Authentic Connection vs. Shame

Authentic Connection vs. Shame
by Tyler Reitzner

There was a point in my active addiction that I had to be hospitalized to detox and stabilize. My drinking was causing significant damage to my liver and pancreas as well as spiking my blood pleasure to dangerous levels.  Spitting up blood was a daily routine. I spent six days in the hospital with doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists telling me “you can’t drink anymore or you will die” and I knew they were right.

When I was released I was optimistic about changing and was laughing with the staff as they discharged me but by the time they wheeled me to the lobby my mind was starting to race. I realized that I would be going back to my home, alone, sitting with myself. I took a cab home and halfway through the trip I had the driver stop at a liquor store. I was back in the hospital five days later.

Shame almost killed me, not alcohol. My drinking didn’t cause the shame; it was the best way that I had to deal with the shame. The feeling was crippling at times. It wasn’t the shame of being an alcoholic that kept me from getting help; it was the shame of being me, and not feeling worth it.

My shame is the brick wall at the core of my soul built of old wounds that tell me I am not good enough. It made the self-destructive lifestyle that comes with alcoholism feel comfortable and necessary. I felt isolated and worthless, to the point that alcohol became the only relationship that I felt comfortable with and I needed to connect with something.

Over 7 years later, I am in long-term recovery from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Substance Use Disorder (SUD). I have focused on being myself, present, growing, and engaging in the relationships in my life. This is how I define authentic connection and it’s what broke down my shame wall and helped me feel worth living, even with imperfections.

The process started for me even back when I was in the hospital still in my active SUD. I had felt safe and taken care of while there. The staff treated me like a human and not a defective person. While I was in the hospital I felt sincere hope. When I left and lost that safe connection I felt the shame wall build back up and tell me I am not enough. Although, I did drink again, that feeling of hope stuck with me, and deep down I knew that I could connect to something other than alcohol. The recovery community became that connection for me. Authentic connection was the dynamite that started to blast apart the shame wall and lead to better relationships with my family who became a part of my community. However, the work didn’t stop there.

“You have to let us love you until you love yourself”, every defense mechanism I had kicked in the first time I heard that. That concept sounded terrifying to me because it meant that I had to learn to sit down, look myself in the eye and say I love you, Tyler, and you are worth that love. The love of my community made it safe to do that, and I now feel like I belong.

My oldest son and I recently had a discussion around recovery that validated my experience. We were discussing recovery and what it has meant to us and he made the following statement “I got to see you as you, and not the drunk you”.

Related Books for this topic by Dr. Brené Brown: Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong.  

Tyler Reitzner is a Patient Leader, Speaker and Behavioral Health Advocate. He lives with his wife and two boys in Minnesota.

Board Member: MN Trauma Project http://www.mntraumaproject.org/

Board Member: Minnesota Recovery Connection https://minnesotarecovery.org/

Director of Marketing and Outreach: FRrē, Family Recovery Resource Experts https://frre.net/

Coming this October! Podcast series and website, Strength in Brokenness, with Tyler and Dr. Ryan Van Wyk.

THE BIG GAME AND THE GAMBLING DISORDERED

Thank you to our friends at Northstar Problem Gambling Alliance for providing this content:

Click here for PDF of Press Release.

THE BIG GAME AND THE GAMBLING DISORDERED

With the approach of Super Bowl LI, the Recovery Committee of the National Council on Problem Gambling has issued a press release to bring attention to the conflicts endured by those in recovery from gambling addiction. The lure of placing bets on the Super Bowl is particularly strong for compulsive gamblers.

THE BIG GAME AND THE GAMBLING DISORDERED
Conflicts for Individuals in Gambling Recovery
January 30, 2017

Washington, DC: As the “big game” approaches, thoughts running through the minds of individuals with a gambling disorder can be conflicting and problematic.“Hurry up, I hate the wait for the action to begin. The pre-game show begins; it is almost time for kickoff! My palms are beginning to sweat, my heart is beating faster. This is it… the big game, the chance to get even. I am ready to go. I have tossed a coin 500 times and 300 have come up heads. I can tell heads is the winner today. I have studied Luke Bryan; I know how long the National Anthem will be. I am watching videos of Lady Gaga; I can predict costume changes and songs she will sing. Those proposition bets are so fun. I am ready.”

“This is my last betting opportunity for the football season. I want and need to close out on a high. I know more about football than everyone else. Today is my day to prove it! I love all these amateurs betting on the game – what a great chance for me to take their money! This is my business. This is what I do best. The Super Bowl for me is like New Year’s Eve!”

The Recovery Committee of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) is made up of people who care deeply about people suffering from gambling disorders. Many of us are in our own recovery from gambling disorders. We recognize and appreciate the lure of placing a bet on the Super Bowl; whether through an office pool, picking boxes at a bar, wagering in Vegas or on-line. It is part of the American pastime. It is fun and appeals to our competitive juices.

But we also know the pitfalls of Super Bowl for the compulsive gambler. They get caught up in the betting, the preponderance of options, odds and lines. It is not just WHO will win, but “Will Ryan or Brady throw for more yards?” “Will there be a safety in the game? How many times will Brady catch the Falcons off-sides? Which commercial precedes the opening kickoff?” The more bets, the more action for the compulsive gambler. This can lead to an overdose of betting that can have truly devastating consequences.

The Recovery Committee stresses caution:

  • Don’t get caught up in the hype and bet beyond your means.
  • Don’t mix alcohol with gambling; this may reduce inhibitions.
  • Treat gambling as entertainment, not as a job.

For those in early recovery from a gambling disorder, the Super Bowl is a high-risk situation. The best strategy may be to not watch the game at all. It’s a great time to go to the movies, spend time with family and friends who don’t watch the game, or find healthy ways to keep yourself busy and distracted. We urge everyone to be careful out there. Big events sometimes bring out faulty beliefs like “I can really triple up on my usual stakes.”

And if you are a loved one, family member or friend of a problem gambler, know that you too can be triggered as you observe their irrational thoughts and behaviors and wonder what you can do to help. Contact Gam-Anon, the organization for loved ones of problem gamblers for information and meetings in your area.

And remember help is always available 24-7: call or text 1-800-522-4700 or chat at www.ncpgambling.org/chat.

Contact: Jeff Beck, JD, LPC, ICGC II, Clinical Director, Maryland Center of Excellence On Problem Gambling & Chair, NCPG Recovery Committee 667-214-2128 jbeck@som.umaryland.edu or
Keith Whyte, Executive Director, NCPG 202.547.9204 or keithw@ncpgambling.org

Safety in Self-Help Groups

Safety in Self-Help Groups
~
MAJ John Donovan

One of the most important issues to confront recovery groups in decades has been the issue of “Safety in Self-Help” groups. Startling headlines and shocking news reports have circulated around the nation about predatory behavior within and around self-help groups.

Earlier this year the General Service Office of A.A. in New York, NY published a paper providing A.A. groups with much sought after guidance about how to deal with disruptive behavior within an A.A. group. This paper entitled:  Service Material from the General Service Office – Safety and A.A.:  Our Common Welfare, was printed on January 25, 2017.  The paper lays out the A.A. philosophy and suggestions for keeping groups safe.  Here are a few extracts:

  1. The paper states, “In any situation, if a person’s safety is in jeopardy, or the situation breaches the law, the individuals involved can take appropriate action to ensure their safety. Calling the proper authorities does not go against any A.A. Traditions. Anonymity is not a cloak protecting criminal or inappropriate behavior”.
  1. The paper adds, “As individuals, A.A. members are also “citizens of the world,” and as citizens we are not above the law”.
  1. Lastly the paper adds, “No A.A. group has to tolerate illegal behavior and any activity within an A.A. meeting is subject to the same laws that apply outside the meeting.”

Although not in the aforementioned paper, this excerpt from a letter Bill Wilson (co-founder of A.A.) wrote in 1969 clearly shows how Bill felt about the subject. He wrote, “This amount of charity does not mean that we cannot exclude those who disturb meetings or seriously interfere with the functioning of the group. Such people can be asked to quiet down or go elsewhere, or, to come back when they are better able to participate.”

In summary, the group’s welfare comes first. No one in a self-help group is above or outside the law.

MAJ Donovan is a person in long-term recovery and an advocate for veterans seeking recovery.  MAJ Donovan will present on “Safety in Self-Help Groups” on April 27 at the Annual Military Mental Health Initiative Conference to be held at the 133rd Air Wing located adjacent to the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport. 

Sober Squad Sets New Record at Walk for Recovery

Randell Sam, Gary Benjamin and Colin Cash of Sober Squad

The annual Walk for Recovery is testament to the strength and generosity of the recovery community. Those of us in recovery from different recovery pathways, our families, allies, and the professionals who serve us come together to remember loved ones, celebrate recovery, and show the world that recovery works.  Each year, MRC is humbled by the outpouring of support and community strength that the Walk generates.

This year, our hearts were especially full of gratitude for a group of newcomers to the walk: Team Sober Squad. Led by Colin Cash, Sober Squad is a recovery community that originated on the Mille Lacs Reservation. One by one, Colin and other Squad members, such as Randell Sam and Gary Benjamin (featured to the left of Colin in the photo above), connect individuals to the hope of recovery. From accompanying people to meetings to Friday night pizza dinners to public parades, the members of Sober Squad are creating recovery in their communities. Through the efforts of Colin, Gary, Randell and others, Sober Squad now has chapters in Fond du Lac, Hinckley, Brainerd, and elsewhere beyond Mille Lacs.

Colin graduated from MRC’s Recovery Coach Academy in May of this year. The experience, he says, increased his confidence and gave a stamp of approval to the work he had been doing in Mille Lacs.  Wanting to give back to MRC, he decided to fundraise for the Walk and organized a team.

Team Sober Squad at the 2018 Walk for Recovery

All we can say is, WOW! Team Sober Squad broke the record for Walk Team fundraising and had a record 70-plus team members. Colin rented a bus to transport team members from Mille Lacs to Minneapolis on the day of the Walk and ordered special shirts for the day. “This is what I’m doing with the training you gave me,” Colin told MRC. “I wanted to give back, to say to the world, hey, we’re here, we are making recovery happen.”

When people ask us what authentic peer recovery support services are, or what a recovery community organization does, we now respond with two words: Sober Squad. “Never underestimate the power of someone in recovery who wants to give back, ” said Colin. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts, Sober Squad. You are what recovery looks like.

To learn more about Sober Squad, check out this blog post from our friends at Recovree or this recent article in the Brainerd Dispatch.

And, we just want to say to Randy Anderson, the Walk for Recovery’s perennial top individual fundraiser, thank you from the bottom of our hearts as well . . . and watch out for next year! Colin is on your heels! 

The Faces of Recovery Project

Faces of Recovery
By Carolyn Wiger

Carolyn Wiger

About four years ago I had my interview for a chemical health social work position at Washington County. I debated whether or not I should mention that I am in recovery from drugs and alcohol. Previously, I was working as a counselor in treatment centers where the majority of my coworkers were also in recovery. They weren’t just in recovery, they were open about their recovery.  It was something to be proud of and celebrated.

I entered the interview room as stiff as a board because I was so scared that if I moved a certain way my tattoos would be revealed.  When asked what brought me into the chemical health field and why I wanted to work at the County, I felt my eyes begin to water. I couldn’t help but think about how just six years ago I was waiting to complete my Rule 25 Assessment and get into treatment. Now here I was, interviewing for a job where I would be giving the same type of help that I received at the beginning of my journey into recovery.

As a counselor, I always admired the County workers.  I knew that someday I wanted to be at the County. When I was offered the position, I bawled my eyes out. I felt so incredibly grateful.   On my first day of work I mentioned to a coworker that I was in recovery. Her response? “How did you pass the background check?” I paused for a second, but awkwardly laughed it off because yes, it was a legitimate concern. That didn’t stop me from talking about recovery, but I quickly realized that talking about my sobriety seemed to make my coworkers uncomfortable. “We don’t really talk about that here,” I was told. Well, why not?  It shouldn’t matter if I’m working at a treatment center or the County, both can be places where recovery can be openly discussed and celebrated.

In a 2014 study by Johns Hopkins University, researchers found that Americans were more likely to view people with substance use disorders more negatively than those with mental illnesses.

  • 22 percent would be willing to work with someone with SUD.
  • 62 percent would be willing to work with someone with mental illness.
  • 64 percent believed employers should be able to deny employment to people with SUD.
  • 25 percent believed employers should be able to deny employment to people with mental illness.
  • 43 percent opposed giving individuals with SUD the same health insurance benefits as the rest of the public.
  • 21 percent opposed giving those with mental illness the same health insurance benefits as the rest of the public.

I’m sure all of us can say we have been affected by addiction in some way. According to a recent report by the Surgeon General, 21 million Americans struggle with SUD but only 1 in 10 ever receive treatment.  The American Medical Association declared alcoholism a disease in 1956 and did the same for drug addictions in 1989. Despite this recognition, SUD remains one of the most stigmatized diseases. The behavioral symptoms of addiction are so baffling that it’s hard to understand and even harder not to have an opinion. Even among professionals, SUD doesn’t get the same respect that other chronic diseases do, such as diabetes and cancer.  All too often treatment and services are discontinued due to the belief that someone hasn’t “hit rock bottom,” suffered enough consequences, tried hard enough, or “just isn’t ready.” How many other diseases would we treat that way? I have never seen another disease be subjected to so many people’s opinions.

I knew I had to do something and that’s when I decided to create the Faces of Recovery posters. I selected 10 incredible people. Most of whom have been instrumental in my own recovery.  I wanted to showcase people doing what they love and thriving in recovery.  My goal is to change the way others view addiction by getting a glimpse into the stories of recovery.  I want to help create a work environment that celebrates recovery. I also want to inspire people who are struggling that recovery is possible. Often times we see addiction publicized at its worst. We don’t hear the stories of recovery.  We’ve seen enough of the Faces of Meth posters to know that drugs are bad, but that doesn’t mean these are bad people.  The truth is, “these people” are nurses, construction workers, social workers, attorneys, moms, dads, husbands, wives, children and friends.

If I had to be judged forever by the things I did while actively addicted, I would have never recovered. The stigma of this disease keeps people sick and if we do recover, many of us are too ashamed to share our story, for fear of being judged. I easily could have shut down when I didn’t feel my recovery was accepted.  Instead, I used it as an opportunity to educate. I put my story out there because I believe when we are vulnerable and share who we are, we have the ability to truly connect with people. Those uncomfortable conversations about my recovery have turned into acceptance and understanding.  On May 20th I celebrated 9 years of sobriety. My coworkers invited me to lunch in honor of my sober birthday and we openly talked about recovery. I felt loved, accepted, and worthy and that’s the way it should be.

Kris Kelly from Minnesota Recovery Connection facilitates a Recovery Ambassador workshop for Washington County staff members.

For Recovery Month I hosted an event where I was able to showcase my Faces of Recovery posters and educate over 100 of my coworkers about SUD and recovery.  The response I have gotten from this project has been incredible.  The emails and calls I’ve received from coworkers and the community have been so encouraging. I plan to continue speaking about the Faces of Recovery and will add additional posters throughout the year.  It’s not just about hanging up a poster. It’s about the story behind each one.  It’s about talking openly about recovery and spreading hope. We learn from stories and we connect by stories.   We all have a story to tell and we can help defeat the stigma by sharing it.

About the author:
My name is Carolyn Wiger and I have been in recovery for 9 years. I have been in the Chemical Health field since 2010 and have been a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor since 2012.  As a counselor, I worked in both residential and outpatient treatment centers. Currently, I work at Washington County as a Social Worker. My personal struggles are what led me into this field and my recovery is what keeps me going today.  

Recovery Shout Out: Let’s Hear it for Twin Cities Recovery Project!

Celebrating recovery at Twin Cities Recovery Project!

When Marc Johnigan moved to Minneapolis from Dayton, Ohio in 2010, he noticed something missing in his new community: a place to have fun in recovery, especially in the African American community.

Twin Cities Recovery Project President and CEO, Marc Johnigan

Marc knew from first-hand experience that connecting with people who have been successful in recovery is critical for sustaining long-term recovery. He saw how important the West Dayton Club was to his mother’s recovery journey, which she embarked on when he was in his late teens. At the Club, Martha Thompson found a welcoming environment where she and others in recovery could play cards, shoot pool, socialize, and support each other. When she didn’t yet feel comfortable at family functions, the Club gave her a place to feel understood and welcomed, especially during the holidays and other special occasions. Through the West Dayton Club, she built a new ecosystem that has helped her sustain recovery for over thirty years.

So in November, 2016, Marc opened the Twin Cities Recovery Social Club in South Minneapolis, his own version of the West Dayton Club. A person in long-term recovery himself, he wanted to create the kind of place where people in transition to a life in recovery could not only socialize, but could connect to other resources that developed the whole person. Two days before the Social Club hosted its grand opening, Marc also launched a Grief Support Group.

Marc lost his son to gun violence in 2007. “We are losing people left and right,” Marc said. “There are so many of us walking around today with unaddressed trauma and grief, with depression, fear, and feelings of hopelessness. People need an outlet to discuss the pain they’re living through. If we want to support recovery from substance use disorder, we also need to help people with the process of grieving – not just death, but also childhood trauma, broken relationships, loss of jobs, and other losses.”

Over the next two years, Marc added a Community Safety/Conflict resolution program, an HIV/AIDS Awareness Program, recovery outreach, and peer-to-peer recovery coaching to the menu of the organization’s offerings. Recognizing that they were more than just a Social Club, Marc and his Board of Directors decided to rename their 501c3 nonprofit the “Twin Cities Recovery Project” in time for their 2-year anniversary celebration last November.

Marc is a graduate of Minnesota Recovery Connection’s Recovery Coach Academy and worked as a Peer Recovery Specialist for MRC in the Ramsey County Adult Substance Abuse Court. As MRC got to know Marc and the Twin Cities Recovery Project (TCRP), it became clear to us that the organization’s mission, values, processes, and programs had all the makings of a Recovery Community Organization. It has been a great honor to work alongside Marc and his team, and we are thrilled to announce that on February 11, 2019, the Association of Recovery Community Organizations approved TCRP’s application to be designated an official Recovery Community Organization.

TCRP is the fourth new Recovery Community Organization recognized in Minnesota in the past year, bringing Minnesota’s total number of Recovery Community Organizations to six. The community-based, peer-to-peer support and advocacy provided by TCRP is a welcome addition to the continuum of care for people with substance use disorder, and we know that recovery is contagious. Thank you, Marc, and the team at Twin Cities Recovery Project for spreading recovery!  

The Twin Cities Recovery Project’s mission is to offer assistance and support to those suffering from substance use disorder in their transition toward lifestyles of health and productivity by offering a drug free environment as well as resources to develop the whole person. This will enable them to build healthy and positive relationships and to become productive members of society.

Visit their website  or follow their Facebook page to learn about upcoming programs and events.

MRC Recovery Spotlight! Julie Shade

As we navigate these challenging times and Minnesota’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we work hard to continue serving the recovery community in the most effective ways possible. We are connecting with people everyday, helping them navigate recovery resources during this especially difficult time and providing essential peer recovery support. This month, we interviewed Julie Shade, a former Community Engagement Intern and soon-to-be Recovery Navigator.

MRC: How did you get involved with MRC?

Julie: I learned about MRC through Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. I signed up to get weekly Telephone Recovery Support (TRS) calls and to work with a Recovery Navigator. TRS calls and working with my navigator were essential to my recovery. As I continued my recovery, I started the career training program at Twin Cities R!se (TCR) and started my intern role at MRC.

MRC: What does MRC mean to you?

Julie: MRC is a lifeline of recovery peers willing to help you find resources that you truly need to stay alive and have success in your recovery. It’s a hub of information to help you with the recovery process.

MRC: What is something significant that you are proud of?

Julie: I am most proud of the decision to get back into recovery and also to pursue some education to change my career pathway. After 12 years of recovery, I experienced a setback. In January 2019, I started my second phase of recovery. This time around, I was inspired to make a difference. I want to be able to help other people in recovery avoid the pitfalls that I fell into. Changing career paths is a really big deal. I wanted to transition out of warehouse work and I was not sure how to do that. MRC helped me figure that out.

“Recovery Works. That’s a statement you can put at the bottom. With an exclamation mark.”

MRC: What suggestions would you give to people in the recovery community?

Julie: Success comes through willingness. Take action. Be willing to learn, be honest, and grow. Give your best each day. Self-examination goes a long way. You have to learn to pay attention to things and really hear them. Recovery Works. That’s a statement you can put at the bottom, with an exclamation mark. Whatever unique way people find that works for them. Recovery works no matter how we find it. For some people, it is different and that is great. We are all working towards the same goal and it does not matter how you get there.

MRC: What is your next step/goal?

Julie: My goal stays the same. In the warehouse or now, I look to be an asset and a part of a team. I will attend the Recovery Coach Academy in the fall and continue to work in the recovery field. Once I become a Certified Recovery Coach, I want to focus on bridging the gap between early recovery and long-term recovery. I would like to be a lecturer and connect people in recovery in the future.

A Year of Sunrises

There’s no getting around it, 2020 was a challenging year. It was especially hard on people with Substance Use Disorders. Structural racism, stigma, and health disparities exacerbated by COVID-19 collided in 2020, and the emerging statistics present a grim narrative.

And yet, we are resilient. We know that each new day is both a gift and an opportunity. As the sun rises above the horizon every morning, so too does another chance to take a step forward, regardless of where we traveled the day before. Recovery is a process unique to each of us, but we share the promise of renewal.

I never fully appreciated the beauty in a sunrise until I entered into recovery. Now I cherish the moment when that glorious burst of pink and gold and light breaks open a new day. A source of joy and inspiration for me in 2020, even in its darkest moments, was the daily sunrise photo that my friend and colleague Gary Branchaud posted on social media.

In his recovery, Gary has also rescued 224 dogs, all of whom have found homes.

A person in long-term recovery and a member of the Red Lake Nation, Gary is the co-founder of Sober Squad, a recovery movement that he and Colin Cash started on the Mille Lacs reservation that has now spread throughout Minnesota and beyond. Every morning Gary posts a photo of the sun rising above Lake Mille Lacs, sometimes adding an inspirational quote and always including the admonition to “Make it a great day and REMEMBER to hug those close to you.”

Being near the lake at sunrise is part of Gary’s recovery journey and cultural healing. “Our medicine is really strong just before the sun rises,” he told me. “About three years ago I started sitting by the water and waiting. When the sun rises you can hear it, like a snap.” Every day at that moment he says a simple prayer that the sun will shine on everyone. “It helps me be grateful,” he said, “and it reminds me that I am only human.” The rare time Gary doesn’t post a sunrise photo from Mille Lacs is when he’s out of town. “I still say a prayer for everyone, though,” he added.

Here is (almost) every sunrise from 2020, each captured and honored with a prayer for us all by Gary. Miigwech, Gary, from me and so many others, for sharing the gift of sunrises with us in 2020. As we begin 2021, the recovery community is stronger than ever in its resolve to lift up and support all who are affected by Substance Use Disorders.  We will move forward, with gratitude, one sunrise at a time.

– Wendy Jones, Executive Director, Minnesota Recovery Connection