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Finding Inspiration in Recovery

I remember sitting through my first AA meeting like it was yesterday. The first person to share was a seventy something year old man who announced that he was a “grateful recovering alcoholic.” He went on to explain that he had been sober for over twenty years and runs six miles a day. I thought to myself… these people make me sick.

As our disease progresses we find new and creative ways to maintain our active addiction. Our internal self-talk finds a way to rationalize why our using is “normal” and why we aren’t dependent on our drug of choice. By doing this over a period of time we become internally conflicted with believing and therefore behaving in a way that do not align with our morals and values. This process is difficult because we start losing ourselves to our addiction. Our goals, dreams and ultimately our identity is slowly taken from us and replaced with a substance. Most people with a drug and/or alcohol dependency can identify with this process and often have a hard time articulating how this process has taken over their lives.

When someone stops using and gets sober finding inspiration and gratitude can be challenging. The act of getting sober is scary and for many a last resort. Our behavior and thought process has revolved around our using. The motivation behind what we do, say and feel supports our addiction and continued use.

In my experience waking up in a detox unit after a five year bender was not particularly inspiring. To be honest my disease continued to rationalize why I was not like all the others who had a “real drinking problem”. This thought process took time and patience. It involved accepting the help and guidance of others. Initially I found inspiration while in treatment, from my peers, my counselors, mentors and books. I had to trust the process and I still do.

So what helped me find inspiration in recovery? Below is a list of suggestions and techniques etc. that helped me find and maintain sobriety.

  1. Create a gratitude list
  • Put a notepad next to your bed. If you are a morning person write a list of things you are grateful for; if you are a night person then write your list before you go to bed. If you are an over achiever do it both in the AM and PM. If you have a hard time knowing where to begin try making a gratitude list using the alphabet to provide as a guide. (Example: A is for AA Meetings, B is for Books, C is for my sister Chelsea and so on).
  1. Take in your five senses.
  • Go somewhere quiet, if it helps close your eyes. And think what do I currently see, feel, hear, taste and smell.
  • It is easy to move through your day on autopilot. It is healthy to bring yourself back to the present moment and feel grounded.
  1. Remember – One Day at A Time
  • In early recovery this saying got me through tough times. Often I would even break this down further and tell myself “one hour at a time.”Before I knew it my one hours were turning into days, my days into weeks, and weeks into month and so on. It made time doable and helped me accomplish small goals.
  1. Get out into nature.
  • This is very personal to me and I could probably write a book about it. However, finding the beauty in nature has enhanced the quality of my life…period. I remember talking to a very good friend and mentor who is also in recovery. At the time I was feeling stuck, it was winter and my attitude needed adjustment. I remember my friend saying “Don’t you enjoy skiing? When you are riding up the chair lift take a moment to really take in the beauty of the outdoors.” I have always remembered this advice. It is simple but has dramatically impacted my outlook. This would be a good time to take in your five senses.
  1. Appreciate the small/simple things.
  • It is easy to take life for granted. One of my favorite quotes “That breath you just took… it’s a gift” by Rob Bell really summarizes what I mean by appreciating the small and simple things.
  • Another favorite memory I have that exemplifies this was a time when I was facilitating a group at a residential treatment facility. One young women in particular shared that she was grateful to see the sun for the first time sober in 10 years. This forever will be a perfect example of what I mean by finding gratitude.

Today, I am a little more than six and a half years sober. I am now the person who attends meetings and introduces myself, “Hi I am Kristin and I am a grateful recovering alcoholic.”

Kristin Reinink

Recovery Allies of West Michigan – Director of Resource Relationships

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What is a Recovery Residence?

Recovery residences are a safe place to reside while learning to live a life free of drugs and alcohol. In early recovery housing is critical. A recovery residence offers rules, structure, accountability, and support.

Today I proudly claim to be a person in long-term recovery. It took me a very long time to be able to earn this title, as I was what may be called a “chronic relapser”. I went to treatment 18 times, only to use within the first 24 hours of discharge after each of those trips. Except for the last.

During my last trip to rehab it was suggested that I move on to a recovery house upon discharge. I had all kinds of excuses not to go. “I have a safe place to go with non-using family members”. “I just did 101 days in treatment, why the heck would I need more?” “I don’t want to live with a bunch of other women whom I don’t know”. All excuses to simply NOT do what was being suggested of me.

I was a person who could thrive in treatment. Tell me when to eat, when to sleep, what group to go to, what topic to talk about and I was set. I had become “institutionalized”. I could talk the talk but could not walk the walk. I did not know how to live in the outside world.

A recovery residence gave me the tools I needed to learn to become a responsible, productive member of society. I obtained employment. I learned to cook. I had family like support from my “sisters” in recovery at the house. I did daily house chores. I regularly attended parenting time with my daughters. I learned patience of myself and others. I attended recovery support groups regularly.

All things I still do today. Today I am the Director of Outreach and Women’s Housing manager for a group of recovery residences in the Grand Rapids, MI area. I cook dinner for my family most nights of the week, in our home. I have family like support from my “sisters” in recovery. I have regained full custody of my youngest daughter. I spend regular time with my oldest daughter whom was adopted by a family member. I still practice patience. I still regularly attend and serve for recovery support groups. These are but a few of the many blessings I have gained from living in a recovery residence.

Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous once said, “You can’t think your way into right action, but you can act your way into right thinking.” This quote guided me into taking the simple suggestion of moving into a recovery residence. A suggestion that may be one of the most pivotal moves in my recovery.

Recovery residences offer people a safe place to start and sustain recovery. The rules, structure, accountability, and support help guide people, like me, into long term recovery by not just thinking about right living; by living their way into right thinking.

Brooke Bouwman

Recovery Allies

Safe Passages Program Recovery Coach

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Association of Recovery Community Organizations

About the Association of Recovery Community Organizations

The following information can be found at http://facesandvoicesofrecovery.org

 The Association of Recovery Community Organizations (ARCO) at Faces & Voices of Recovery unites and supports the growing network of local, regional and statewide recovery community organizations (RCOs). ARCO links RCOs and their leaders with local and national allies and provides training and technical assistance to groups. ARCO helps build the unified voice of the organized recovery community and fulfill our commitment to supporting the development of new groups and strengthening existing ones.

All RCOs that are led and governed by the recovery community are welcome to join. The benefits of membership include the opportunity to participate in an annual 2 day Leadership Academy. ARCO has hosted Academies in Denver, Dallas, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Washington, D.C.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the Association of Recovery Community Organizations?

The Association of Recovery Community Organizations (ARCO) at Faces & Voices of Recovery brings together established, new, and emerging groups to build the unified voice of the organized recovery community. It leverages the profile and unifying force of Faces & Voices for member organizations, while building the capacity and leadership of the organized recovery community.

Q. What role do Recovery Community Organizations play in the recovery movement?

There are over 100 established recovery community organizations (RCOs) within ARCO. They help bridge the gap between professional treatment and building healthy and successful lives in long-term recovery. They increase the visibility and influence of the recovery community and engage in one or more of three core activities:

1.     Educating the public about the reality of recovery

2.     Advocating on behalf of the recovery community

3.     Delivering peer recovery support services.

Q. How does ARCO help RCOs to achieve their purpose?

ARCO unites and supports the growing network of local, regional, and statewide recovery community organizations – linking them and their leaders with local and national allies, and providing training and technical assistance to members.

Q. What benefits do members receive?

See Benefits of Membership page.

Q. What organizations may join?

Eligible organizations are local, regional and state non-profit organizations that are led and governed by the recovery community (people in recovery, their families, friends and allies) that focus on the following core purposes:

·      Public education – putting a face and a voice on recovery

·      Advocacy

·      Peer recovery support services

RCO’s do not provide clinical treatment services.

Organizations must be independently accountable to the recovery communities they serve.

NOTE** Organizations may be under the umbrella of a fiscal agent; however, they must demonstrate a governance structure allowing for autonomy in regards to leadership, personnel, fund development and decision-making.

Michigan Association of Recovery Community Organizations

Recovery Allies Of West Michigan
Name: Kevin McLaughlin
Phone Number: (616) 226-6567
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THE SAFE PASSAGES PROGRAM: HOPE FOR CHILDREN IN THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM

In 1982, in response to the growing number of children in foster care throughout the country, Congress passed the Family Reunification Act. As its name implies, the purpose of this act was to increase the number of children returning to their biological parents following foster care. At that time, there were approximately 260,000 children in the nation’s foster care system. Now over twenty five years later, there are over 400,000 children in foster care in the United States!

Why is it that the net result of an act of Congress intending to increase the rate of reunification has been to increase the number of children in foster care by over 144,000? While there may be several factors, chief among them has been the failure to address the main reason children are removed from their homes in the first place. For years, it has been understood that 75% of the children in our foster care system have parents with untreated substance use disorders.
Some communities have chosen to address this issue in a variety of ways. Fortunately, West Michigan is one such community. On October 1, 2016, the Safe Passages Program opened—offering recovery support services to biological parents within Kent County’s foster care system. These services are funded by a grant through the Michigan Health Endowment Fund and provided through a partnership of D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s and Recovery Allies of West Michigan.
The Safe Passages Program offers the recovery support services of a certified recovery coach to a parent whose child is in foster care. The goal of the program is to significantly increase the rate of reunification of children in foster care with their biological parents. Currently, less than 40% of these children return to their homes; the goal of the Safe Passages Program is to return 66% of these children to their families.
In this blog, you will read about one of the recovery coaches in the Safe Passages Program. Her name is Brooke Bouwman. Like all recovery coaches, Brooke has “lived experience,” meaning she has had her own struggles with mood-altering substances and the foster care system. More importantly, she has had her own triumphs as well. Brooke’s story recounts those elements of her own recovery that made a very real difference and ultimately led to the restoration of her family. And, as you might expect, those are the very things she tries to bring to her clients.
As most of us in the recovery community know, there can be many different elements of recovery beyond sobriety: employment, housing, legal assistance, transportation, and physical well-being to name a few. Not everyone needs the same things—except, of course, one thing: hope. That is the most important element Brooke and her fellow recovery coaches will provide abundantly.

The reunification rate for foster care cases in Kent County is 38%. This means 38 out of 100 children get to go home with mom or dad. It also means 62 out of 100 children do not. My name is Brooke Bouwman and am a person in long term recovery. For me that means I have not had any mind or mood altering drugs for over 3 years. I am also a proud mother of two beautiful daughters. Arianna is 3 and one of the 38 able to come home with her parents. Lainey is 11 and one of the 62 not returning home with her parents.
Lainey was placed in foster care services with my sister Melissa in 2007 when she was 18 months old. A CPS and foster care case were opened at that time. I was addicted to drugs and not ready to quit. After a year of trying to get well, going to multiple inpatient treatment centers and mutual aid groups, I surrendered my parental rights to avoid termination.
I continued using drugs and continued entering inpatient treatment facilities as well. For many of us it’s as if we are divided into two parts, one part that can’t fathom getting well and one that won’t quit trying. I would consistently get successfully discharged only to pick right back up from where I had left off each time.
In February of 2013 I became pregnant. Again. There were not many, if any, who believed my partner and I could be parents to this child. I tried to convince myself to consider other options, either to terminate the pregnancy or consider adoption at birth, but I could not. I wanted to be a mother.
During my pregnancy I did the best I could at that time. I rationalized using prescriptions medications (illegally) because it was not heroin or crack. About 9 weeks before my due date I moved back to my hometown. The supports were too little and the temptations too strong. I began using heavily.
I went into labor on September 17, 2013. I was treated like any other mother at first. While trying to give me an IV, the nurse saw the tracks and bruises lining all the veins in my hands and arm. I was asked, “Are you an IV drug user?” There are many instances when a person addicted to drugs and or alcohol will tell you that telling the truth didn’t work out for them. This was one of those times. Through tears I said with all honesty, “Yes. I am addicted to heroin and crack. I just want you to know so this baby can receive the best possible care you can provide.” Unfortunately after that, I was treated very differently. The atmosphere changed in the hospital room. They were no longer smiling. My partner Ryan was told he was not allowed to hold my hand any longer while the planned C-section was performed. He was told to sit in the chair across the room and be quiet. Hospital security came in and our room and all of our belongings were searched. What was supposed to be one of the brightest days of our lives had turned very dark and dreary. Of course I knew it was because of the choices I had made. I just didn’t know why I made the choices I had.

Around 1:00 am on September 18, 2013 my youngest daughter, Arianna, was born. She was born addicted to heroin and crack. Later in the afternoon that same day a CPS worker came and delivered the message that we would need to be in court the next day. I was going to be given six weeks until termination of my parental rights. I was terrified of that. I was also asked many questions. I talked about the 17 treatment centers I went to and had been successfully discharged from. I talked about recovery. I talked about how I had confidence that I could get well and raise a child. I talked about how I had not given up. I talked about how I knew that no matter what, I can never quit quitting. I could never quit trying to change my life. What I found, though, was that the very argument ‘I have never quit quitting’ which I thought was showing my conviction to getting better, seemed to cement the case that I was ‘untreatable’.
Arianna was treated with great care and only needed treatment for one day as opposed to the sometimes two weeks needed. This comforted me. Mothers who go through this share how the guilt and shame are so overpowering all hope can be lost. For some reason, this time I had hope. Ryan was given a drug test and was cleared to take Arianna home with him.
Two weeks prior to my termination hearing, a CPS case was opened for Ryan. Since he had no previous cases with CPS and foster care services, he received the typical one year to get well. Because they were giving him that time, it was decided I would receive that much time as well. On December 4, 2013 I entered treatment. Ryan was arrested that same day. We did not know it at the time, but this is the day we entered long term recovery.  After 101 days I was successfully discharged from inpatient treatment. I think the difference this time was what happened after discharge. I was very dedicated to being the best mom I could be. I utilized multiple different pathways to maintain my recovery. These included Vivitrol, recovery housing, and a recovery coach. Although all of these played a role in my recovery, the presence of a recovery coach was critical. During the overwhelming process of putting a shattered life back together, one can and does experience periods of hopelessness. Sometimes as in my case we are putting a life back together that has new components. I had never really been a mother before. I had never really had to budget money or plan meals. I was suddenly going to have to be an adult! It was not really ‘me against the world’; it was more like ‘me and how do I survive in the world’. The coach was there during all of this. So while my therapist was helping with the ‘me’ stuff the coach helped with ‘world’ stuff. Together they helped to turbo charge my recovery. In October 2014, my youngest daughter was returned to our care. She moved into an apartment with her father and me. At the time, I was managing three women’s recovery houses in Grand Rapids. Her father has a fantastic job working for good people as a siding installer. Today I work as a Recovery Coach for Recovery Allies of West Michigan within the Safe Passages Mentoring program. The goal of the program is to increase the family reunification rate within the Kent County foster care system by providing comprehensive peer-based substance use disorder services for families. Giving back helps to make sense of all of the suffering I endured. I am grateful. My oldest daughter is now in Junior High. She still resides with family members. Lainey and I have a very good relationship. She knows I am her mother and she calls me “Mom”. She is able to spend a lot of time with her younger sister. I have talked to her about the Safe Passages Mentoring Program and the work we are doing. I told her about the statistics. I could see the thinking going on in her head. I asked her how it felt to know she was one of the 62 children who didn’t get to live with her parents, while her sister is one of 38 who was able to go home with her parents. Her response, ” I don’t like those number, Mom. Maybe we had to go through this experience because we were strong enough to make it. There are probably people out there are probably people out there who aren’t, so now you and your team will be able to be able to help them not to ever have to feel that way”.

The essence of what a Recovery Coach does.

 

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Just A Little More Change Required

By: Kevin McLaughlin, Executive Director, Recovery Allies

Part of my job is to organize the “recovery” community. How can we organize the community if we don’t know who they truly are. Those who suffer consequences due to a substance addiction do not all look alike, nor are the paths they take to become free of that addiction all the same. The more I learn about recovery and the people in it, the more I learn that the paths out of addiction are varied.

I think many of us make an assumption that in general the recovery community is made up of people that have messed up their lives really badly. They have legal issues, medical issues and money issues. There is a certain image that comes to mind when we hear the word alcoholic or drug addict.

Unfortunately, this negative image is not only true coming from the general population (those who don’t have negative consequences due to use) but some of those in active recovery as well. If those of us in recovery have a misguided notion of what we look like, how can we expect those that don’t look like that to change? And how can we reach those that don’t fit that description?

In an effort to help as many people as possible, we need to change the distorted image we have of those with addiction. This message is for those in recovery, for those that simply chose not to drink or use drugs, for those struggling in active addiction, and for those who treat people for addiction.

Let’s look at the clinical categories for people with addiction. The categories are separated into three groups: mild, moderate and severe. I think that the general population and the treatment industry think of ALL people with addiction as being in the last category of severe. This is due to the fact that by the time this person surfaces for help, they are in the later stages of addiction. Before we go on about the two categories of mild to moderate we need to talk about the three different ways people identify themselves who are no longer using.

Recovery Identity 

It is important to know that for 5 to 10% of the drinking population (regardless of their socio-economic status), addiction is a normal side effect of continued use of a drug.

Remembering that, lets look at three kinds of recovery identity or association to recovery.

First is called recovery neutral. This person says simply “I don’t drink”. They never connected to the recovery community and never had a need to. They had problems of some sort and just stopped. Typically these people don’t have any trouble saying they “had a few problems” which is why they quit. If asked how long they have been in recovery they may say, “what do you mean?” Labeling it and counting the days is not a part of quitting for them.

Next is the recovery negative identity. For this person it is a bad or shameful thing to be associated with the recovery community. This person doesn’t tell anyone they have a history. They fear judgment and stigmatization. For many it’s for good reason. The employer may change their attitude about an otherwise stellar employee, which may result in a missed promotion or a change in position. But for most, experiences like those aren’t necessary for the feelings of shame to exist.

The last group is the recovery positive group. The person in this group is proud of the achievement of such a monumental change in themselves. They have no problem sharing their story especially in the hopes of helping someone else.

Now that we understand how people may think of themselves in relation to no longer using substances, we can look at the mild and moderate groups. The mild to moderate group identifies typically with the recovery neutral group and very often is made up of kids. The group is also made up of young professionals, stay at home moms and dads and lastly retired people. I propose that we develop a different language to get this group’s attention. If they only have a few consequences it is more likely they will fall into the “recovery neutral” group. If we suggest a lifetime of abstinence we usually lose them. If we say that recovery is a journey and will require a ton of work for a long time we could lose them. If we say they have to change everything especially friends we lose them. So why not change our approach?! We could start by listening to the individual and actually believe them when they say “I don’t think I’m an alcoholic”. They may not be. But then again they might.

I also find that by sharing my path (ie my early reluctance to be labeled or join the recovery community,) the ground is laid for further discussion. My experience has been that the more I learn about them and adapt my language to fit their situation, the more engaged in change these people become.

Another fascinating thing I’m finding is that many people are “coming forward” and sharing that this is exactly their experience with addiction. Some have failed treatment yet ultimately reached a place of overall well being without “joining” a recovery program. One reason they typically don’t talk about this within recovery communities is that their experience is often challenged, discredited, or discounted. When coaching a person, seeking wellness and recovery, I absolutely love the response a person, usually young, gives when they hear these words: “you may not be an alcoholic”, or “you don’t need to attend a support group to get well,” or “you don’t have to identify with the recovery community or call yourself anything other than human.” It is as if a heavy weight is lifted off their shoulders.

For those unfamiliar with the history of treatment, labeling is a necessary thing used to establish a system of being able to pay for treatment. To treat someone we need a diagnosis and the ability to measure the effectiveness. Labels serve a purpose for that goal; let’s use them just for that. I think we should be allowed to define ourselves.

We at Recovery Allies have had to open ourselves up to some new and different ideas and facts and then take the next steps and make a sincere effort at changing such things as our language and assumptions of what the recovery community looks like. The result so far is people who don’t fit the image of an alcoholic or drug addict are coming to us and talking. They are doing so because they have a desire to help those that may identify with their story. After saying all this, the funny thing is, it seems like people that don’t identify or relate to those in the recovery community look an awful lot like someone who does….

 

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What is a Recovery Community Organization?

Recovery Allies is a grass roots organization that is for the people, by the people. We are considered a “peer run organization” and have 501c3 nonprofit status. We are funded by individuals and families affected by addiction, by private philanthropy and grants issued by the state for peer run organizations as well as various other organizations that want to see change. We are one of over 95 in the nation at this time and have taken many cues from those that have been doing it for a long time. We Advocate, Celebrate and Educate (ACE). The national RCO Faces and Voices of Recovery have this on their web site: “Recovery community organizations (RCOs) are the heart and soul of the recovery movement. In the last ten years, RCOs have proliferated throughout the US. They are demonstrating leadership in their towns, cities and states as well as on the national landscape. They have become major hubs for recovery-focused policy advocacy activities, carrying out recovery-focused community education and outreach programs, and becoming players in systems change initiatives. Many are also providing peer-based recovery support services. RCOs share a recovery vision, authenticity of voice and are independent, serving as a bridge between diverse communities of recovery, the addiction treatment community, governmental agencies, the criminal justice system, the larger network of health and human services providers and systems and the broader recovery support resources of the extended community.”