Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Recovery Manifesto: Part Two

When does Recovery begin and when is Recovery achieved?

If we look at Recovery as a lifetime process, then we have to recognize that this is something that is going to look different at 30 days, 90 days, a year, 10 or 20 years. It's also going to vary from one person to another. Someone who shows up at a meeting or treatment center having had no experience whatsoever with Recovery, who has never known a Recovering person, who has no understanding of substance use disorders as diseases and who is overwhelmed with cravings for drugs is going to need a lot of education and support. The phrase that some AA groups used is that a shaky newcomer will need someone to "walk with them." However, someone who shows up having had some experience with treatment, meetings, church, whatever they have done or tried to do to stop drinking or drugging, may be in a very different place. They may not have internalized the process of Recovery, but they have a clue what it is about and what it involves.

The key factor, to me, is hope. Hope is too much of a luxury for many active addicts to even go near. The pain of failure and disappointment has made it excruciating to entertain any hope at all. What we don't have, we take, and the Recovering people who "walk with" the newcomer are the ones he or she takes hope from. In a sense, they have to learn to dare to hope.

The person with some experience, though, may walk through the door with hope. Not a lot; just enough to look around and think with a degree of sanity, not all of these people are liars and predators. Maybe they are just what they appear--ordinary people, getting on with their lives.

Because in Recovery, we share. Not that most of us have all that much materially to share, but there is one thing that we all possess. If we comment, if we are having bad days or good, if we make coffee or put away a chair, or do one of the readings, we share, and what we share is hope, if only because we are doing these things as part of something bigger, a fellowship of Recovery. And that translates into hope. Not a raging inferno of hope, maybe, but more hope than burns on the end of a torch or a zippo. Enough that when it's nurtured a little, begins to burn warm enough to melt some of the ice around the heart, and let the newcomer feel the warmth.

Didn't know you were an Ambassador of Hope? Think again.
More to come.

A Recovery Manifesto: Part One

I've been a drug and alcohol counselor for a lot of years--over 30 years, to be more precise. I am also a drug addict and alcoholic (and many other things!) in long-term recovery. Talk to any longtime addiction counselor and they will complain about the treatment field, what it's become, how it is insurance-driven, how much it has changed for the worse, etc., etc. That's not all that surprising, as we get older we are always aware of how small Snickers bars have gotten. I think that, while there are many legitimate aspects of substance abuse treatment to criticize, what I have seen happen over the past twenty years is a philosophical shift that has had some dramatically negative repercussions.

I do not believe that the treatment field understands Recovery.

This is not a criticism of individuals. (Well, maybe a few.) Most of the people I know working in Addiction Treatment are dedicated and hard-working individuals who spend every day going above and beyond the call of duty for their clients. They do whatever they can to help their clients begin to recover from substance use disorders. And much of the time, they are criticized, written-up, and even fired for doing it. In a field that was founded on the concepts of rigorous honesty and social advocacy, counselors in some facilities are discouraged from even identifying themselves as being in recovery, on the basis of some misinformed beliefs about the character of the clients. It's hard to tell who is more demeaned, the counselor or the client. And ask any counselor off the record about the treatment plans they submit to managed care entities in order to get inpatient days and outpatient sessions--a college should offer a class in how to do diagnostic spin doctoring.


My intention here is to write a series of notes based on my beliefs about Recovery. I believe that Recovery is a lifestyle that promotes the physical, emotional and spiritual health of the individual, the family and the community. I believe that the needs of Recovering people are different from those addressed by the treatment establishment.

Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts and feelings.

More to come.

INTERVENTION: Not a "Reality Show"--Reality!

I've been doing Interventions for over 25 years and have a couple of things to get off of my chest. First of all, any comparison between the reality of Intervention as a process to help families deal with a potentially terminal illness and what is portrayed on television is absolute rubbish.

The tv show is simply one more negative stereotype of the addict as a comic/tragic figure, so degraded that others have to emotionally manhandle them into acting in their best interest. The thought that any reputable Interventionist would allow the subject of an intervention to be photographed and exploited for entertainment purposes is disgusting (and unethical.) It would be the equivalent of basing a reality show on the entertaining factors in radiation therapy, radical surgery or perhaps amputees adjusting to their new prostheses. The absence of integrity, concern for the well-being of the addicted individual is appalling.

Real Interventions are a process in which people who love someone with an addictive disorder are educated in the facts of the disease; they learn to recognize their own patterns of dysfunction, such as enabling. The empowered family then learns positive confrontation--addressing the addict from a place of love and appropriate concern. It takes a few sessions, but it is extraordinarily effective.

Oh, and did I mention that it doesn't cost a million bucks, either? The truth is that Interventions are well within the means of most families, and scholarships and arrangements are available for families in need.

At any rate, if you need any information on real Interventions, please email me at

Love & Peace