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.  

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. 

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