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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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Why Springtime is a Great Time to Get Sober

As the seasons change from winter to spring here in west Michigan, I find myself having the same conversation with the fellow recovering people and individuals I work with. It always ends with me saying, “There is a reason you feel so good.” Seasonal changes can affect us in many ways: emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. Spring is a time for renewal, transformation, growth and the signs of new life all around us. Spring is when nature sheds the old and welcomes the new. Similarly, seeking help for addiction, is a new beginning, where we encourage our bodies to rejuvenate and transform. Finding recovery has a way of improving our health and vitality, cleaning our bodies of impurities and making us feel brand new.

SPRINGTIME AND RECOVERY

There are so many beautiful parallels between springtime and recovery. Sobriety in the spring tends to increase our awareness and appreciation for the things we used to take for granted. Having a fresh outlook on the world gives a new and improved perspective on life in recovery. While those feelings are fresh, it is a good idea to implement some practices that will through spring, summer and beyond – living a happy, healthy and transformative life in recovery.

SPRING CLEANING IDEAS FOR ALL YOUR SPACES:

• Physical Space – Keep in mind that clutter zaps emotional energy. Maintaining a space that is clean and tidy helps to promote mental and emotional clarity. Carve out a space designated for downtime, where you can go to unwind, pray, meditate, read inspiring books, journal or just have some quiet time.

• Mental Space – You can de-clutter your mind too. Make a list of all the things you want to omit from your new life and begin to downsize. Being chronically over-committed or having unhealthy relationships, for example, are distractions to your recovery. This mental clutter could potentially jeopardize your sobriety.

• Outdoors Space – As winter weather comes to an end and spring brings warmth and newfound beauty to your surroundings, it’s time to take a walk or spend time outdoors. Get a dose of Vitamin D. Play the five senses game: allow yourself to take in all five of your senses mindfully. Smell, touch, taste, see and listen – to all that surrounds you. This exercise can change the way you perceive the world.
• Grateful Space – Remember to be grateful every day (for some, it is the fact the ice has melted…). Make a “Gratitude List” and focus on it regularly. It doesn’t matter if you practice having an “attitude for gratitude” in the morning or at night. As Melody Beattie says, “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” The dictionary defines “spring” as: the season after winter and before summer; a move or jump suddenly or rapidly upward or forward; originate or arise from; or a resilient device. As a newly sober person goes forward into our newfound recovery, all four definitions fit like a glove.

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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The Purpose Of Pathways

There is a Recovery Revolution. Come, be a part.

Remember the Wizard Of Oz?

Remember the Yellow Brick Road?

Remember the message?

Bet you did not remember how powerfully that message connected to the recovery community and those working to conquer a Substance Use Disorder.

How could you? That connection has not really been a message that has been shared much at all in the world at large. But, that is starting to change and this iconic and classic film is a surprisingly powerful metaphor for it.

In the film, the Yellow Brick Road is a pathway for Dorothy and the others to follow to a place where their strongest desires will be fulfilled. For Dorothy it’s the desire to be home. To be in a safe place of comfort, security and wellness. It’s to be in a place that is familiar and filled with safety. It’s a place nearly all of us can relate to, in some form or another: Home.

To get there she and her friends must follow a long road of yellow bricks, a pathway which will have challenges – yes – but ultimately the answers needed to fulfill their desires. Follow the pathway, one step at a time, and the answers will be revealed to allow you to have what you desire. Follow the pathway, carefully and purposefully, and challenges can be overcome and goals realized. Simply follow the pathway and a better state of wellness can be discovered, uncovered and explored.

That – in a simple form – is the essence of the Pathways Concept. Follow the pathway and you’ll discover that the answers and the empowerment have always been within YOU. We only needed to start to believe this truth.

So, what does this mean? What’s the core?

Well, to best express this I’ll need to share a little of my own story.

Like millions of Americans I began using alcohol on a regular basis in the late teens and early 20s. For me it was always connected to a sense of celebration: The week is over and now I get to celebrate and reward myself for working hard. Off to the bar. Off to the club. Off to a party or quietly sitting with friends or alone. For me the reasons to use were: 1. It clicked with me physiologically and 2. It was part of the culture which I lived and embraced.

Those first 10 years there was not an issue.

The next 11-15 the issue became apparent.

The next 16 – 20 the issue became dependency.

For me I began to become aware of “an” issue in my early 30s, about 10 years into my drinking. I strived to cut down, to moderate and often did just that. Still, dependency crept up little by little, year by year. By 40 alcohol was a completely destructive force in my life and dependency upon it a perplexing and confusing and ravaging reality. The Wicked Witch was there, in full force.

Even with acute awareness that a problem was forming I was unable to prevent the full effects of the problem from exploding into my reality. Why?

For me the answer was simple. Over and over and wherever I turned I encountered the same message: 1. You’ll never be able to drink again. 2. The only way to wellness is through AA, 12 Steps and a belief in a higher power. 3. Alcohol is different from and not the same as “harder” drugs.

I could not swallow this (pun intended) as I did not want to never drink again. Even if that were to be a reality I am an agnostic/atheist so belief in a higher power to yield wellness was simply not an option. It was a double whammy. And, it was a powerful one. Looking back it added years to my struggle. I think it does for many. I believe it does for millions.

12 Step programs work well for many of those whom engage with them but not all. So, what about the rest? What about the percentage of those where the legacy and power of 12 Steps simply does not work and even alienates? It’s a larger number of people than some think. What about them and what do they do once they realize the most famous and accepted pathway to wellness simply is not the pathway for them.

In short, in simplistic terms, they just: Follow Another Pathway. Follow however they choose to define their Yellow Brick Road.

That’s the core of the Pathways Concept and here that concept is: You define you Recovery and you and you alone are in complete control of it. There are a million reasons why people become dependent upon a substance and there are just as many ways to, step by step, leave that dependency in the past.

If 12 Step programs work for you then dive into them as deeply as you can. Spirituality and faith are powerful allies when we confront life’s most difficult struggles. But, if not, then simply choose a different pathway and different way to connect with and draw support from the recovery community. LifeRing and SMART are two of the primary mutual aid group alternatives to 12 Steps. Others include Women For Sobriety, Seeking Safety, Wellbriety and Refuge Recovery and All Recovery. These mutual aid groups offer both secular and spiritual solutions. And, if something does not work then simply seek out something that does. These options may not be as famous as 12 Steps, nor with the same longevity and legacy, but they are options most may not be aware are there. There are forks and many directions in your Yellow Brick Road which will still lead to the same Emerald City of wellness and home.

Mutual aid groups are extremely powerful in helping those to get well from Substance Use Disorder. Very few, including myself, will argue with this. In groups you can realize that dealing with a substance use issue is TYPICAL and something that millions encounter. You are not alone. No question about that no matter how much our society may impact you to feel otherwise. No question about that despite whatever stigmas exist. And there are many.

But, for some mutual aid support groups just simply are not the way. And – guess what – that’s ok too. Strive to identify those things in life which ignite your interests and passions. As clarity comes from physiological wellness, those things in life which make you smile, which make you content, can become powerful pathways to wellness, too.

For me I made the decision to gain as much from any group as possible. So, I’ll go to anything and simply pull whatever I can from it. I take it in. I make it mine. I interpret it however it works for me. I also practice yoga. I’m working on a novel. I read about stuff which interests me until I cannot read any more. I enjoy my morning coffee like I used to enjoy Friday night Martinis. No, not exactly the same way. I don’t get the same dopamine high as I did from those strong alcoholic beverages on the weekend. But, I do get a smaller high each and every single morning of the week. It’s amazing. It’s one of my pathways.

I’m still walking on my Yellow Brick Road. Across the way I see Dorothy and her friends walking in the same direction but on a different pathway. Turning the other direction I see many faces I’ve met on my journey, each walking on her or his own pathway. Turns out there is not just one or two like I believed for most of my life. There are hundreds. There are thousands. There are hundreds of thousands. There are millions. There are as many pathways in recovery as there are humans alive on this beautiful planet.

Never saw that one coming.

Perhaps the reason why is that the Emerald City of wellness gleams brightly in both the sun and moonlight. The glare and reflections coming from a place of wellness can be powerful. Yep, it’s that good. That glare and reflection are so powerful it took a while for me to notice the countless ways people were all moving towards the same destination.

The tide is turning. A Recovery Revolution has just begun. That silly witch is still chasing after but my feet are moving forward just a couple steps each, one day at a time.

Come… join along for the journey. How will you define your Yellow Brick Road?

In the end… it may not even be yellow.

Douglas Hulst

Recovery Allies

Director of Community Relationships

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Choices In Recovery

If there are many pathways to addiction, there must be many pathways to recovery. I started drinking for the same reasons everyone else did, but it just didn’t work out for me.  So whether or not you believed addiction is a disease- you knew it wasn’t working out for you. What did you do about it?  How did you quit?

We are about to introduce an idea that requires a bit of a perspective change, a paradigm shift if you will.  If I started drinking for the same reasons everyone else drank and it didn’t work out for me, does that mean I have the genetic predisposition for addiction?  Or does it mean it is likely I was abused, neglected or otherwise traumatized?  Or does it simply mean that I had some life stressors at that point which caused my drinking to get “out of control”?  So the answer is “maybe” to all of that.  Some of us identify with the group of people in recovery that believe it’s a life long journey and that “I will always be an alcoholic or addict”.  Others do not.  There is a group of people in recovery that say that the very idea of saying “I’m an alcoholic” is unnecessary and not helpful.  This demonstrates that there are many groups of people in recovery with like-minded goals but with differing approaches. We hear of many different recovery stories. All should be told and all should be heard.

Recovery Allies trains recovery coaches.  One of the things in particular that we focus on is being aware of and understanding different pathways.  On day three of the Recovery Coach Academy we spend three hours discussing this topic.  After a few trainings we realized something.  We looked around and said “where are they?”  We realized we had an opportunity to help grow this aspect of recovery supports.

This is not in response to AA being effective for only a certain percentage of people.  Lets just say the percentage is somewhere near 30% (the % is not the important part here so bear with me). No one pathway boasts much more- if any more.  This is in hopes of creating more mutual aid groups that have a similar success rate.  Imagine if we had five mutual aid groups that had 30%?  Imagine how many people would be grateful for additional options in the quest to get well.

One more benefit of starting more mutual aid support groups is on the advocacy front.  When not bound by traditions that keep us from talking about addiction recovery, we can create an advocacy base that can dramatically influence things like policy, stigma, and marketing (we have a bit of a problem with the million’s of dollars the beer industry spends on marketing their product to the young and poor.  Have you seen the advertisement for Natural Lite that says “family pack”? ).

This issue is dedicated to pathways.  You’ll find information about a few of the pathways our readers have shared as well as mutual aid groups from across the nation and cultures.

Recovery Allies is happy to report to our community that we have received a grant from the State’s Office of Recovery Oriented System of Care (OROSC) to start additional mutual aid support groups.  We have been tasked with starting meetings “other than A’s” in a 15 county region from Coldwater, to Benton Harbor to Ludington. The goal is to start the meetings, market the meetings to treatment centers, courts, the recovery community and other places that want additional options to recommend to someone seeking support in recovery. We have until September 30th to help start them and hand them off to the communities. If you are interested in helping with the project please contact us. Without you this won’t happen!

Again, this is not about one pathway not working; it’s about offering choices. Those that have great affection for Alcoholics Anonymous will be happy to know that about 40% of those that report using a different pathway, report also using AA. And to address one more question I have been asked about LifeRing specifically; LifeRing is not anti God, just like Weight Watchers is not anti God. Again it’s about choices.

We think the time is right for this. The North Alano Club of Kent County is demonstrating that. We have included the meeting list for the club in this issue. Note the category “other”. The fact that individuals in Grand Rapids that are very loyal and passionate about the 12 steps, are embracing “other” pathways, under the same roof, is incredible. We are very fortunate.

I might be overstepping here, but I think it is just the way Bill Wilson (let’s not forget Dr. Bob…) would want it!

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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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The New Face of Recovery and The Age of Multiple Pathways

By Tom McHale – Recovery Supports Coordinator, Northern Michigan Substance Abuse Services, Recovery Center, Gaylord MI

In recent years research has painted a very different picture of what recovery looks like, not in terms of its visual appearance, but in how people gain access to and define their recovery. The old picture of a single recovery pathway has evolved into a broad range of diverse pathways and an expanding definition of what recovery means. Examples of diverse  pathways include medication assisted recovery, harm reduction, secular recovery, faith based recovery, twelve step  programs, spontaneous remission and the list goes on.  Whether a person sees this new face of recovery as positive or negative doesn’t change the fact that 23 million Americans have recognized their alcohol/drug use as a problem and took corrective action. This is a reason to celebrate. It is also a time to express gratitude for the efforts of individuals and groups that forged the initial recovery path. The message emanating from the face of recovery is clear, however there  is  no single pathway.

I had hoped treatment facilities in the private and public sectors would begin offering clients support options based on this new picture of recovery and the diverse pathways now available, but I continue to see a great deal of reluctance to get on board with multiple pathways and I have even read affirmations from treatment facilities expressing loyalty to the one pathway. I fully understand that there are people working in the treatment industry, who are in recovery, and maintain  their recovery by using a 12 step pathway. This is great for that individual. I am concerned however with insistence on  guiding everyone down the same recovery path. It is disheartening that clients unwilling to embrace a prescribed  pathway are identified as recovery resistant or worse dismissed until they get so sick they will accept a program of recovery they didn’t accept during better times. I believe as the field of addiction treatment moves toward the implementation of evidence based practices, the pathways introduced to an individual will represent the diversity now available. Choosing a pathway is a personal decision based on the person’s beliefs, values, culture, and other extenuating  circumstances. The role of the therapist is to help the individual find his or her own personal pathway. The treatment industry has an ethical obligation to support multiple pathways until the research tells us different.

Personally, I believe that we’ve been totally unfair to the initial pathway by creating an unrealistic expectation that this  pathway alone could  help EVERYONE. As a result, this pathway became a dumping ground for individuals that society  did not want or could not serve, and the practice of forcing people to attend, compromised the supportive atmosphere for those who want to attend.

The solution to addiction and maintaining recovery is not likely to come in one nice neat package. By supporting  and  facilitating multiple pathways  we stand a much better chance of growing the number of people who stabilize in an addiction free lifestyle. Just think of how many more lives we can reach by being open to multiple pathways that all work toward a common goal: to afford everyone the opportunity to recover from his or her addiction. I  suspect that treatment facilities that learn this lesson will be the first to come out on top

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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.”