To really understand what it’s like to deal with the daily injections and skin pricks that come with Type 1 diabetes, or how it feels to experience the world with autism or depression, it helps to have walked a mile in that person’s shoes. The same is true for addiction. At Bluff, recovery counselors draw from their personal experience with addiction and recovery to help patients set goals, develop the life skills necessary for healthy relationships and productive careers, and assist with overcoming barriers to recovery.
Recovery counselors also offer encouragement and inspiration from a place of deep understanding and compassion. Through the perspective of having “been there,” they’re able to offer authentic advice and real-life tips to help men and women navigate their newly sober lives.
Our recovery counselors, Christian Frazier and Amanda Dillard, share their story of recovery, and how they work with patients in Bluff’s residential, partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs.
Q. What inspired you to become a recovery counselor?
Christian: I originally got sober in 2008. I stayed that way until 2013 when some stressful life events sent me into a tailspin and I relapsed for several weeks, almost dying in the process. I was open with my employer about what happened. I was fortunate. When I hit on hard times, my co-workers rallied around me.
I went back to work. I had great pay, great benefits, and I worked with wonderful people. But I was sitting in my cubicle and I knew I was not living out my life’s purpose. I quit my job. It was terrifying. It was exhilarating. But I knew I needed to be doing what I’m doing now. I became a certified peer specialist and fully pursued a career in the treatment and recovery field.
Amanda: I’ve been in recovery for 3 ½ years! I was working for a construction company and volunteering teaching Y12SR (Yoga of 12-Steps Recovery) classes at a sober living house. I realized that when I was helping others find their pathway to recovery was when I felt like I had a purpose. It was a calling. I got a CARES certification (Certified Addiction Recovery Empowerment Specialist by the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse) and knew this was what I wanted to do.
Q. What were some of the things that helped you in your recovery?
Christian: I made a lot of changes to my surroundings and who I aligned myself with. I fostered a network of people that were hungry for recovery and helping others. In the process, we all found ways to help ourselves. The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It’s connection. Building a social network that is filled with people who are like-minded in purpose is crucial to recovery.
Amanda: Christian and I joke that we’re two sides of one brain. He’s one of my best friends. I also have a sponsor. My husband is also in long-term recovery. My mother, my grown children and my godparents are also there for me. I’ve rebuilt those relationships. I tore them to trash when I was out drinking and drugging.
I also have a huge sober network in the community, through yoga, 12-steps groups, Young People in Recovery (YPR) and with CARES. I tap into these networks to help people coming out of Bluff get connected and get the support they need too.
Q. What sorts of things do you help patients in Bluff’s inpatient addiction treatment program with?
Christian: When they’re in detox, we provide quiet support, letting them know we’re looking forward to getting to work with them. I’ll reassure them that they did the right thing, and that I’m proud of them. We want to reinforce the decision they made to save their own lives.
After they’ve detoxed and are ready to start therapy, I’ll meet with them one-on-one and in groups, setting goals, working through challenges, being a sounding board, helping them learn to practice self-care.
We also facilitate a lot of phone calls. Some people are on probation and are worried that if they don’t check in they will go to jail. We make sure probation officers know they’re in residential treatment. We work with employers, arranging for FMLA [Family and Medical Leave Act, a federal law that allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for some employees without job loss].
Child custody calls, and calls to people’s exes, are some of the most difficult calls we make. People in treatment are often very worried that they’re going to lose access to their children. That does happen. But we let them know that they are surrounded by clinical and medical professionals who can help facilitate those conversations, and come up with creative solutions going forward. We let patients know that they can come back from this. Losing custody of their children does not have to be permanent. Our goal is to remove barriers to them staying in treatment, and reduce stress so that they can focus on treatment.
Q. What sorts of things do patients in the intensive outpatient programs need help with?
Amanda: In IOP, they’re beginning to move toward heading back out into the workplace. There’s a lot to do to get them ready. Personal hygiene may have fallen by the wayside. Self-care is a very big thing – eating right, getting enough sleep, incorporating yoga or exercise into a daily routine.
We also develop risk management plans. We look at all of the situations that are potential triggers and figure out ways to combat them. Maybe there was a certain place they used to park for work and score drugs at the same time. If they park there, it may lead to feeling triggered, so we come up with ways to avoid that.
Job skills – searching for jobs, writing a resume, interviewing – are also important. If someone is returning to their old job, we prepare them for what to say to co-workers, and role play how to handle questions honestly but without feeling pressure to ‘over-disclose.’
Q. Do you think your personal experience with addiction helps you help others?
Christian: Yes, absolutely. When I talk about the darkness of depression, or the real terror that goes along with thinking about committing suicide, or that compulsion of wanting to go to the bar or the liquor store, people know that I know exactly where they’re been. When we sit in a room together with our residents and they know I really get it, they start to open up and get honest with themselves, which is an important part of healing.
Amanda: When you’re an addict, you can feel so alone. There is shame and guilt associated it with. You can feel you’re an awful person. It can be hard to talk about it. If I share a little bit of my own story, it opens the door for them to say, ‘You get it. Let me tell you about me.’ I can bring that back to the treatment team, so that the therapist can have a more strategic game plan on how to reach that person. We are adjuncts to the clinical team.
Q. What do you find most rewarding about the job?
Christian: My favorite thing is watching that light show back up in their eyes and that first smile.
Amanda: I love it when they start to realize they don’t have to live in the chaos, there is a better way. In addiction, you get comfortable with the chaos. It’s the devil you know. Change and growth is difficult for anybody. But when they get involved in their own recovery, it’s like, yeah! The angels start singing and the shaft of lights comes down and it’s absolutely amazing. When I see that spark, that’s what drives me.