Recovery: The Journey Of TransformationNov 27, 2021
I've worked in the addiction treatment industry for a long time—like over 30 years.
But I've actually been AROUND the treatment industry longer than I've been a professional in it. You see, I was one of those "early bloomers," and my first introduction to the treatment industry was when my parents put me in rehab when I was seventeen. I ended up getting kicked out of that rehab for smuggling drugs into the facility and getting high with the other patients.
I guess I wasn't ready.
But that was the first time I learned about the disease of addiction. And it took five more years for me to discover that everything they said in there was true—that it's a disease, it doesn't go away, it keeps getting worse, etc.
Things eventually got bad enough for me that I ended up checking myself into a treatment program when I was 22. And I got sober. And I did what a lot of people who get sober and decide they want to help other people get sober end up doing—I went back to school and became a drug counselor.
And I'm from Minnesota, which was sort of the mecca of drug treatment at the time, so I got a lot of really good training and experience. My first job was at one the most respected adolescent programs in the country at the time. The picture below is actually from there. The lady in the picture was a supervisor of mine who turned out to be one of my most valuable mentors. I learned a lot from her about being a good drug and alcohol counselor, especially for working with young people.
But I also fell into the trap that a lot of people who get sober and become counselors fall into: I didn't work my own recovery program. I thought I knew more than those people in the recovery programs because I was a counselor! I talked about recovery all day, every day.
Not surprisingly, I eventually relapsed.
And I ended up back in rehab. Again. This time as a relapsed drug counselor. And as if that wasn't bad enough, I got sent to the same program I had sent a 19-cocaine user to a couple weeks earlier. (In a shameful case of the pot calling the kettle black, it turns out I was using cocaine at the time I sent him to treatment.) He wasn't happy with me when I sent him to treatment, and I'll never forget the moment he saw me enter the patient unit at the center. At first he thought I had come there to visit him, but then he looked down and saw my patient wrist band. A grin broke out on his face, and he proceeded to make my life hell for the next several weeks.
And I began the painful process of being a relapsed counselor in treatment.
To give you an idea of how that went for me, one moment in particular said it all: My graduation group. You know, the little ceremony when you complete the program and they give you your medallion, and everybody says nice things about you. Well, when it was my turn, my counselor walked over to me, sullen look on his face, handed me my coin, and said, "It was nice co-facilitating group with you for the first two weeks." And he turned around and walked away. Ouch.
DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL
But it was that experience that opened the door for me of coming to understand the true meaning of personal transformation. What I thought was the worst thing that ever could have happened to me turned out to be the best thing that ever could have happened to me.
I sure didn't understand it at the time, but I have since come to understand that these kind of transformational experiences usually don't happen without some kind of dark period that precedes it. And that might be putting it mildly—more like descending into the abyss. The dark night of the soul. Because that's where I was.
Things were really bad for me: I had humiliated myself. I created a public scandal when I relapsed. I was disgraced. I hurt a lot of people. And there I was, a relapsed drug counselor in treatment, hiding from the 19-year-old kid's parents when they showed up for family week.
But as painful as it was, it was a life changing experience.
I went to treatment out in Arizona. And I remember when I first arrived at the center and I looked out at the desert and the mountains in the distance, a strange feeling came over me. As I stood there staring out at the desert, I had one of those "moments" where I literally heard a voice in my head that said, "You're spiritually bankrupt. And if anything's going to happen for you, it's going to happen out there." Hmmm....
That was sure out of the blue, because up to that point I had never been a spiritual person. It's not that I was anti-spiritual; it was just something that held no interest for me.
But they had a counselor there who was sort of the "alternative" spirituality guy. He would lead drumming circles and meditation groups, and we'd go for walks out in the desert and look for neat stuff like feathers or special stones. And something clicked for me.
I became so intrigued with spiritual exploration that after I discharged from treatment I actually went straight out into the desert on a three-day spiritual quest. All sorts of wild stuff happened out there, including a near-death experience. But that's a story for a different time. All I'll say here is that my little sojourn in the desert turned out to be a symbolic death-rebirth experience that would become the bedrock of my recovery.
As dramatic as it was, my time out in the Arizona desert was just the beginning of the long, slow, sometimes scary, sometimes painful process of reestablishing my recovery and really figuring out who I was. That was 33 years ago. And today I can say that I've had a long and rewarding career of helping others find recovery. And more specifically, this time around my focus has been on that personal transformation part and helping others have that experience for themselves. I actually wrote an entire rock-musical based on this theme, and made it part of the treatment program I ran for many years. It gave young people the opportunity to act out their own stories of addiction and recovery, and we would use this as a powerful way to portray their own experience of personal transformation.
RECOVERY: TRANSFORMATION FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
It's not hard to see that someone going from addiction to recovery might be regarded as going through a transformational experience. They're leaving their old self behind and becoming a new person. But I'm going to take it a step further by suggesting that the family member who establishes his or her own recovery goes through a transformational experience as well. Moving from the pain and chaos of living with an unaddressed addiction problem to what I refer to as the "peace of mind" that comes with family recovery is a glorious process that can be just as life-changing for the family as it is for the substance user who moves from addiction to recovery.
I spent the first 20 years of my career dedicated to helping treatment clients have this transformational experience. But then for the past ten years I switched my focus to working with families and helping them have this same type of experience by establishing their own recovery. They start out thinking they just want to support their loved one's recovery, but soon discover the paradox of family recovery: The transformation they experience as a result of establishing their own recovery ends up being the best thing they can do to support their loved one's recovery.
"Navigating The Road To Successful Recovery For Your Loved One"
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