Wednesday, March 11, 2009

When You've Got a Coach, Recovery is 24/7

"You want to go to Baltimore?" asked the driver of the car, rolling his window down.

Kevin looked in and saw a familiar face. It was Brandywine Counseling's Steve Burns. "Well, I don't have any money..." he answered.

"I didn’t ask you that," said Steve. "Get in the car. You’re going to Baltimore today."

Kevin got in. What followed turned out to be a major milestone in his recovery from drug addiction.

“We went to a Baltimore NA [Narcotics Anonymous] convention. And that was through the recovery coach program. They took me and a couple other guys there. And man, that was the best thing! I met my sponsor that I have today, at that NA convention. So it was because of the coaching program, I got the network I have today.”

Recovery coaching is a new program at Brandywine under the supervision of Steve Burns. A recovery coach provides peer support to a client in treatment, through telephone conversations, meetings, and outings like the NA convention. He or she works with the client to set and achieve goals like remaining abstinent, finding housing, and avoiding criminal activity. As Kevin describes it, his time with his coach is part social, part therapeutic.

“My recovery coach is Chuck Harris. Most of our contact is in person, but we do talk on the phone during the day. He’ll come by and pick me up, take me for a ride. We shoot pool at the 1212 Club, we’ll go out to dinner, we’ll go out to lunch, we’ll go over some literature of the NA books. He’ll call me on a regular basis, just to check how I’m doing. He stops by the apartment. He constantly makes sure that I’m okay, up here in my head. Always checks my behaviors. If he hears something through another person, he immediately comes to me, because I represent him as well.”

Chuck doesn’t work for Brandywine, but is a recovering person and an active member of the 1212 Club, Wilmington’s “recovery clubhouse” and safe haven. A recovery coach is not a counselor and not a sponsor, and isn’t meant to replace either one. Like a sponsor, the coach is based in the client’s living environment and holds them accountable for their actions and goals. But the coach also keeps in touch with the treatment program and documents every contact with a client. When someone is new to recovery, they often need time to find the right sponsor, and this was the case for Kevin.

“The sponsor I had at that time, we weren’t very compatible, and we weren’t really clicking, so I was looking toward finding a new sponsor anyway. But the recovery coach program ended up doing way above and beyond the way they explained it. They said you were going to be assigned to a person, and they were just basically going to be there for you. You would be able to call on them when you were having thoughts of depression, using, bad feelings, anything.”

Likewise, a coach is different from a counselor. Recovery coaching is a new concept that is gaining popularity as treatment programs realize they aren’t meeting all the needs of people new to recovery. Professionally trained counselors are great at providing therapy and intervening in times of crisis, but are unable to offer ongoing recovery support. Clients who don’t connect with their community AA or NA meetings, or don’t want to take part in aftercare, often relapse once they leave the treatment program. But a coach who was once new to recovery himself understands that in the beginning, someone may feel unmotivated, need emotional support, or have unmet needs like transportation or housing. Thus, the coach becomes the link between the outside recovering community and the treatment program.

This link was what Kevin had been missing in the past and why he hadn’t found long-term recovery. By the time he was 24, he had a 10 year history of marijuana and cocaine use. He had spent time in numerous treatment programs and in prison. His addiction took a tremendous toll on his family and relationships. “I pushed people away. I ended up stealing from people that loved me. They just didn’t want to be around me. My father had to bail me out of jail - a few times it was around $20,000. I ended up coming right out of jail, and skipping bail and getting high again. I actively used, every day, while I was still going to treatment.”

But last year, things began to change for the better. Following his latest incarceration, Kevin entered Gateway Foundation’s inpatient program for 6 months. From there, his counselor referred him to outpatient treatment at Brandywine Counseling Alpha. Two months ago, he enrolled in the recovery coaching program at the suggestion of his counselor, Alesha Russell. Today he has 8 months clean.

When you have a recovery coach, your recovery is 24/7, and that’s something Kevin has learned well in the past two months. The urge to relapse can strike anytime, whether you’re walking down the street on your way home, or something happens that tests a close relationship. As it turned out, his coach helped Kevin through an especially difficult time, in a way a counselor couldn’t have done.

“I was going through a relationship with a woman, and she had relapsed, and went back out and started using. I was frustrated, overwhelmed, depressed, and mad and sad, all at once, and with those type of feelings, you could use again. I called Chuck up, and I said, ‘Listen, man, I need to explain something to you.’ And I talked to him over the phone, and he said, ‘Hold on, I’m on my way over now.’

“So he came over and we talked, and he gave me some positive feedback. He says, ‘Listen man, she’s not ready. You’re going on your 8 months clean. A year is right around the corner for you. You’re just about there. You’re on your way. And she decided to make the choice to go back out. Her motives and her mind is not going to be at same level with yours anymore, so you need to let her go.’

“And I didn’t want to hear that at first, because I was attached to her emotionally. But as more time and the weeks went by, I started to evaluate and process the information he gave me, because he went through that himself. And today I do let people speak into my life, and I listen to them. And I let her go. I look at it as, if I didn’t let her go, I’d have probably been back out there. I would’ve drug me down. Not saying it would have, but you don’t rule nothing out, not in this business.”

Since Brandywine introduced recovery coaching a year ago, 32 clients have taken part in the program. They’ve looked to their coaches as cheerleaders, confidants, role models, problem solvers, and friends. Many, like Kevin, are now looking ahead to their goals for the future. He plans to become a professional barber, attending classes through Vocational Rehab. “I want to be a barber, become a sponsor, remain abstinent from all drugs and alcohol, and someday have another relationship with a woman, and be getting married and have my own family.”

Kevin feels like a new person today. He no longer uses drugs and has made changes in his life. “I feel like a productive member of society today. I feel like a normal human being. I can go walk down the streets and look people in the eyes, and know that I haven’t done anything two or three days ago that would make them want to not even be around me. I can walk past police officers today, and not have my heart start racing, or get paranoia because I did some type of crime four or five days ago, and my name might be all out on the computers. I can go in a store today, knowing I’ve got the money in my pocket to pay for it, and I’m not going to steal something. And also, most of all, I have my family back today. They let me in their homes, they let me spend the night with them today. They come see me. We do things. And just 8 months ago, they wouldn’t even want me in their house.”

Kevin gives his recovery coach a lot of the credit for his success. When asked if he plans to keep in touch with Chuck after his treatment ends, he responds without hesitation. “Most definitely. The recovery coaching program is awesome. I can’t even explain the things that has done for me.”

Recovery coaching is funded by and is part of the system of public services offered by Delaware Health and Social Services, Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. For more information, please call 302-472-0381.

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