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 http://facesandvoicesofrecovery.org

 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

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

Just A Little More Change Required

By: Kevin McLaughlin, Executive Director, Recovery Allies

Part of my job is to organize the “recovery” community. How can we organize the community if we don’t know who they truly are. Those who suffer consequences due to a substance addiction do not all look alike, nor are the paths they take to become free of that addiction all the same. The more I learn about recovery and the people in it, the more I learn that the paths out of addiction are varied.

I think many of us make an assumption that in general the recovery community is made up of people that have messed up their lives really badly. They have legal issues, medical issues and money issues. There is a certain image that comes to mind when we hear the word alcoholic or drug addict.

Unfortunately, this negative image is not only true coming from the general population (those who don’t have negative consequences due to use) but some of those in active recovery as well. If those of us in recovery have a misguided notion of what we look like, how can we expect those that don’t look like that to change? And how can we reach those that don’t fit that description?

In an effort to help as many people as possible, we need to change the distorted image we have of those with addiction. This message is for those in recovery, for those that simply chose not to drink or use drugs, for those struggling in active addiction, and for those who treat people for addiction.

Let’s look at the clinical categories for people with addiction. The categories are separated into three groups: mild, moderate and severe. I think that the general population and the treatment industry think of ALL people with addiction as being in the last category of severe. This is due to the fact that by the time this person surfaces for help, they are in the later stages of addiction. Before we go on about the two categories of mild to moderate we need to talk about the three different ways people identify themselves who are no longer using.

Recovery Identity 

It is important to know that for 5 to 10% of the drinking population (regardless of their socio-economic status), addiction is a normal side effect of continued use of a drug.

Remembering that, lets look at three kinds of recovery identity or association to recovery.

First is called recovery neutral. This person says simply “I don’t drink”. They never connected to the recovery community and never had a need to. They had problems of some sort and just stopped. Typically these people don’t have any trouble saying they “had a few problems” which is why they quit. If asked how long they have been in recovery they may say, “what do you mean?” Labeling it and counting the days is not a part of quitting for them.

Next is the recovery negative identity. For this person it is a bad or shameful thing to be associated with the recovery community. This person doesn’t tell anyone they have a history. They fear judgment and stigmatization. For many it’s for good reason. The employer may change their attitude about an otherwise stellar employee, which may result in a missed promotion or a change in position. But for most, experiences like those aren’t necessary for the feelings of shame to exist.

The last group is the recovery positive group. The person in this group is proud of the achievement of such a monumental change in themselves. They have no problem sharing their story especially in the hopes of helping someone else.

Now that we understand how people may think of themselves in relation to no longer using substances, we can look at the mild and moderate groups. The mild to moderate group identifies typically with the recovery neutral group and very often is made up of kids. The group is also made up of young professionals, stay at home moms and dads and lastly retired people. I propose that we develop a different language to get this group’s attention. If they only have a few consequences it is more likely they will fall into the “recovery neutral” group. If we suggest a lifetime of abstinence we usually lose them. If we say that recovery is a journey and will require a ton of work for a long time we could lose them. If we say they have to change everything especially friends we lose them. So why not change our approach?! We could start by listening to the individual and actually believe them when they say “I don’t think I’m an alcoholic”. They may not be. But then again they might.

I also find that by sharing my path (ie my early reluctance to be labeled or join the recovery community,) the ground is laid for further discussion. My experience has been that the more I learn about them and adapt my language to fit their situation, the more engaged in change these people become.

Another fascinating thing I’m finding is that many people are “coming forward” and sharing that this is exactly their experience with addiction. Some have failed treatment yet ultimately reached a place of overall well being without “joining” a recovery program. One reason they typically don’t talk about this within recovery communities is that their experience is often challenged, discredited, or discounted. When coaching a person, seeking wellness and recovery, I absolutely love the response a person, usually young, gives when they hear these words: “you may not be an alcoholic”, or “you don’t need to attend a support group to get well,” or “you don’t have to identify with the recovery community or call yourself anything other than human.” It is as if a heavy weight is lifted off their shoulders.

For those unfamiliar with the history of treatment, labeling is a necessary thing used to establish a system of being able to pay for treatment. To treat someone we need a diagnosis and the ability to measure the effectiveness. Labels serve a purpose for that goal; let’s use them just for that. I think we should be allowed to define ourselves.

We at Recovery Allies have had to open ourselves up to some new and different ideas and facts and then take the next steps and make a sincere effort at changing such things as our language and assumptions of what the recovery community looks like. The result so far is people who don’t fit the image of an alcoholic or drug addict are coming to us and talking. They are doing so because they have a desire to help those that may identify with their story. After saying all this, the funny thing is, it seems like people that don’t identify or relate to those in the recovery community look an awful lot like someone who does….


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.

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