Finding Inspiration in Recovery

I remember sitting through my first AA meeting like it was yesterday. The first person to share was a seventy something year old man who announced that he was a “grateful recovering alcoholic.” He went on to explain that he had been sober for over twenty years and runs six miles a day. I thought to myself… these people make me sick.

As our disease progresses we find new and creative ways to maintain our active addiction. Our internal self-talk finds a way to rationalize why our using is “normal” and why we aren’t dependent on our drug of choice. By doing this over a period of time we become internally conflicted with believing and therefore behaving in a way that do not align with our morals and values. This process is difficult because we start losing ourselves to our addiction. Our goals, dreams and ultimately our identity is slowly taken from us and replaced with a substance. Most people with a drug and/or alcohol dependency can identify with this process and often have a hard time articulating how this process has taken over their lives.

When someone stops using and gets sober finding inspiration and gratitude can be challenging. The act of getting sober is scary and for many a last resort. Our behavior and thought process has revolved around our using. The motivation behind what we do, say and feel supports our addiction and continued use.

In my experience waking up in a detox unit after a five year bender was not particularly inspiring. To be honest my disease continued to rationalize why I was not like all the others who had a “real drinking problem”. This thought process took time and patience. It involved accepting the help and guidance of others. Initially I found inspiration while in treatment, from my peers, my counselors, mentors and books. I had to trust the process and I still do.

So what helped me find inspiration in recovery? Below is a list of suggestions and techniques etc. that helped me find and maintain sobriety.

  1. Create a gratitude list
  • Put a notepad next to your bed. If you are a morning person write a list of things you are grateful for; if you are a night person then write your list before you go to bed. If you are an over achiever do it both in the AM and PM. If you have a hard time knowing where to begin try making a gratitude list using the alphabet to provide as a guide. (Example: A is for AA Meetings, B is for Books, C is for my sister Chelsea and so on).
  1. Take in your five senses.
  • Go somewhere quiet, if it helps close your eyes. And think what do I currently see, feel, hear, taste and smell.
  • It is easy to move through your day on autopilot. It is healthy to bring yourself back to the present moment and feel grounded.
  1. Remember – One Day at A Time
  • In early recovery this saying got me through tough times. Often I would even break this down further and tell myself “one hour at a time.”Before I knew it my one hours were turning into days, my days into weeks, and weeks into month and so on. It made time doable and helped me accomplish small goals.
  1. Get out into nature.
  • This is very personal to me and I could probably write a book about it. However, finding the beauty in nature has enhanced the quality of my life…period. I remember talking to a very good friend and mentor who is also in recovery. At the time I was feeling stuck, it was winter and my attitude needed adjustment. I remember my friend saying “Don’t you enjoy skiing? When you are riding up the chair lift take a moment to really take in the beauty of the outdoors.” I have always remembered this advice. It is simple but has dramatically impacted my outlook. This would be a good time to take in your five senses.
  1. Appreciate the small/simple things.
  • It is easy to take life for granted. One of my favorite quotes “That breath you just took… it’s a gift” by Rob Bell really summarizes what I mean by appreciating the small and simple things.
  • Another favorite memory I have that exemplifies this was a time when I was facilitating a group at a residential treatment facility. One young women in particular shared that she was grateful to see the sun for the first time sober in 10 years. This forever will be a perfect example of what I mean by finding gratitude.

Today, I am a little more than six and a half years sober. I am now the person who attends meetings and introduces myself, “Hi I am Kristin and I am a grateful recovering alcoholic.”

Kristin Reinink

Recovery Allies of West Michigan – Director of Resource Relationships

Why Springtime is a Great Time to Get Sober

As the seasons change from winter to spring here in west Michigan, I find myself having the same conversation with the fellow recovering people and individuals I work with. It always ends with me saying, “There is a reason you feel so good.” Seasonal changes can affect us in many ways: emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. Spring is a time for renewal, transformation, growth and the signs of new life all around us. Spring is when nature sheds the old and welcomes the new. Similarly, seeking help for addiction, is a new beginning, where we encourage our bodies to rejuvenate and transform. Finding recovery has a way of improving our health and vitality, cleaning our bodies of impurities and making us feel brand new.


There are so many beautiful parallels between springtime and recovery. Sobriety in the spring tends to increase our awareness and appreciation for the things we used to take for granted. Having a fresh outlook on the world gives a new and improved perspective on life in recovery. While those feelings are fresh, it is a good idea to implement some practices that will through spring, summer and beyond – living a happy, healthy and transformative life in recovery.


• Physical Space – Keep in mind that clutter zaps emotional energy. Maintaining a space that is clean and tidy helps to promote mental and emotional clarity. Carve out a space designated for downtime, where you can go to unwind, pray, meditate, read inspiring books, journal or just have some quiet time.

• Mental Space – You can de-clutter your mind too. Make a list of all the things you want to omit from your new life and begin to downsize. Being chronically over-committed or having unhealthy relationships, for example, are distractions to your recovery. This mental clutter could potentially jeopardize your sobriety.

• Outdoors Space – As winter weather comes to an end and spring brings warmth and newfound beauty to your surroundings, it’s time to take a walk or spend time outdoors. Get a dose of Vitamin D. Play the five senses game: allow yourself to take in all five of your senses mindfully. Smell, touch, taste, see and listen – to all that surrounds you. This exercise can change the way you perceive the world.
• Grateful Space – Remember to be grateful every day (for some, it is the fact the ice has melted…). Make a “Gratitude List” and focus on it regularly. It doesn’t matter if you practice having an “attitude for gratitude” in the morning or at night. As Melody Beattie says, “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” The dictionary defines “spring” as: the season after winter and before summer; a move or jump suddenly or rapidly upward or forward; originate or arise from; or a resilient device. As a newly sober person goes forward into our newfound recovery, all four definitions fit like a glove.

Kristin Reinink

Recovery Allies of West Michigan  – Director of Resource Relationships

What is a Recovery Residence?

Recovery residences are a safe place to reside while learning to live a life free of drugs and alcohol. In early recovery housing is critical. A recovery residence offers rules, structure, accountability, and support.

Today I proudly claim to be a person in long-term recovery. It took me a very long time to be able to earn this title, as I was what may be called a “chronic relapser”. I went to treatment 18 times, only to use within the first 24 hours of discharge after each of those trips. Except for the last.

During my last trip to rehab it was suggested that I move on to a recovery house upon discharge. I had all kinds of excuses not to go. “I have a safe place to go with non-using family members”. “I just did 101 days in treatment, why the heck would I need more?” “I don’t want to live with a bunch of other women whom I don’t know”. All excuses to simply NOT do what was being suggested of me.

I was a person who could thrive in treatment. Tell me when to eat, when to sleep, what group to go to, what topic to talk about and I was set. I had become “institutionalized”. I could talk the talk but could not walk the walk. I did not know how to live in the outside world.

A recovery residence gave me the tools I needed to learn to become a responsible, productive member of society. I obtained employment. I learned to cook. I had family like support from my “sisters” in recovery at the house. I did daily house chores. I regularly attended parenting time with my daughters. I learned patience of myself and others. I attended recovery support groups regularly.

All things I still do today. Today I am the Director of Outreach and Women’s Housing manager for a group of recovery residences in the Grand Rapids, MI area. I cook dinner for my family most nights of the week, in our home. I have family like support from my “sisters” in recovery. I have regained full custody of my youngest daughter. I spend regular time with my oldest daughter whom was adopted by a family member. I still practice patience. I still regularly attend and serve for recovery support groups. These are but a few of the many blessings I have gained from living in a recovery residence.

Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous once said, “You can’t think your way into right action, but you can act your way into right thinking.” This quote guided me into taking the simple suggestion of moving into a recovery residence. A suggestion that may be one of the most pivotal moves in my recovery.

Recovery residences offer people a safe place to start and sustain recovery. The rules, structure, accountability, and support help guide people, like me, into long term recovery by not just thinking about right living; by living their way into right thinking.

Brooke Bouwman

Recovery Allies

Safe Passages Program Recovery Coach

Association of Recovery Community Organizations

About the Association of Recovery Community Organizations

The following information can be found at

 The Association of Recovery Community Organizations (ARCO) at Faces & Voices of Recovery unites and supports the growing network of local, regional and statewide recovery community organizations (RCOs). ARCO links RCOs and their leaders with local and national allies and provides training and technical assistance to groups. ARCO helps build the unified voice of the organized recovery community and fulfill our commitment to supporting the development of new groups and strengthening existing ones.

All RCOs that are led and governed by the recovery community are welcome to join. The benefits of membership include the opportunity to participate in an annual 2 day Leadership Academy. ARCO has hosted Academies in Denver, Dallas, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Washington, D.C.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the Association of Recovery Community Organizations?

The Association of Recovery Community Organizations (ARCO) at Faces & Voices of Recovery brings together established, new, and emerging groups to build the unified voice of the organized recovery community. It leverages the profile and unifying force of Faces & Voices for member organizations, while building the capacity and leadership of the organized recovery community.

Q. What role do Recovery Community Organizations play in the recovery movement?

There are over 100 established recovery community organizations (RCOs) within ARCO. They help bridge the gap between professional treatment and building healthy and successful lives in long-term recovery. They increase the visibility and influence of the recovery community and engage in one or more of three core activities:

1.     Educating the public about the reality of recovery

2.     Advocating on behalf of the recovery community

3.     Delivering peer recovery support services.

Q. How does ARCO help RCOs to achieve their purpose?

ARCO unites and supports the growing network of local, regional, and statewide recovery community organizations – linking them and their leaders with local and national allies, and providing training and technical assistance to members.

Q. What benefits do members receive?

See Benefits of Membership page.

Q. What organizations may join?

Eligible organizations are local, regional and state non-profit organizations that are led and governed by the recovery community (people in recovery, their families, friends and allies) that focus on the following core purposes:

·      Public education – putting a face and a voice on recovery

·      Advocacy

·      Peer recovery support services

RCO’s do not provide clinical treatment services.

Organizations must be independently accountable to the recovery communities they serve.

NOTE** Organizations may be under the umbrella of a fiscal agent; however, they must demonstrate a governance structure allowing for autonomy in regards to leadership, personnel, fund development and decision-making.

Michigan Association of Recovery Community Organizations

Recovery Allies Of West Michigan
Name: Kevin McLaughlin
Phone Number: (616) 226-6567

Do Not Gamble With Your Recovery


Every week I am contacted by people dealing with problems created by their gambling. Most of them have lost everything and are trying to figure out what happened to their lives. All are in deep financial trouble and many are facing criminal charges. Some are contemplating suicide. Compulsive gambling has the highest suicide rate of all addictions. There are two reasons which allow the gambler to get so lost in his addiction. First, compulsive gambling is known as the hidden addiction. There are no outward manifestations. There is no odor, no staggering, no slurred speech. People do not realize a problem is starting to consume a loved one or a friend until it is too late. Second, as long as the gambler has a token, the gambler has hope. The gambler will only seek help when all the money is gone.
A large number of gamblers have one other thing in common; they are in recovery from substance use disorder. Many in this group have been sober and in a mutual aid support group for many years. The last two people who contacted me both had an active gambling addiction, one with eight and the other with fifteen years of recovery
from a substance addiction. Gambling is an insidious addiction. A person predisposed to develop a gambling
problem may spend years gambling socially and suffering minimal ill effects. But that person will eventually cross the line into a full blown addiction. The chains of addiction are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. The devastation we gamblers leave in our wake can take a lifetime to recover from. Relationships
are often fatally destroyed because of the betrayal of trust by the compulsive gambler.

Studies have shown that between 12% and 20% of substance users in inpatient rehab programs also have a co-occurring gambling problem. We should start treating this group immediately. This can be accomplished by implementing an aftercare program to specifically offer treatment for a gambling problem. I conducted a survey of substance use patients at Brighton Hospital in Brighton, Michigan. I screened 8,000 substance users, primarily person with alcohol addiction, for a gambling problem. Sixteen percent of the patients screened identified as
having a problem. What was more interesting was that the majority of the remaining eighty-four percent did not gamble at all. The reason for this turned out to be quite simple. The addiction that brought them into the hospital was working just fine. They did not need another addiction at that time. Unfortunately it is this group
that, after treatment for substance use, will trade their substance use addiction for a gambling addiction. They leave their alcoholism or drug use at the hospital and walk down the street and find a new addiction to replace it.
This is a large group of people who are predisposed to problem gambling and, at the same time, the most economical and easy to treat. All we have to do is educate them about the dangers of gambling, just as we currently educate person with addictionabout the dangers of other substances. The theme should be addiction is addiction
is addiction. Education should lead to well informed and appropriate choices for the person in recovery. Another area that holds great promise is educating people in recovery in the twelve step programs and all other mutual aid groups. There is a need to start discussions relating to gambling and other process addictions. Members need to be warned of the devastation that gambling can cause a person inrecovery. I am deeply saddened by the hundreds
of gamblers coming out of twelve step programs who have lost most of what they had gained back while in that program because of a lack of knowledge about gambling addiction. The message is simple. If you are in recovery, do not gamble. If you need help for a gambling problem, contact me at

-Michael Burke

The Purpose Of Pathways

There is a Recovery Revolution. Come, be a part.

Remember the Wizard Of Oz?

Remember the Yellow Brick Road?

Remember the message?

Bet you did not remember how powerfully that message connected to the recovery community and those working to conquer a Substance Use Disorder.

How could you? That connection has not really been a message that has been shared much at all in the world at large. But, that is starting to change and this iconic and classic film is a surprisingly powerful metaphor for it.

In the film, the Yellow Brick Road is a pathway for Dorothy and the others to follow to a place where their strongest desires will be fulfilled. For Dorothy it’s the desire to be home. To be in a safe place of comfort, security and wellness. It’s to be in a place that is familiar and filled with safety. It’s a place nearly all of us can relate to, in some form or another: Home.

To get there she and her friends must follow a long road of yellow bricks, a pathway which will have challenges – yes – but ultimately the answers needed to fulfill their desires. Follow the pathway, one step at a time, and the answers will be revealed to allow you to have what you desire. Follow the pathway, carefully and purposefully, and challenges can be overcome and goals realized. Simply follow the pathway and a better state of wellness can be discovered, uncovered and explored.

That – in a simple form – is the essence of the Pathways Concept. Follow the pathway and you’ll discover that the answers and the empowerment have always been within YOU. We only needed to start to believe this truth.

So, what does this mean? What’s the core?

Well, to best express this I’ll need to share a little of my own story.

Like millions of Americans I began using alcohol on a regular basis in the late teens and early 20s. For me it was always connected to a sense of celebration: The week is over and now I get to celebrate and reward myself for working hard. Off to the bar. Off to the club. Off to a party or quietly sitting with friends or alone. For me the reasons to use were: 1. It clicked with me physiologically and 2. It was part of the culture which I lived and embraced.

Those first 10 years there was not an issue.

The next 11-15 the issue became apparent.

The next 16 – 20 the issue became dependency.

For me I began to become aware of “an” issue in my early 30s, about 10 years into my drinking. I strived to cut down, to moderate and often did just that. Still, dependency crept up little by little, year by year. By 40 alcohol was a completely destructive force in my life and dependency upon it a perplexing and confusing and ravaging reality. The Wicked Witch was there, in full force.

Even with acute awareness that a problem was forming I was unable to prevent the full effects of the problem from exploding into my reality. Why?

For me the answer was simple. Over and over and wherever I turned I encountered the same message: 1. You’ll never be able to drink again. 2. The only way to wellness is through AA, 12 Steps and a belief in a higher power. 3. Alcohol is different from and not the same as “harder” drugs.

I could not swallow this (pun intended) as I did not want to never drink again. Even if that were to be a reality I am an agnostic/atheist so belief in a higher power to yield wellness was simply not an option. It was a double whammy. And, it was a powerful one. Looking back it added years to my struggle. I think it does for many. I believe it does for millions.

12 Step programs work well for many of those whom engage with them but not all. So, what about the rest? What about the percentage of those where the legacy and power of 12 Steps simply does not work and even alienates? It’s a larger number of people than some think. What about them and what do they do once they realize the most famous and accepted pathway to wellness simply is not the pathway for them.

In short, in simplistic terms, they just: Follow Another Pathway. Follow however they choose to define their Yellow Brick Road.

That’s the core of the Pathways Concept and here that concept is: You define you Recovery and you and you alone are in complete control of it. There are a million reasons why people become dependent upon a substance and there are just as many ways to, step by step, leave that dependency in the past.

If 12 Step programs work for you then dive into them as deeply as you can. Spirituality and faith are powerful allies when we confront life’s most difficult struggles. But, if not, then simply choose a different pathway and different way to connect with and draw support from the recovery community. LifeRing and SMART are two of the primary mutual aid group alternatives to 12 Steps. Others include Women For Sobriety, Seeking Safety, Wellbriety and Refuge Recovery and All Recovery. These mutual aid groups offer both secular and spiritual solutions. And, if something does not work then simply seek out something that does. These options may not be as famous as 12 Steps, nor with the same longevity and legacy, but they are options most may not be aware are there. There are forks and many directions in your Yellow Brick Road which will still lead to the same Emerald City of wellness and home.

Mutual aid groups are extremely powerful in helping those to get well from Substance Use Disorder. Very few, including myself, will argue with this. In groups you can realize that dealing with a substance use issue is TYPICAL and something that millions encounter. You are not alone. No question about that no matter how much our society may impact you to feel otherwise. No question about that despite whatever stigmas exist. And there are many.

But, for some mutual aid support groups just simply are not the way. And – guess what – that’s ok too. Strive to identify those things in life which ignite your interests and passions. As clarity comes from physiological wellness, those things in life which make you smile, which make you content, can become powerful pathways to wellness, too.

For me I made the decision to gain as much from any group as possible. So, I’ll go to anything and simply pull whatever I can from it. I take it in. I make it mine. I interpret it however it works for me. I also practice yoga. I’m working on a novel. I read about stuff which interests me until I cannot read any more. I enjoy my morning coffee like I used to enjoy Friday night Martinis. No, not exactly the same way. I don’t get the same dopamine high as I did from those strong alcoholic beverages on the weekend. But, I do get a smaller high each and every single morning of the week. It’s amazing. It’s one of my pathways.

I’m still walking on my Yellow Brick Road. Across the way I see Dorothy and her friends walking in the same direction but on a different pathway. Turning the other direction I see many faces I’ve met on my journey, each walking on her or his own pathway. Turns out there is not just one or two like I believed for most of my life. There are hundreds. There are thousands. There are hundreds of thousands. There are millions. There are as many pathways in recovery as there are humans alive on this beautiful planet.

Never saw that one coming.

Perhaps the reason why is that the Emerald City of wellness gleams brightly in both the sun and moonlight. The glare and reflections coming from a place of wellness can be powerful. Yep, it’s that good. That glare and reflection are so powerful it took a while for me to notice the countless ways people were all moving towards the same destination.

The tide is turning. A Recovery Revolution has just begun. That silly witch is still chasing after but my feet are moving forward just a couple steps each, one day at a time.

Come… join along for the journey. How will you define your Yellow Brick Road?

In the end… it may not even be yellow.

Douglas Hulst

Recovery Allies

Director of Community Relationships

Addiction – A Family Disease

People are sometimes confused when they are told that addiction is a family disease. Some take this to mean that addiction runs in families. Others believe that it means that the family caused the addiction. Neither of these is correct. So what does it mean to say that addiction is “a family disease?” It means, quite simply, that when addiction enters a family, everyone who loves the addict or alcoholic is deeply affected. In fact, many of those who work in the field of addiction treatment and recovery believe that family members—to varying degrees—will become just as sick, or even sicker, than the addict. One can even make the case that family members will travel a parallel path with the person suffering from addiction—mirroring each of the diagnostic indicators of addiction.

Living the Small Life

For example, while the person with the addiction becomes preoccupied and obsessed with alcohol or drugs, the family becomes narrowly focused on them (“What is he doing?  What is he thinking? Where did he go? How is he feeling today?”)  Just as the person’s obsession with alcohol and drugs causes him to neglect other important areas of his life, the family’s obsession with their using causes them to live increasingly narrow lives.  To put it simply, life for the family becomes very small.


Just as the person with the addiction develops an incredible  tolerance for increasing amounts of alcohol or drugs, the family learns to tolerate behavior which they would never accept from anyone  else. They find themselves paying the addict’s bills, bailing them out of jail repeatedly, allowing  temper  tantrums,  and  making  excuses for outrageous behaviors.


When the addicted person is deprived of access to alcohol or drugs, he experiences physical and emotional pain and distress.  When the family does not know where he is and what he is doing, they often feel intense anxiety—sometimes terror—as they imagine the worst possible scenarios.  This sometimes causes family members to actually purchase alcohol or illegal drugs for them so they can use “safely” at home.

Loss of Control

In time, the person struggling with addiction begins to lose control over how much alcohol or drugs he will use.  He will make promises to his family and to himself that he will limit his use—fully intending to do so.  He will buy enough beer—he thinks—to last a week and finds that it’s gone after one night.  Similarly, the family will draw a line in the sand and say, “This is the last time we bail you out of jail!” only to find themselves doing it over and over again.  Family members will lose control in another ways as well.  Sooner or later, they start screaming—demanding that they stop his use of alcohol or drugs.

Continuation of Mistakes Despite Negative Consequences

Just as the addicted family member continues to use alcohol or drugs despite being thrown into jail, losing jobs, and ending relationships, so the family finds themselves continuing to scream and enable despite considerable evidence that these behaviors  not  only  do  not  work,  but  make  the problem worse—screaming gives them an excuse to use; enabling gives them the opportunity.

The Way Out

One of the most important things for people suffering  with  addiction  to  understand  is  that there is a way out of the nightmare which has descended upon their lives.  In short, recovery is possible.  However, this often starts when they receive the “gift of desperation”—the awareness that he can no longer live with alcohol or drugs in his life.  Similarly, most families need to receive that same gift—realizing that most of what they have done, no matter how well-intended, has not worked.  They need to understand that there is a way out of their nightmare as well.  As the family disease  concept  has  become  more  commonly recognized, therapists and support groups such as Al-Anon have become life-savers to those who love and live with addicts.

Which Drugs Are Dangerous?

One of the most common questions when it comes to addiction is: “Which drugs are dangerous (or “hard drugs”) and which drugs are just recreational (or “soft drugs”). However, the assumption behind the question has a fundamental flaw when it comes to understanding the causes of drug addiction. That assumption is that the potency of the drug is the key variable in terms of increasing the risk of addiction.

It is important to keep in mind that there are a number of drugs which are capable of leading to addiction. In order to do so, they have certain common properties. They must be able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier, mimic the effects of normal neurotransmitters, and exert an effect on the pleasure center of the brain. This includes opiates such as heroin and cocaine, but it also includes alcohol, marijuana, and a number of prescription medications.

However, in order for addiction to take place, a second factor needs to be in place: the vulnerability of the user. It is known, for example, that some people are far more likely to become addicted to alcohol and than others. It is also becoming apparent that some people are more susceptible to cannabis addiction than others. While many question the role of genetically inherited vulnerability, ask yourself why is it that most people who drink alcohol do not become alcoholics. Similarly, why is it that most of those who use marijuana do not become addicted to it?

There is also a third factor which must be present to cause addiction: exposure. Regardless of the vulnerability of an individual, if he or she never uses alcohol or drugs, addiction cannot occur. This is why we sometimes find families in which addiction seems to “leap frog” over one generation. What often happens is that the son or daughter of an alcoholic, while inheriting the genetic vulnerability, avoids alcohol like the plague because of what they witnessed as children growing up in an alcoholic home. Their own children, lacking those negative experiences, might be inclined to start using alcohol like their peers, blissfully unaware of the risk they are running.

There is one aspect of exposure which also needs to be considered; that is, the age of first use of alcohol or drugs. It is generally agreed that, the earlier the exposure, the more the risk of addiction. While there are some who argue that early use of alcohol or drugs is an “effect” rather than a “cause” of addiction, there is no serious debate about the more serious consequences associated with early exposure.

In the treatment of addictions and in recovery circles, a common answer to the question about which drug is the most dangerous is pretty simple: it’s the one that gets you. When addiction takes over a person’s life, it becomes their primary relationship. When that happens, all other relationships—with family, friends, God—take a back seat. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s alcohol, cocaine or weed. These are just different deck chairs on the Titanic.

Mark Thomson is Director of Special Projects at D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s and serves on the Kent County Prevention Coalition, The Turning Point Advisory Council, and Recovery Allies of West Michigan, an advocacy group for those in recovery.

Copyright © 2020 Michigan Recovery.