September is National Recovery Month – a time to celebrate those who have recovered from substance use disorders (SUD) and remember those who never had the chance. Over the course of my career so far I have had the privilege to work with many clients struggling with SUD on their roads to recovery. I have been on the front lines, working with clients seeking in-patient treatment, and I have worked with clients further along their journeys in an outpatient setting. It has been my experience, even in the midst of seeing so much suffering, that the strength of the human spirit is alive and well in this community, and recovery is possible. My relationship with this disease of addiction is particularly personal to me. I come from a long line of addiction – beginning well before I was born. I have seen the struggle in my family and friends, and in myself.
My path to counseling was far from a straight line. In fact, my bachelor's degree is in business management with an emphasis on social entrepreneurship. During my undergraduate studies, I was convinced that I would be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company or chairperson of the Federal Reserve. Much of this ambition for glory and greatness was fueled by an addiction to alcohol and other mind-altering substances. I was dedicated only to acquiring fortune to further support my habit of escapism and self-medication. I got sober the summer after my sophomore year in college, May of 2013. In the years following, I discovered that I had a very limited passion for the business skills I developed while in school. Two years post-grad I had tried so many different jobs in so many different industries I was nearly convinced I would never be happy in my career. Then I worked in a detox facility. I worked as a behavioral health technician overnights from 7 pm-7 am – much of the time doing paperwork and making sure everyone followed the structure of the program. I loved it. I realized through my work with other individuals who struggled the way I did that this was my calling. I applied to graduate school and have never looked back. It is indeed my own struggle and triumphs with addiction that guided me to the field of mental health counseling that I love so much.
Recovery is about so much more than abstinence from substances. Not drinking and using is often the easy part. Recovery requires constant self-reflection and the development of insight into my maladaptive patterns of behavior that lead me to want to flee from pain. It requires a complete shift in the ways I attempted to cope with life’s challenges and adoption of a new and sometimes uncomfortable perspective on life. It’s also not a challenge I simply 'got over' – it is a part of me that I will always carry and that I must always remain vigilant and aware of. This is what makes recovery so challenging at times. It’s also worth noting that addiction is the only disease a person can have that directly tells them they don’t have it. That denial of reality and persistence of craving is what leads so many to falter in the face of true freedom.
All of that said recovery is all around us. Every day more people open themselves up to a new way of being free from the substances they thought were their refuge. It is certainly not easy to maintain a life of recovery, but it is simple. There are so many incredible resources to assist in sobriety if that is something you want, including therapy. We are a far cry from the days when the one solution we had to addiction was involuntary commitment and it is truly a great honor to assist others on this path.
Whatever your story or connection with addiction there are ways we can all be advocates for recovery this month and always. Be open to hearing the stories of those around you. Recognize the signs and symptoms that someone may be struggling. Remain a safe place free from judgment for your neighbors, friends, and family. And if you or someone you love is struggling, please feel free to reach out!