Meet our Counselors
We got to interview John, a staff member with Transitions Recovery. Learn about his experience in addiction recovery below:
John graduated with degrees in accounting and computer science and worked in the IT field, but he found himself working with addiction recovery instead. How did this happen?
“When my consulting business was purchased, they gave me a 7 year no-compete. At the time, a friend of mine was a recovering heroin addict and I was recovering from alcohol. He told me to take a class – I took the class, got certified, and now I’m an addiction specialist.”
What was your experience in coming into recovery?
“I struggled for a long time in and out, in and out, just like a lot of other people. I got to the point of surrender and managing risk. I entered AA and it saved my life. I was pretty much drinking my whole life, in my mid-40s, or actually… early 40s. I decided to go to AA, but I didn’t really get it until my late 40s.”
What do you commonly see with people that are coming in for treatment?
“Same underlying stuff. I look for: have they really surrendered or do they still have further to go in their addiction. I hear a lot of ‘I got this’, ‘I’m good’, ‘I’m ready to go’. You know they aren’t ready then. That’s what keeps you from drinking is when you say ‘I got this day’. It’s only a one-day reprieve and once they understand that, they get it.”
Has the fact that you have gone through recovery yourself helped you with work?
“It has to some to degree. I’d say it enhances it because I can feel the struggle, but the education was really important. With all the documentation and laws, I think it’s really important that clinicians have a background in education. It doesn’t benefit to be a straight addict or alcoholic and then coming in to be a counselor. You need the education, the proper training.
When working with these people, I think ‘how can I learn from them’ because they haven’t experienced what I have experienced and vice versa. This also relates to the family. When I’m talking to family, you know the pain they went through and that makes it really helpful.”
What do you think about the opioid epidemic? Any recommendations?
“I think addiction is addiction and it goes through drug cycles. In the early 80’s it was cocaine and crack and now it’s opioids – but really, moving into a fentanyl epidemic. What is going on now might be different a year from now. It will change. I was looking at Ted Talks and they were talking about community and how binding it is. When people are unhappy about their lives, they are going to bond with whatever people are unhappy with.
You have a community of people that you use with. That community element is important. But what I see in younger patients, they don’t understand the physical element of the disease. They don’t understand that the chemicals are replacing the natural chemicals produced by the brain. They don’t understand that they are going to feel the withdrawal etc. When we were kids, we would get sick, but our body knows how to fight that. The thing about addiction is no matter how long we were sober, when we put that chemical back in our system, our body remembers exactly where you were during the time of that addiction. It can change back to that time really fast.”
Do you have any advice to share?
“Yeah, just ask questions and learn from the experience of others.”
What role do the parents have?
“Well that’s one of the biggest challenges, when you get an addict/alcoholic they are in treatment groups and they all get it. The families don’t understand the process. They don’t understand the co-dependencies. When kids get addicted, parents think it’s a phase. They don’t really get it at all until they send their loved ones to treatment. They have to detach themselves at that point and give the kids to the professionals. When the kids are away getting treatment, the family members need to focus on themselves and heal themselves. That way, when they come back together, they are both cured.
I wish the families would come a lot more. There is that feeling that ‘I am not the addict, I am not the alcoholic’. It affects everyone in the family, it changes roles. The whole family structure gets messed up. They want everything to seem normal. If the dad is an alcoholic, the son might step up in that position to make them seem normal. But that brings even more stress because he is trying to be in a role that he isn’t supposed to be in.”
So why did you choose to work at Transitions?
“Well, I came out of school and had to do internships, had to do work for other facilities. What set this place apart is I had a patient and he was out of funds and insurance. I talked to the owner and he said, ‘John, it’s your call’. That said to me, this is the place for me. They care about people more than they do about money. That’s the whole difference as to why I stayed here and didn’t go anywhere else. It’s heart-wrenching when you see insurance run out and the place says they have to go.
On a clinical end-you become a clinical family here. People stay close, everyone who gets clinic here develops a relationship with the facility. What do we do with the people who don’t have transitions in their back yard? I encourage them to start their own home groups up where they live so when people go back up in those areas, they have a group too.
Another thing that sets this apart is the counselors that have been here as long as they have. When a patient comes in, he has an advantage. He can learn from so many sides and so many experiences.”
Anything else you would like to add?
“Yeah. Well, you know, insurance companies in the near future are only going to pay for some type of medically sponsored treatment. I’ve actually talked to some of my friends who work in UR and if patients are willing to take their medications, they won’t take treatment anymore. There is a big push for those treatments. I don’t really believe in that. You know, my dad is a doctor. He always says I am going to come up with a drug that cures alcoholism. And I said, ‘what if they don’t want to take the medication?’ and he said, ‘well they are f-ed’.
For a guy like me who is very technically oriented, for me to be sitting behind the desk of a drug and alcohol treatment center, that wasn’t part of my plans. But I think this will probably not be my last rodeo. I think I’ll try something new and I’m going to look forward to it.”