017, I walked across America bringing Awareness to the Epidemic of Addiction and the message of hope in Jesus Christ.
It was a huge success. The walk was the first thing I ever started and completed. It was a healing walk for me personally as I discovered who I was and what kind of grit I was made of. That walk did so much more than I ever imagined. It encouraged thousands to change their life. It encouraged hundreds to seek help and find treatment. More people than can be counted now have a special relationship with Jesus Christ. All because I went for a walk and shared my life story. All because I was impressed by God to do it.
Now, God has stepped up to me again. And when I say this I mean I have an uncontrollable urge to do it again. After weeks of prayer, reaching out to the friends and followers of Big Jims Walk, I am impressed to do something that not many people have ever done. Starting Jan 1, 2019, from south Florida, I am going to bicycle not across America, but around America bringing the message of hope in Jesus Christ, and bringing awareness to the epidemic of addiction. I will be biking to each state capital of the lower 48 states. An almost 14,000-mile journey that I pray will save even more lives from addiction, encourage communities to come together and fight for their loved ones, to educate and destroy the stigma that is so rooted in addiction. I want this ride to impact the nation in a way that will shake the foundation addiction stands on and saves lives and saves souls.
There are 4 objectives we want this ride to complete.
- Bring awareness to the epidemic of addiction
- Bring the message of hope in Jesus Christ.
- Bethel Film Productions will be filming a full-length documentary movie that is not focused on the journey, but the people I meet along the journey that share their powerful testimony on where they were during addiction, how they came about to reach out for help, and how their lives has changed since they have been in recovery, as well as what they are doing to stay in recovery. The vision is to see this documentary in every recovery program across America giving hope to those in recovery by hearing raw and real stories from those who struggled themselves.
- To raise the funds to buy land to build the first of many CAMP REDEMPTION. This is a free, long-term, faith-based recovery program for men, women, and families so families can stay together and heal together rather than be torn apart.
On a personal note, I want everyone to know this is not about me BIG JIM. This is about GOD and how he can take anyone and change their life, and deliver them from addiction. This is about saving lives. This is about education and making a difference. This is about the power of love and compassion. I pray you will all follow along at www.bigjimswalk.com or on the WAY OUT PODCAST at www.wayoutcast.com where a weekly update, announcements of events, and locations of speaking engagements will be announced.
I hope to see you all on the road.
Instagram Supports #Recovery
If you’re looking for #heroin on social media, you will get some #help instead. Last week, Instagram rolled out a new “get support” pop-up for users who search for opioid or other substance-specific hashtags.
When you search for opioid-related hashtags, Instagram will show a ‘get support’ pop-up. This is a new option that can offer support to people who are in a vulnerable place and may be open to information, help, or resources for their substance use disorder.
Social media is a powerful, effective tool for connecting people with substance use disorder with resources because it is everywhere: in your pocket, in your hand, and always turned on. A hashtag helps resources connect with people where they are: a super strategic form of harm reduction. Unlike brick and mortar resources, such as overdose prevention sites, the internet is open 24/7. There are low barriers to entry. Also, due to the stigma of addiction, many people are more comfortable seeking ‘anonymous’ or confidential support for their problem. Offering a pop-up allows people to accept help passively, instead of having to “cry for help.”
Instagram connects people with recovery support using their language of choice about substances and recovery. Rather than use institutional, scientific, or criminalized terms for substances and substance use, hashtags help people connect using words and terms they already understand. Not everyone identifies as an “alcoholic” or a “person with opioid use disorder.” However, if someone has an unhealthy relationship with substances, it may show up in their search history.
Instagram’s new pop-up launched in the United States last week. Instagram plans to eventually roll out the new feature globally so that people around the world can receive instant support, when they need it, wherever they are.
To trigger the pop-up, users search for hashtags like #opioid or #uppers. A menu will appear that says: “Can we help? If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid or substance misuse, find ways to get free and confidential treatment referrals, as well as information about substance use, prevention, and recovery.”
The pop-up’s menu includes three options: Get Support, See Posts Anyway, and Cancel. If the person chooses to Get Support, they’re directed to a help page with more resources about recovery. The help page includes the phone numbers for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) National Helpline, SAMHSA’s treatment facility locator, and Facing Addiction with NCADD’s Addiction Resource Hub.
For recovery resources to work, they must be everywhere that substance use is. Instagram’s new pop-up is making recovery #ubiquitous and definitely more #accessible.
Coping With Chronic Pain
I was given narcotics by a medical doctor after my stroke. I had experienced pain in my lower back and right leg. This was after I fell many times. I was chair-bound and rarely active. I took one pill four times a day and kept getting refills.
During this time I fell again. Falling wasn’t usually a big problem, except I fell in the bathroom. It is a very small space. I fell back against a vanity and broke my pelvis in six places. I was sent home on OxyContin and Norco, which is hydrocodone bitartrate with acetaminophen.
I was taking them several times a day. I was able to get off the OxyContin. Because I cannot get out of my chair, I had to deal without the OxyContin. Then the government decided to clamp down on the doctors who were prescribing opioids.
Then again I was weaned off the Norco without any help. Since I was unable to get up to get my own pills, I got off them.
Meanwhile, I was dealing with my disability. I had been very active. In the past, I worked full time as a dietitian and had been at one hospital for 40 years.
If you want to get off opioids, you can, even if you are paralyzed. It is hard for anyone, but addiction is even more difficult to deal with and is harmful to your soul.
Medication Is Great For Treatment, But Keep It Away From Kids
The good news: more people with substance use disorder are able access medication-assisted treatment (MAT), such as methadone and buprenorphine. The bad news: a new study notes that young children are exposed to the medications, which has led to thousands of unintentional poisonings. Correlating with the increased availability of MAT, child exposure to these medications has also increased by 215% in three years.
Dr. Jason Kane, an associate professor of pediatrics and critical care at University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital told CNN that the exposure was accidental, not a sign of a new epidemic. “This burden we’re putting on the healthcare system is entirely preventable,” Kane told CNN. “These are children who do not need a hospital if not but for the fact that they were accidentally poisoned by medications that were not designed to be taken by them.”
According to the study, which focused on 11,275 children who’d been exposed to MAT, “the overall exposure rate per 1 million increased by 215.6% from 2007 to 2010 (from 6.4 to 20.2), followed by a 42.6% decline from 2010 to 11.6 in 2013, before increasing by 8.6% to 12.6 in 2016.” That increase mirrors the climbing rates of substance dependency, and the number of people seeking treatment. More MAT prescriptions means more potential accidents, which is why parents and other adults need to be extremely careful about securing medication.
The study suggested that, since about 2.1 million people in the United States have an opioid use disorder and 11.5 million are reported as misusing prescription opioids, it makes sense that the number of children and adolescents who are exposed to buprenorphine will continue to rise.
“You’d be hiding under a rock if you didn’t realize there’s a big opioid crisis going on, and this is one of the treatments for that addiction,” said the study’s author Henry Spiller, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center. “A number of these programs are trying to expand to accommodate a lot of these opiate-addicted patients, so I would expect to see more of this.”
The study was careful to distinguish between accidental use and intentional use by young people. It’s one thing for a kindergartener to get their hands on a few buprenorphine pills that are left on a coffee table. It’s another for a teenager to deliberately take it from the family medicine cabinet. According to the study, adolescents made up just 11% of total exposures, but 77% of those exposures were intentional (with 12% suspected suicides). More than 25% of adolescents used buprenorphine with at least one other substance.
CNN pointed out that there was a gender divide within the deliberate MAT misuse. “Though more than 60% of the buprenorphine abuse and/or misuse was in male adolescents, female adolescents accounted for almost 60% of the suspected suicides within this group, the authors note.”
“It was surprising that adolescents were actually using it for abuse. It’s very specific,” Spiller said. “You have to be in a program to get this. It’s carefully managed. It’s not widely available. … It is available on the street, but essentially, the majority of this is from these management programs and someone’s in therapy, someone in the house, them or a family member.”
Keeping medications away from children is important. Common sense precautions that can help protect kids include include disposing of any unused medications, keeping child-proof caps on containers and leaving medications in their properly labeled boxes or bottles. The approval of a buprenorphine subcutaneous implant in 2016 may also reduce children’s access: patients with an implant would not have pills for children to get into.
Kane told CNN, “Seven children under the age of 6 died as a result of an accidental poisoning from this drug, which was present in someone’s home, prescribed with the goal of making someone else better. That’s a striking thing for me.”
From Spoon To Fork, A Recovery Restaurant in Kentucky
A restaurant in Kentucky is showing that people in recovery make excellent employees, and strongly benefit from work-assisted recovery support. DV8 Kitchen, a bakery, and brunch joint in Lexington proves how partnering with the recovery community translates to commercial success.
DV8 Kitchen was started by Rob and Diane Perez after the restaurant owners realized the impact the drug epidemic had on their staff. Their top server was using heroin in the bathroom of their fine dining restaurant Saul Good Restaurant & Pub. A manager died in jail after being convicted of trying to obtain prescription pills illegally. Other employees overdosed and died.
The Perezes told The New York Times they realized that they had lost 13 employees to addiction over 10 years and that half the cases were related to opioid drugs. “They were not fired,” Mr. Perez said. “They were dead.”
The restaurant industry is known for its high rates of alcohol and substance use, but there were clearly other factors at play as well. Kentucky has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. In 2016, the state reported nearly 24 opioid-related deaths for every 100,000 people. That’s almost double the national rate, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Overdoses are common, too. Lt. Jessica Bowman, a public information officer for the Lexington Fire Department told The New York Times that there hasn’t been a single day since July 2016 when paramedics have not administered Narcan, the lifesaving drug for opioid overdoses, to at least one person.
DV8 Kitchen aims to change that. The restaurant, which was started with $300,000 by local people who support recovery, is within walking distance of the area’s three largest rehabilitation centers. The menu is breakfast, lunch, and baked goods: sandwiches, salads, eggs, and pastries are made on site. (DV8’s cinnamon rolls, which are made with croissant dough, have drawn a cult following in Lexington.) There is no dinner service since, as the Perezes pointed out, 18 of their 23 employees attend evening recovery support groups. However, serving two full menus a day is plenty to teach the universal skills of food service. Employees greet guests, bus tables, make brioche buns from scratch, and learn cooking techniques such as sous vide and line prep.
The restaurant’s effect in the 9 months since it opened has been profound. Jerod Thomas, the chief executive of Shepherd’s House, told The New York Times that he connected people in recovery with different job opportunities, but DV8 Kitchen was the only one who wanted to take an active role in treatment. Other owners “may give somebody a second chance, but that’s not their motive,” he said. “Their motive is to get the work done. Rob wants to get the work done, too, he’s just invested in offering support, and being a part of the treatment team.”
DV8 employees attend mandatory Tuesday workshops in the restaurant. “Lawyers explain how to get criminal convictions expunged from records, accountants talk personal finance and professional athletes discuss teamwork.” The staff has an incredibly low turnover rate, and there are plenty of applicants eager to step into the kitchen.
The first-rate food, homemade pastries, and excellent service put DV8 Kitchen on the map and highlight the great work people in recovery can do when they’re given post-treatment support.
Ouita Michel, the chef and an owner of Holly Hill Inn, told The New York Times she would love to hire recovering people, but only after they worked at DV8. “That’s why the work DV8 is doing is so valuable.”
Recovery Is For Families, Too
I was quietly sober until my son needed treatment for addiction. (Yes, it is a family disease). My son was denied treatment. As a willing patient, he was turned away.
That ended my quiet anonymity. I joined an advocacy group, Recovery Advocacy In Saratoga (RAIS), and found my voice. I have joined with other warriors to share the good news. Recovery is real, recovery is fun, and recovery gives us everything.
I have also become an active advocate to increase access to treatment. We must get healthcare to the people who need it. We must start opening hearts and doors instead of letting providers turn us away. We must change the system so we are admitted and given treatment instead of stabilized and discharged.
If I could change just one law or one requirement, I would destroy the portion of the Controlled Substance Act that limits methadone and other addiction treatments to addiction centers.
We deserve to recover. It is a long struggle that happens one patient and one hospital at a time. But it is a struggle we must win.
Dental Care Represents Huge Gap in Recovery Services
Addiction is An Illness With Bite. To Recover, We Need Healthcare That is More Than Skin Deep.
Dental care is an overlooked but critical recovery service. Sustained recovery can erase track marks, jaundice, and abscesses. Teeth, however, don’t rebound easily from regular exposure to substances like alcohol or heroin.
Oral health may be the key to help people with substance use disorder reenter society. But many struggle to make dental care a priority: it’s a complex problem, complicated by factors that hinder access to dental care.
Most treatment for addiction emphasizes intervention, not long-term support like dental care. Substance use disorder is most commonly treated in its acute stages. Prevention focuses on overdose prevention, not whole person care. In the current model, any care beyond immediate, life-threatening issues is not well defined.
Jessie Glenn, a board member at Oregon Health and Science University’s Richmond Family Medicine Clinic in Portland, Oregon, said, “Dental care is one of the hardest things for low-income people to access and people struggling with addiction often need it the most. Dental care needs to be a priority. People can die of abscesses. There are obviously a host of issues that plague people with substance abuse issues, but prioritizing physical health, safety, and the promise of support is a good starting place.”
The Richmond location is a safety net clinic that serves a high-risk, low income population. Most patients, Glenn says, pay very low fees for services. Many services are free. The goal is not only providing affordable dental care, but also changing the healthcare model to patient-centered care, which includes oral and dental health.
For people in recovery, staying sober is the priority. Dental care often comes last on the recovery to-do list because it is too expensive, hard to find, or simply not as important as other needs, like paying rent or going back to school.
Broken teeth and advanced tooth decay are commonly reported dental issues for people with substance use problems. Substances like heroin, meth, and cocaine are cut with corrosive ingredients that actually melt the enamel off your teeth, leaving blackened stumps. Smoking crack can make your teeth brittle, and stain them as yellow as a wolf’s.
With good insurance, some people repair their teeth with little out-of-pocket cost: one person, after a decade of drug use, was able to get crowns on all his top teeth a decade ago. He estimated that the crowns cost $2,000 each. The entire procedure was $28,000. Now, those crowns have started to show signs of wear, so he’s thinking of switching to implants—which will cost thousands more.
For many, undergoing the treatment process is prohibitive for people who can’t have opioid painkillers. Invasive procedures like fillings, crowns, bone grafts, and implants require pain management. For some people, refusing medication is a principle: they refuse any mind-altering “solids, liquids, or gases.” For others, it’s a precaution against reawakening their addiction. They’ll avoid anything that may put their recovery at risk, including care that will improve life in the long run.
Yet, the consequences of not repairing substance-related tooth damage are serious, too. In addition to ongoing oral health problems, a person with severely damaged teeth misses out on social benefits, too. A 2012 study showed a strong correlation between a healthy-looking smile and better social status. 73 percent of Americans say they’re “more likely to trust someone with a nice smile than someone with a good job, outfit, or car.” The same study showed Americans perceive people with straight teeth as 45 percent more likely to get a job, when competing with someone who has a similar skill set and experience but crooked teeth.
Feelings of shame were linked, in another recent study, to depression and addiction. Severely damaged teeth, or an appearance that evokes drug use, can lower self esteem and actually lead to a relapse.
Dr. Beverlee Cutler, Dental Director at OHSU’s Russell Street Clinic, said, “The decayed or damaged teeth are a visible identifier of past bad choices. The person may feel shame or grief. They might have had braces or expensive dental work in the past, and feel embarrassed at having to get teeth pulled,” Cutler said. “We see a lot of the classic ‘meth mouth,’ with black decay at the gum line. You know immediately from the appearance and health of the teeth that there’s a history of substance abuse.”
Cutler said, “To repair years of damage, the treatment plan is going to mean lots of appointments. We don’t just fill holes. The first cleaning will take four visits. After that, it’s one appointment for temporary fillings, and then another four to six appointments for permanent fillings, or a partial or bridge. The person must follow through and do their part. They have to be willing to work on their oral hygiene every day, just like they work on their recovery.”
Every person who’d undergone extensive dental repairs said that pain is worth it. The promise of a new life, and a chance to start over, they said, was priceless. With luck, and persistence, the investment in a new smile—and their hard-won sobriety—will last a lifetime.
Cutler said, “Our approach is like the 12 Steps. Getting people in the chair is the first step. Until someone’s ready to take ownership, the best dentist in the world can’t help them.” That first step is often the biggest, for people in recovery. Yet, for those who stay the course and have access to dental care, the rewards can be significant.
Partners of the Month – June
This month’s Partners Facing Addiction post features a prevention and support program in Tampa Bay, Florida as well as a recovery music group based in Arizona. If you’d like your organization to be considered for an upcoming Partners Facing Addiction post, answer a few short questions here.
Sober Motor Company
Sober Motor Company is an Arizona-based group that focuses on bringing music and positive messages about recovery to people who are incarcerated. The group is headed by musician Jay Dow, who has been in recovery since 2015. Jay’s personal story of recovery and his experiences with homelessness, substance use disorder, and incarceration inspire and support people who are coping with similar issues.
Jay is passionate about sharing his music with people. He performs his recovery music workshop “Music, Truth & Recovery” each month on a volunteer basis, for free, at six state-funded Arizona inpatient rehab facilities. He performs to over 500 people who are in their first 30 days of sobriety. As a professional musician who has spent decades touring with other famous performers and has played to crowds of thousands, Jay knows how to connect with his audience. He’s using his gift to help others.
He says, “There is a permanent recovery from addiction and it is time to get that message to the world so addicts can stop dying and going to prison for being sick when there is a solution. Enough is enough.”
Recently, Sober Motor Company completed filming eight of Jay’s music groups, performing live. They are also filming interviews with people in sustained recovery who served prison time and are now sober and leading successful lives in recovery. The interviews focus on people who are helping others recover through 12-Step sponsorship, working in treatment centers, owning or managing sober living facilities, and carrying 12-Step recovery meetings and workshops into Arizona prisons.
The footage of Jay’s music groups and the interviews are currently airing in some prisons and will be shared in all of the prisons in Arizona on Prion TV. The programming aims “to bring the message of recovery to inmates struggling with addiction behind the wire.” The next goal is to expand the project nationally, so inmates all over the country can have access to positive, recovery-friendly media.
Jay hopes to connect with other Facing Addiction partners who bring recovery support into prisons, or readers who are prison staff. If you’re interested in bringing Sober Motor Company to inmates in recovery, Jay can be contacted by email.
Messengers Of Recovery Awareness (MORA)
Messengers Of Recovery Awareness joined Facing Addiction after leaders Terry Coffey and Cary Fletcher attended the Unite to Face Addiction March in 2015. MORA’s main goal is to diminish the stigma by talking about recovery. Terry and Cary say, “We believe that the world needs to see more of the upside of recovery—not just the downside of addiction.”
By working with other members of the Facing Addiction action network, MORA gets support in its goal. The network connects them with others who are also working to save lives and make the world a better place.
MORA has two initiatives that it’s working to develop in the Tampa area. First, they want to enhance and assist with a “Your Life Matters” campaign. This is an initiative started by a firefighter in Sarasota who has been distributing printed postcards with recovery resources for people in need. The firefighter gives these cards to people he assists on rescue missions. MORA will help to distribute these cards and this message throughout the community. Second, MORA plans to assist with and attend a recovery march in Tallahassee.
In the past, MORA has hosted some community events to diminish the stigma of addiction and promote recovery. 850 people attended one community night, with special guest Chris Herren. Next, Terry and Cary are working toward another, larger event called Strike Out Addiction. They hope to bring Darryl Strawberry to speak at the Yankees Spring Training field in Tampa.
MORA focuses on mutual support, education, and positive models of recovery. On May 24, 2018, they hosted a Communities Project Training Program for Tampa Bay. About 40 people attended. Both the Hillsborough County Sheriff and the State Attorney came and spoke about their commitments to help MORA’s efforts to fight addiction in the community.
The people who attended the training worked or volunteered in all areas related to addiction: prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery. The training was extremely beneficial and connected like-minded people. That supported information sharing, and people working in different areas of recovery were able to educate one another. For example, “in spite of some of the coalitions among the areas of treatment, there some from the prevention arenas that had no idea that there were so many sober living homes in our area and really knew nothing about it.” The training helped unite people from different perspectives, focusing on connecting instead of competing.
MORA’s positive message and commitment to sharing recovery with everyone is inspiring people in Florida. They’re also working with local representatives to address policy changes that will support people with substance use disorder.
A New 12-Step Group
A new 12-Step group called Medication Assisted Recovery Anonymous (MARA) supports people whose recovery includes medications like buprenorphine or methadone. Formed in response to stigma and discrimination in the rooms of other 12-Step groups, MARA is growing quickly.
According to Slate, the stigma against people with substance disorder persists even in the recovery community. People who do not use abstinence-only methods, and incorporate medications or harm reduction methods into their recovery, can face backlash from their community. Slate said, “patients with opioid use disorder frequently receive pressure from family members, 12-step groups, and outdated, punitive policies in treatment centers, recovery houses, and court systems to not take these medications at all, or to stop taking them before they’re ready, according to addiction specialists who treat them.”
MARA was formed in response to stigma against medication-assisted recovery (MAR). The issue isn’t the Steps, members say: it’s the breakdown in group traditions. Although fellowships like Alcoholics Anonymous have no opinion on “outside issues,” which includes medications and other medical issues like psychiatric care, the members of that fellowship may have personal prejudices against MAR. That can be problematic for people who need methadone to stay sober, but also need the support of a home group of other recovering people.
Also, not all fellowships have the same position on MAR. A 2016 pamphlet published by Narcotics Anonymous said, “By definition, medically assisted therapy indicates that medication is being given to people to treat addiction. In NA, addiction is treated by abstinence and through application of the spiritual principles contained in the Twelve Steps of Narcotics Anonymous.”
Opposition to MAR runs contrary to medical opinions and scientific research, which shows that medication is “undeniably the most effective treatment for opioid use disorder, according to the evidence. Research has repeatedly shown that these medications reduce opioid addiction–related deaths by 50 percent or more, increase treatment retention, and decrease infectious disease transmission and criminal activity.”
Since abstinence is not possible, inevitable, or even desirable for everyone, medication is one solution for people who need relief from substance use disorder. Dr. Sarah Wakeman, the medical director of the Substance Use Disorder Initiative at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Slate that much of the prejudice against people who use MAR is due to confusion between physiological dependence and addiction. Instead of comparing methadone with heroin, or saying that someone taking a prescribed, therapeutic dose of lorazepam for anxiety disorder, we need to understand substance use disorder as an illness.
“I think it’s heartbreaking because if a person had cancer or had any other chronic illness and they were valiantly managing it, people in their lives would be supporting them and encouraging them to take their medication every day to stay healthy. The need to keep it a secret or feel like it’s something shameful when people are doing really well on treatment is challenging and can really undermine someone’s recovery,” Wakeman said.
MARA meetings are growing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Abilene, Texas and are reportedly well-attended, with 40 or more people at each group. The members said that they felt included and accepted. Medications varied from medical marijuana to prescribed painkillers to opioid treatments such as methadone.
MARA is not a program for people who want to continue using substances. The program’s literature states: “The first step to recovery is to want to change. When you start acting on the desire to stop using drugs you are in recovery. If you are using a medically-assisted method of recovery in strict co-operation with a medical professional and/or a counselor – you are in recovery. But, please do not self-medicate, follow the regiment you have worked out with the person or facility you are working with. We in M.A.R.A. consider a relapse to be: taking prescribed medicine not as directed, using another person’s prescribed medicine, or using other mood altering chemicals – whether that be: illegal street drugs or alcohol.”
MARA creates more options, and more recovery, for people with substance use disorder—and potentially saves more lives.
New Study Attempts to Revive Harmful Stereotypes About Addiction
Substance use disorder, which we also refer to as addiction, is an illness. However, for centuries, it has been misunderstood as a “moral failing.” People with substance use disorder, in recovery or not, were treated as morally weak, inferior, and sinful.
In the last decade, thanks to many hard working advocates and activists as well as allies in our communities and in the medical field, substance use disorder is being recognized as what it is: an illness. The DSM-V, a diagnostic guide for mental disorders, now includes a definition for substance use disorder. The SAMHSA website says, “Substance use disorders occur when the recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs causes clinically and functionally significant impairment, such as health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home. According to the DSM-5, a diagnosis of substance use disorder is based on evidence of impaired control, social impairment, risky use, and pharmacological criteria.”
As the opioid epidemic continues to expand exponentially, affecting more families, communities, and individuals, people in mass have faced the urgency of services and supports for those addicted. This understanding is beginning to help more people with substance use disorder get access to life saving tools like recovery housing, criminal justice-diversion programs, and evidenced-based treatment.
There is still deep, ingrained prejudice against people with substance use disorder. This tends to often appear around harm reduction methods, such as the use of medications like methadone, syringe exchanges, or even the overdose reversal medication, naloxone. Some people argue that harm reduction should not be available, and that it somehow “enables” the person to keep using. That harmful belief costs people their lives. The importance of naloxone cannot be understated.
From the Surgeon General’s recent advisory to carry naloxone, to overdose awareness trainings led by Facing Addiction with NCADD Action Network partners, naloxone is a known life saver.
However, a new two-year study by Jennifer L. Doleac and Anita Mukherjee claims that naloxone can actually increase the number of overdoses, opioid-related crimes, and opioid-related deaths. The study, titled “The Moral Hazard of Lifesaving Innovations: Naloxone Access, Opioid Abuse, and Crime” concludes that “While naloxone has great potential as a harm-reduction strategy, our analysis is consistent with the hypothesis that broadening access to naloxone encourages riskier behaviors with respect to opioid abuse.”
This line of thinking is one of the reasons we have a drug epidemic in the first place. Doleac and Mukherjee state: “However, naloxone access may unintentionally increase opioid abuse through two channels: (1) reducing the risk of death per use, thereby making riskier opioid use more appealing, and (2) saving the lives of active drug users, who survive to continue abusing opioids. By increasing the number of opioid abusers who need to fund their drug purchases, naloxone access laws may also increase theft.”
Suggesting naloxone encourages opioid use is like saying people with asthma are enabled by their inhalers. By this logic, an inhaler encourages people to breathe unsafely: without an inhaler, their lungs will “learn to breathe normally.” Or, to extrapolate Doleac and Mukherjee’s second point, if we keep giving people with asthma their medication when they have an asthma attack, they’ll just keep needing more help.
This study contradicts other research that confirms the benefits of naloxone. A recent National Institutes of Health study of two groups of heroin users found no increase in high-risk behavior resulted from increased naloxone access. And an economics paper from last year found that naloxone access laws typically resulted in a reduction in opioid-related deaths of between 9 and 11 percent.
Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore’s health commissioner, who issued a citywide prescription to any individual wishing to purchase naloxone last year and has been a vocal advocate for addiction response, told Stat: “I think what’s important for us to take into account is that this [study] is not science in medical best practice. The last thing that we need in the middle of an opioid epidemic is for information to come out that further stigmatizes addiction and can cost lives. I think we have a duty to a higher burden of proof.”
Wen also criticized the study for what she characterized as misleading methodology. For instance, Doleac and Mukherjee used opioid-related emergency room visits to gauge population-level addiction trends. Those visits could also rise in response to better public health campaigns informing drug users of how to seek treatment: that increases in health care system connections for those struggling is not necessarily a bad thing. Also, the study looked at a varied set of laws that Wen said likely had disparate impacts on actual naloxone access.
“Given the substantial change in the riskiness of the drug supply, I think the overdose death numbers would have been been substantially higher had we not deployed naloxone to the extent we did,” said Chris Jones, the director of the National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory.
We know naloxone saves lives. It can’t be the only tool we use to help people in crisis, but there is no doubt that it is beneficial.
I Could Not Go Another Minute
The purpose of sharing this story is to provide hope to those who have suffered traumatic loss and are also suffering from addiction. From my experience I know it is not only possible, but common, to heal from both the shock and the trauma of loss, as well as addiction, and have a happy, joyous, and free life.
In the year 1981, all five surviving members of my family (two sisters, brother, mother) went through 30-day treatment programs for addiction, all in the one year, the classic domino effect. To describe us as ‘basket cases’ from our drinking and maladaptive lives would not be an exaggeration. On March 11, 1972, my dad ended his life suddenly, violently and traumatically. I was 17; he was 41. He had been suffering an untreated alcohol addiction for some years, so the whole family had been suffering as well.
At 17, I was already well on my way to having a full-blown addiction to alcohol. The indescribable pain and bottomless sorrow associated with my Dad’s death was so great; I could not speak of it. I did not draw a sober breath for over 10 years. Drugs in increasing quantities mixed with alcohol to provide relief from the unbearable pain and fear. All I wanted, ALL I WANTED, was a cessation of consciousness – I felt I was serving a ‘life sentence’ in that I could not end my life and put my family through another suicide.
Nov 2, 1981, I entered into recovery. I was 27, a college graduate, already married and divorced, and had not a clue about how to live or how to feel my life or express myself. A helpless babe in the woods, alone, terrified and horrified at living in the world without my ‘fast acting fear and pain relievers’. More than anything, I did not want to end my life as my Dad did. I knew I was ‘right there,’ indifferent if I lived or died. I just could not go on another minute, drunk or sober…..making me ripe for the unconditional surrender I was offered.
Lots of meetings, therapy, and beginnings of learning how to live. Sponsors held my hand, showed me the way, loved me in spite of my self-loathing. New marriage, new business, two children, and to all appearances a functional, productive and happy life. But appearances can be deceiving.
What was not apparent to others – because I kept it all locked inside – was the continuing sorrow and dreams and ruminations about my dad’s death, his sufferings in that motel room, his note filled with sadness and despair, the 38 revolver he would put in his mouth. On my mind all day, every day. Unable to say words like ‘daddy’ and other super-charged words. I would think I saw him at a gas station or dream of talking to him and trying to explain my life to him. The most significant part of me was hidden from view, under wraps and frozen solid.
Ten years in recovery, in about 1991, I heard about the suicide survivors support group run by the local Crisis Intervention Center. I read the stories of other survivors, how it helped them to tell their stories to others who had been through similar experiences. I knew from my 12-step alcohol support meetings that sharing intimate details with trusted friends was the path to healing, and alleviated the crushing loneliness. To this day I don’t know how I managed the courage, but I resolved to give it a try.
The thought of speaking of what had happened, what it felt like to me, what it had been like since was the singular most terrifying thing I had ever experienced. I did share it all through great heavings, and a river of tears flowed for months and months. I thawed out, and I healed, over a period of years…..sharing my story and hearing others. And becoming a member of the outreach team that took hope, help, and healing immediately after the death to the ones in the area….with the hopes of shortening the time it took people to get into a support group. Ideally from 20 years like my case to two weeks. Lives are saved in this interval as untold numbers succumb to the grief in any number of ways, as I had nearly done.
I just crossed 36 years in recovery on Nov 2 2017….and am more grateful than I can say for every day, every moment of my life, the suffering that broke me in two and gutted me, and the joys of healing and seeing the purpose and meaning that has manifested. I have a beautiful continuing relationship with my Dad today, one characterized by peace, and love, and appreciation. Absent his suffering and death, and my fear of it for myself, I cannot imagine I would have been willing moment by moment, day by day, to go to any length to seek healing and to find my life. I thank him for the courage he imparts to me. Today, he can rest in peace, and I can live in peace. I will do anything I can to help others find peace with the things that have broken them.
I am not afraid to feel, and to heal, and to embrace my life, and to learn and explore and discover. The gifts of being in recovery are unimaginable, somewhat like heaven on earth. I am so appreciative of all the earth angels breathing life and love into me for so long, through so many dark nights.
Addiction-Related Legislation Helps Oregon Recover
In March, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed two bills and an executive order declaring addiction a public health crisis. New deadlines, a timeline, and a 2020 due date are getting Oregon on track to face addiction in a realistic, sustainable way.
Under this new order, the Oregon Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission would need to deliver a plan to combat the drug epidemic by 2020. Calls for action started almost a decade ago, in 2009. However, canceled meetings, staffing issues, and other administrative problems have held up progress. Now, along with the new deadline, one of the bills will give the commission the power to hire staff.
A second bill, which Brown also signed on the same day, also covers the drug epidemic. It will require a study of barriers to addiction treatment with a pilot project. It will also require drug prescribers to register with Oregon’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.
A spokesperson for the Oregon Health Authority said the declaration would not unlock additional funding or require any action by the Oregon Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission. A spokesperson for Brown told KGW News they were not aware of the bill having other direct effects.
Oregon was ranked 51st in the United States for access to mental health and addiction treatment. Advocacy group Oregon Recovers has been active in supporting legislation that would protect people with substance use disorder. By putting people in recovery in leadership roles, creating points of accountability or authority within the government, and improving treatment, prevention, and aftercare measures, Oregon Recovers aims to make Oregon “the recovery state” within five years.
Brown’s signing of the executive order and recovery related bills is a win for recovery in Oregon.Mike Marshall, Director of Oregon Recovers, told KGW that “the bills and order will help move the state away from sporadic treatment that starts and stops when a drug user moves between different parts of the system, and toward coordinated, long-term support.”
Alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous Program Just As Effective, Study Says
Don’t click with the 12 Steps? There are other options for recovery that are just as effective, according to a new study by the Alcohol Research Group.
The study compared self-reported outcomes from people who participated in 12 Step programs such as AA with those from the three biggest alternative mutual help groups: Women for Sobriety, SMART Recovery, and LifeRing. The study concluded that these other groups perform about as well as 12 Step programs.
“This study suggests that these alternatives really are viable options for people who are looking for recovery support and don’t like AA for whatever reason,” Sarah Zemore, lead author of the study told Vox.
The study surveyed more than 600 people with alcohol use disorder (AUD), divided by the recovery support group they primarily participated in. Researchers talked to participants at the six-month mark and then at a year. The study measured involvement in the groups and various substance use outcomes, including abstinence from drinking and alcohol-related problems. Each group reported comparable outcomes, which led researchers to conclude that all four of the groups were equally effective.
That’s good news for the self-reported one-third to two-thirds of people who don’t get much out of AA. This new study supports evidence that the desirable outcome, which is sustained recovery, can be found in other mutual support groups as well.
National headlines continue to focus on opioids and other drugs, but alcohol is still a leading killer of Americans. Based on federal data, more than 20 million people in the US have a substance use disorder: within that group, more than 15 million have an alcohol use disorder. Excessive drinking alone is linked to 88,000 deaths each year. Access to peer recovery support, whether through the 12 Step programs or another group, may help millions of people find relief from their alcohol use problem.
Zemore told Vox, “We were really interested in whether the effects of involvement on recovery outcomes depended on which group [participants] were in. And we found that they did not.”
The data wasn’t uniform in some ways. According to the study, people who reported SMART as their primary group seemed to have worse substance use outcomes. LifeRing members reported lower odds of total abstinence among LifeRing members. However, that may reflect the overall goals of the respective groups. AA emphasizes total abstinence as the solution to alcohol addiction—not moderation, or reducing the number of drinks. Groups like SMART and LifeRing, in comparison, focus on harm reduction by reducing alcohol consumption or trying to moderate. That could affect the study’s data on substance use outcomes and abstinence outcomes. If abstinence isn’t the goal, then it’s not likely to be the outcome.
12 Step methods are proven to be as effective as treatment like cognitive behavioral therapy, but that doesn’t mean AA is a one-size-fits-all program. The research also shows that the 12 steps don’t work for everyone. AA can be polarizing: alienating some people, and creating deep, meaningful change for others. Knowing that there are other, equally effective options may help more people find sustained recovery.
Employment in Recovery
Last week, Facing Addiction with NCADD and the Recovery Research Institute held an informative briefing on Capitol Hill, Employment in Recovery: Challenges & Opportunities. The briefing, hosted by the Congressional Addiction, Treatment & Recovery Caucus, was streamed live on Facebook. You can watch the forum on our Facebook page here.
We were joined by Representatives Paul Tonko of New York and David Joyce of Ohio, as well as Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. Several of our Action Network partners participated in the forum, including Job Recovery, Workforce Recovery Solutions, The Briermost Foundation, and Hope in Recovery Employment. The event was sponsored by Renew Logic, from Austin, TX – a company that employs individuals with common barriers to employment, including past substance use disorders, incarceration, and mental health issues.
I hope you’ll take a moment to view the stream of this important event on Capitol Hill, view the briefing book we developed in preparation for this event, and take what you learn into your communities to business leaders, employers, and those seeking employment.
Legacy of Addiction
As a young child, I was doted upon by my maternal grandfather, but the love and attention I received from him came with consequences I would not understand until much later in my life. At 7, 8, and 9 years old, my parents would take my sister and me to my grandfather’s on Kentucky Lake. Even as a child, I could see differences in the family. First, I got more positive attention from my grandfather than I had ever experienced. Second, in Kentucky my mother was quiet. She didn’t express an opinion and my father would comfort or nurture her.
Back home, I saw my mother has highly competent in running the family, never in need of nurturing, and always having an opinion. It was only when driving home that my mother would share her opinion. Even then, it was clear to me that both my mother and I were different people when we went to Kentucky. I felt the immense love from my grandfather.
When he died, my mother and her sister had expectations; their expectations were not fulfilled. My mother expressed anger, bitterness, and resentment. After this incident, when I would mention my grandfather, my mother would go quiet. The word alcoholic was never mentioned. Secrets were an unspoken family rule.
At home, every question I asked, my mother answered with, “Jeff, you need to understand your grandfather was an alcoholic.” This statement did little to quell my curiosity.
I turned to alcohol, and problems like shyness disappeared. This was a solution that seemed to work. Over time, I experienced consequences that were enough for me to indulge minimally or mostly avoid it. Pot, on the other hand, was a mixed bag. Some pot seemed to mask initial anxiety, but over time I felt more vulnerable to anxiety.
In my twenties, I started a business and shifted addictive tendencies into productive areas, or so I thought. At the time, I never would have seen my work as a contributing factor to my divorce. I had some distorted male thinking about success in business resulting in success in relationship. I saw substances as not a big problem: my distorted thinking was the real issue.
Once I began to focus my counseling practice on addiction, families, and trauma, I slowly began to understand more about how my grandfather’s grief and pain led to his addiction, which led to my mother’s trauma between them. My mother never shared the details, but much of her life was made up of various defensive coping strategies. Only as a therapist did I began to recognize how my grandfather’s showering me with love and attention was passing down to me the family legacy of grief and pain.
Having experienced the trickle-down of addiction and trauma in my family, I became curious about how families could understand these patterns sooner rather than later. Over years, I collected info that focused on non-labeling language and family strengths. Now, I approach addiction in the family as a structural problem with structural solutions.
Putting all of this online addressed stigma and shame with confidentiality, and provided access to like-minded others. The resources there are available 24/7 and enhance a family member’s ability to play a major role in developing solutions that best addressed their challenges and fit their needs.
These online resources provide a user-friendly prevention/intervention strategy, a complement to all addiction treatment, and potential for the building of social capital and multigenerational healing.
The Light of Hope
I am lucky. My son is alive.
It is important for me to say that first, so you know that there is hope. There is always hope. And hope is so important. It will get you through some of the darkest times.
As a parent of an addicted child, you learn so many things so quickly. You learn how to hide, how to justify, how to ignore and how to deny. You learn these things without meaning to. You excel at these things in spite of yourself. You learn to hide the fear that lives in you every time you get a call on your cell phone from your child. You learn how to justify their odd behavior with phrases like, “she’s just tired,” or “he is stressed.” You learn to ignore the constant itching and the dark circles under their eyes. You deny the severity of the problem to your friends and family. But underneath it all, you know. You just don’t know how bad it is—the addiction.
The first time my son told me he was addicted to heroin, somehow hearing the words was worse than seeing it all over his body. I had told myself that it was Xanax, or pot, or a combination of the two. I knew about Oxy and knew he had been doing it, but somehow heroin was worse. Dirtier. Deadlier. But it made sense. I didn’t know he was using heroin until we were sitting in the intake office at a rehab center. I gasped and began to cry. He looked so ashamed. I felt like such a failure as a mother. He was 22. But he looked so tired and old and defeated.
In rehab, as a loved one, you learn that the substance use disorder isn’t about you. None of the terrible things your loved one did were personal attacks on you, or a reflection of the love they have for you. Every single time my son lied to me or stole from me, or broke promises, it was a reminder that he might die.
The fear I carried around with me was palpable. The thirty days he spent in rehab provided me with my first good night’s sleep in over two years. I knew where he was, I knew he was safe, and I knew he didn’t have drugs. Some of my fear began to diminish. The anger took longer. I’m still hoping to get my sense of trust back one day.
My son was destined, in a way, for substance abuse disorder. His father abandoned him when he was just a baby. And his father was addicted. I tried to get my son help when he was young, but it wasn’t the right thing. In the end, it was all on his shoulders to figure out.
My point is, I wasn’t surprised by my son’s illness. But I was in the minority in the rehab’s family counseling circles on visiting day. I saw how the other parents were in shock. Even though they had been dealing with their child’s addiction for years, they were still in denial. They kept looking for someone or something they could point to and blame for causing the problem.
My son shone during rehab. He was committed, he opened up, he felt good, he gained weight. He became a leader in rehab. I was so proud of him. The day he decided to go to sober living after rehab was a great day. And he had so many great days after that. Eventually, though, as it does, life throws curveballs and his sobriety was tested. My son’s relapsed, but only briefly. Then he relapsed again, and fell harder and faster than I could have imagined. He did some horrible things. Because I had learned about boundaries, I did not shield him. Soon, he was homeless and alone. His rehab friends had begun to die. He was on the edge of complete disaster. But he held on.
I don’t know what saved him. Maybe just the desire to live. But whatever it was allowed him to figure out a way off the streets, and into a healthier and more stable life.
Now, almost three years after his big relapse, he is abstinent, employed, in a relationship, and taking good care of himself. He struggles a lot with patterns of behavior, but he has learned to recognize them and take steps to avoid relapse. He has learned to talk out stresses and problems and recognizes that is the single most important thing he can do. He surrounds himself with good people. I am proud of him.
In three years, my son has lost 14 friends. Some to overdose, some to suicide, and some to violent crime. But, as he put it, all of them died because they had substance use disorder. These were good young men from good families. They were like the kids that hang out in your kitchen after school. They were like the kids from soccer or theater or swim club. Almost all of them were white and from middle to upper class upbringings. They were educated. Some had issues that are linked to addiction. But many were just bored when they started using. Most got Oxy from their parents’ medicine cabinets.
I can’t imagine the pain that the parents of those 14 boys feel every day. Except I can, I think. When my son was in his addiction, I played out his death in my head as a way to prepare myself for that call.
Recently, I told my son that I was sure he was going to die. He just said, “Yeah, me too.”
I am lucky. My son is alive. And I am so grateful.
What Is The Next Right Step?
From a young age, I remember struggling with feelings of loneliness and shame. When I began acting out my addiction, it provided temporary relief from these feelings: a breath of fresh air when nothing else seemed to help. However, my loneliness and shame grew as my addiction progressed, and I began to keep my behaviors secret from my friends and family. When the chaos of my disease finally came out to my wife, family, and friends, it nearly destroyed my marriage and many of my other relationships.
I believe that God stepped in at this time of my life. In April 2014, I was given the exact resources I needed to find healing and sobriety. I quickly found a 12-Step recovery group in my area and began going to five meetings a week. I got a sponsor and started working the 12 Steps. In this group, I found a community of other men who had gone through and done many of the same things I had. Finding this community helped to lay the groundwork for the sustained sobriety I now have.
However, just because I am sober doesn’t mean that I am always joyful or happy. I trained myself for years to live for high highs and low lows. Now, I’m still trying to figure out what it means to live a “normal” life. One of the tools I use on a regular basis is to call someone else who is in recovery and talk to them about my feelings and struggles when things feel overwhelming or painful.
Another major outlet I use to stay positive in my struggles is through my recovery band, Son Ship. I’ve always been a songwriter, and through this group, I am able to write and share songs that reflect my journey and struggles with addiction, so others who are experiencing similar things can be encouraged and inspired.
Our first album chronicles my personal journey through the 12 Steps of recovery, with one song based on each of the Steps. Through this group, I have learned that sharing my struggles more openly allows others to find the strength to face their own addictions and fears.
Though I’m grateful that I’m now able to help others through the sharing of my music and story, the real hero of my story is my wife. She stayed by my side and guided me towards healing when I revealed the full extent of my issues to her. Simultaneously, she set up strong boundaries when I was in early sobriety that both protected her and encouraged me to take recovery seriously. I honestly do not believe that I would have achieved the level of serenity and sobriety I have today without her tough love and steadfast support.
If I could share one piece of advice for someone beginning their recovery journey, it would be to always ask and pray, “What is the next right step?” Often, we can become paralyzed by fear when we look down the road at where we want to end up. The result can seem impossible and terrifying. But when we take our dreams and goals one step at a time and trust that we don’t have to fix everything in a day or even a year, we are able to accomplish so much.
My dream, and the mission of Son Ship, is to continue to “shine light into the darkest places.” We desire to play a major role in inspiring people to start having more hard conversations about addiction, healing, and God through music, media, and written content. Please connect with us online at sonship.band or at facebook.com/sonshipband
Blessings on your journey.
Two Steps to Overcoming Fear
Fear has been a dominating factor throughout my life. My first fear was the fear of abandonment. My father was addicted to alcohol and left when I was four years old. My coping mechanism was sucking my thumb. There is nothing wrong with thumbsucking as a toddler, but at eight years old, I still did it every day. My kindergarten teacher wanted to keep me back a year because of my thumbsucking. It was getting out of control. But it brought me ease and comfort, and I would hide it. I was a functioning thumbsucker.
Now, sucking your thumb as an 8-year-old is hard work. You have to escape being seen by friends and family members. For me, it was my two older brothers. They would harass me. They told me my thumb was going to fall off. But I couldn’t stop doing it. I didn’t know how else to cope with my emotions. Eventually, the pain of embarrassment caused me to stop.
The same emotional pattern affected me as a young adult when I started using drugs and alcohol a decade or so later.
Drugs and alcohol became a solution to my fear. Why did I do some of the things I did? Much of it can be broken down to fear. Not healthy fear, like when you’re faced with life and death decisions. I’m talking about the fear that brings about feelings of extreme self-doubt and anxiety.
When I was 22, my fear of abandonment was back again. This time, it was because I spent $200 my brother had sent me to get me home from Orlando, Florida. The second time he had sent me money in two weeks. I intended to use this money to escape the hell in which I was living, but I couldn’t stop using.
Within a week or so of being home from Florida, I was arrested for federal felonies due to my addiction to prescription opiates. My arrest created many new fears. Fear of the future. Fear of staying sober. Fear of prison. Fear of not being able to get a job.
Then I had a fear of going to 12-Step meetings. Especially young people’s meetings. Even after being in recovery for a few years, I was terrified to go. It felt like high school all over again, at least in my mind. Fear doesn’t go away because you get sober. You have to deal with it head-on. I wore a mask for years at meetings, acting as though I was comfortable in my own skin.
I even stayed in the same job for eight years because I was afraid of what would happen if I tried to get another job. Who would want to hire a felon? My options seemed extremely limited. Instead, I went back to college. I got a degree. I eventually bought my first home in recovery. These were significant milestones for me. But now I had to face the reality of paying a mortgage.
Money problems motivated me to face my fear of having felonies. I applied to a Fortune 15 company. I put the details of what had happened in my application where it asked, “Were you ever arrested?”
During phone interviews, I shared everything. I told them about my problem with OxyContin and other substances; I told them my whole recovery story. Probably too much. But the fact of the matter is that I had been in living in recovery for eight years at this point, doing the next right thing. I had nothing to hide and nothing to lose. And I wanted nothing coming back to bite me if they did hire me.
I got the job. My options seemed limitless. There was a new hope for my life. But now, new fears arose. I had a fear of being found out and fear of success. But these were fears I could handle, at least for now.
Fear had been there all along. It was debilitating at times. But I discovered that most of the things I feared never happened. Today, when there’s fear, it’s usually an indication that I need to take action. It’s uncomfortable at first, but the fear is gone.
How do I face my fears in recovery? I ask questions. I seek counsel from people and mentors who can help. In the past, I would not share my fears, because I was afraid of appearing weak. I never asked for help. I just stuffed fear away and moved on. But it never goes away.
2 Steps to Facing Fear in Recovery
- Forgive Yourself
Stop beating yourself up about feeling fear. We all have fears. Learn to forgive yourself. It’s all part of the journey. I found that nothing in my life is wasted, not the good or the bad. It all gets used in some way; usually, in a way, that benefits someone else.
- Take Action
Get out there and take action to confront your fears. Go up to people and say hello. Be curious and ask questions. Share your fears with another person. You’d be surprised by how many people struggle with the same fears. And if they don’t, they might know someone who can help you with yours.
I’ve decided to face my fears in recovery. To live a life without regrets. Who knows? It might just work out. The more I face fear; the more life seems to expand. I used to ask myself the question, “How many opportunities have I missed out on due to fear?”
Now, I ask myself “How many new opportunities will I receive if I face my fears?”
When we change the questions we ask ourselves; we change our lives.