Vim: energy and enthusiasm.
Vigor: mental and moral strength.
Virtualocity: The ability to move about among faces and places for learning opportunities. With vim and vigor, I can always go there, without leaving my chair and absorb things to share. I don’t forget diet and exercise, spiritual imperfection, and knowing real recovery.
Homelessness is an everlasting and baffling problem nationwide, with few answers.
We have softened the language to say the homeless problem is about the “housed and unhoused.” In a recent LA Times article, Soledad Ursula, writing for the California Peace Coalition, said that first, attention must be given to those homeless having problems with drug addiction and untreated severe mental illness. There is a need for statewide funding of, among other things, recovery support services and medically assisted treatment. All to be provided by outpatient and residential care facilities. California’s CCAPP supports Recovery Residences. There is hope and funding for solutions.
I also saw a recent headline in the Times OC that said, Center of Hope to offer services, pathway. Breaking ground January 31, a Salvation Army Project looks to integrate homeless people back into the community. The campus will include an emergency shelter, 72 bed supportive housing facility, a wellness center, a 175 bed drug and rehabilitation facility, and a research and innovation center. They have always been an Orange County asset.
I recall from my years with Faces and Voices of Recovery and State RCOs, examples of sober living models. Early on I met two of the founders of models that work. Paul Malloy, Oxford House, and Jay Davidson, The Healing Place. Jay is author of the book, Miracle on Market, the Healing Place Story. I recently saw virtual presentations on both. I experienced the Oxford House success in Colorado. Just Google them for stories of hope, help, and recovery.
The first Oxford House was opened in Silver Spring, Maryland in 1975 by Paul Molloy. They chose the name Oxford House in recognition of Oxford Group, a religious organization that influenced the founders of AA. As reported, there are over 3,200 Oxford Houses, operating under the Oxford House Model. In the United States and other countries.
Each house is based on three rules: No use of drugs or alcohol and no disruption, and the house must be run democratically. That makes them very good neighbors.
They are self-sustaining sober houses utilizing the Oxford House model. Diverse, with men, women, some women with children. During 2021 more than 50,000 individuals lived in the Oxford House network and more than 80% stayed sober.
Jay Davidson shares his experiences and thoughts about the residential, long-term, social model recovery program he created as co-founder of The Healing Place. A model hopefully sustained and maintained long after he is gone. The program has been proven to be effective. The Healing Place was recognized as a “Model That Works” by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The Healing Place model has been replicated in 14 Recovery Kentucky sites across the Commonwealth as well as sites in Richmond, Virginia and Raleigh, North Carolina. The vision of The Healing Place is that everyone it serves can lead a meaningful and productive life. The continuum of care has expanded from off-the-street, to detox, to long-term and outpatient recovery services. As in the beginning, The Healing Place continues to serve those in need of help regardless of race, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, or economic status. There are more than 6,000 alumni; over 150,000 people served, 8,000+ individuals served annually. Many lead and staff other Healing Places. The Healing Place has also taken the peer-driven social model and created an intensive outpatient program to reach more men and women who are struggling with addiction.
Another person I met early in the recovery movement was Nora Volkow, Director of NIDA. Previously, I wrote that relapse has two parts. Here is a recent quote from Dr Volkow.
Medicine can perhaps learn from the recovery world, where a distinction is increasingly made between a one-time return to drug use, a “slip” or “lapse,” and a return to the heavy and compulsive use pattern of an individual’s active addiction—the more stereotypical understanding of relapse. The distinction is meant to acknowledge that a person’s resolve to recover may even be strengthened by such lapses and that they need not be catastrophic for the individual’s recovery.
She commented on the current overdose statistics, saying,
We need to change the way we think. As our definitions of recovery continue to evolve, those who work to treat substance use disorders- and evaluate said treatment- need to do the same. I do see some very positive aspects that we’ve all learned through the COVID pandemic, and one of them is being able to recognize how extraordinarily important it is for all to have social contacts, to have communities, to have friendships, to reach out to help others. we will be able to overcome it. Because in situations of stress, we have the capacity to come together and that coming together brings the best in all of us. And it is that that will lead us to a better tomorrow, as we overcome the COVID pandemic, but also the opioid crisis.
I leave you with these thoughts:
Learning gains brilliance and produces resilience. Respect the connection between head and heart. Sober living in Habitation brings about good habits, rehabilitation, and real recovery.
Merlyn Karst, Chair & Recovery Ambassador
The Purpose of Recovery
In order to write a worthwhile little, I have to watch, listen and read a lot. I look for other’s words to capture, contemplate, and pass along. I saw a quote from Oprah that said “The world is upside down”. The context related to a tragic incident of lawlessness but had broad application. Perception is in the eye of the beholder. Drugs drive crime in multiple ways. I thought of a familiar statement and changed it to fit the moment. Ask not what drugs will do for you, but what you will do for drugs. For the addict, the answer is “almost anything.”
I remember the corner drug store. It had comics, ice cream sodas, and a variety of interesting items. Oh yes, and drugs. All secure, and the unmentionable items were in the unmentionable cabinets. No “corner drug stores” today but now there are drug corners with young entrepreneurs. There are many jobs available but just as many barriers to access and an easy and perhaps only path is selling drugs. It brings cash and survival. The cartels are also busy recruiting. Illegal activity may grow but the threat of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration has diminished. Making the risks worth those taken.
I write during the holiday season. Incidentally, I was reminded that the three Kings journey to Jesus’s birthplace used the first GPS—God Provided Star. In this season it’s hard to find a reason to be jolly when the halls are decked with melancholy. The public is fearful and fatigued. But there are positives. We are so much better off than a year ago. I like the statement “we have many more tools in our tool bag.” The virus is going through predictable cycles with variants perhaps more contagious but much less threatening. Delta is hanging in there, but Omicron fits the cycle. Vaccines are effective and progress for more and better ones are coming, along with better therapeutics. For the needle adverse there may be pills. There is confusion and chaos in communication. Mark Twain said, “It ain’t so much the things that people don’t know that makes trouble in this world, as it is the things that people know that ain’t so.” During the knowing and unknowing, the task is finding balance between living the life we wish it to be and what it is. There is also an alcohol and other drugs epidemic. Much attention and funding has been given to opioids in recognition of the thousands reported deaths and widespread use of Narcan to save thousands of more lives.
I repeat another quote; “We have many more tools in our tool bag”. There is medically assisted recovery, there are many paths to recovery, peer services, methadone take-home, community awareness and support, and harm reduction. William White’s paper, Random Recovery Reflections is a must read. He writes on recovery advocacy and harm reduction as follows:
“Our involvement in harm reduction is a way of saying to those still in the life: We will do all we can to protect your life. We will do all we can to prevent irreversible damage to yourself and others. We will reduce the obstacles and burdens that could slow your future recovery. We do these things in hope for the day you will join us in our journey of healing and service.”
In another William White paper, titled Recovery Representation Revisited, are these words:
“What are the most important national, state, and local decision-making venues related to alcohol and other drug problems? What institutional bodies address the intersection of AOD problems and policy/legislation. Are the voices of recovery representatives present at these decision-making tables? A long-term goal of the RCO is to expand the range of recovery representation across spheres of community influencer and to expand the menu of representation activities.”
My organization, The Purpose of Recovery, a non-profit Recovery Community Organization (RCO) is quite new. A Foundation provides the funding foundation for essential administration, operational, and governance factors that allows focus on providing services and being known. Other funding sources and donors become an active and focused part of providing more direct benefits at little or no cost to those served. We produced the first Recovery Rally in Orange County with 52 partners. We are a member of Faces and Voices of Recovery’s Association of Recovery Community Organizations, (ARCO); Associated with The California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP); and belong to an Orange Country collaboration of SUD and mental health providers. Within all is a constituency of consequence.
The Recovery Movement has come a long way. I mentioned having many tools in the tool bag. Along the way, we have had many tool makers and they crafted programs based on science, stories, and the accumulating knowledge. At the virtual Leadership Summit, William Moyers led a panel reflecting the origins, happenings, and experience at the historic Summit in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2001. It had three goals: (a) to celebrate and honor recovery in all its diversity, (b) to foster advocacy skills in the tradition of American advocacy movements, and (c) to produce principals, language, strategy, and leadership to carry the movement forward. Those goals have been more than met through the times and challenges.
I leave you with the words of an old song. Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and don’t mess with mister in-between. Let the politicians work diligently at finding the in-between. For this Christmas, the government’s big stocking has been sewn shut at the top. Enjoy better times ahead with a Well and Happy New Year!!
Merlyn Karst, Recovery Ambassador
We celebrated September as Recovery Month. For me and others, October has been Discovery Month. In that regard, I am reminded of the quote from Albert Einstein,
Condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance.
We have heard the expression mind over matter. The science of addiction tells us that the brain is very active in determining the best ways to handle pleasure and pain. For pain it wants less of it and for pleasure it wants more of it. The brain’s receptors are tuned to how the chemical dopamine is produced and the best neuron pathways from which to receive reward. As addiction progresses, it blocks other functioning pathways to the other parts of the brain. It guides reason and rationale in harmful ways. Cravings crowd out thoughts beyond the many ways to sourcing dopamine. Mind over matters seems not to matter.
The Purpose of Recovery, a recovery community organization (RCO) has presented monthly workshops, the most recent was titled, Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP). The workshop describes mindfulness as “not getting lost in our thoughts of the past, anxieties about the future and not ‘being happy’ all of the time but rather learning to be with the entire spectrum of our emotional experience.” A pretty good offset to mindlessness and a demand to avoid being on autopilot—stay tuned to the present moment. Breathing comes naturally but being aware of every breath is calming and reassuring. During mindfulness, there is an audience of one—you. I choose to seek a quiet mind, peaceful heart, and purpose.
I found the discussion about relapse gave me a new perspective. It breaks down relapse into the lapse and then the relapse. Lapse is what happened after the initial drink or substance use. It may be followed by shame, guilt, and remorse—if we let it. However, there is this, “well I’ve done it, I might as well….” Now, it’s “relapse.” So how do we prevent “lapse?”
Prevention ultimately talks about triggers. In my understanding, a trigger only has a function if there is something to trigger. A clouded mind with cravings, discomfort, and restlessness, may be considered loaded. Curiously, I found this statement useful;
We encourage curiosity about our experience and our reaction and encourage a curiosity about cravings.
In today’s world, science provides some answers in Medication Assisted Recovery (MAR). Be curious about this and disregard some unwarranted stigma. Another hard thing to realize is that thoughts are just thoughts. We are advised to stay present in triggering moments and recognize high risk situations. I believe the word relapse is shaming and prefer setback. One can get back— on track—and not look back. Use the word that suits you but practice mindfulness in either or other words. The workshop was recorded and can be accessed here.
Mindfulness sets us up to learn.
There is a term “old school.” I’m old but I have been schooled in the here and now. As a member of the founders of Faces and Voices of Recovery, I was pleased to attend their 20th anniversary in a virtual celebration and leadership conference. The 2001 Recovery Summit marked a clarion call to shift the center of the alcohol and other drug problems arena to a focus on the lived solution for individuals, families, and communities. It marked the passing of the recovery advocacy leadership torch from an earlier generation of advocacy organizations. Now there are many torches in many hands lighting the many paths to recovery out of darkness. Associations and collaborations emerge from the shadows.
CCAPP (California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals) held the California Addiction Conference in late October in Newport Beach. The Purpose of Recovery (TPOR.org) was a sponsor, contributor, and many TPOR team members attended. The speakers were prepared professionals and presented information, statistics, and future projections to inform and motivate. Phil Rutherford, CEO of Faces and Voices of Recovery and others gave considerable focus to diversity, equity, and inclusion. I took copious notes of discovery. A historical moment: “Too many notes, dear Mozart, too many notes’ is what Emperor Joseph II supposedly said after the first performance. Mozart’s reply, “Just as many as necessary, Your Majesty.”
Pete Neilson, CEO of CCAPP was animated, informative, and personal, and gave me insight to harm reduction, a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. Just as the many paths to and of recovery do, it broadens the spectrum of chance, choice, and change. I learned a new word from Pete— gradualism. It expresses the realistic and practical side of harm reduction. It also adds credence to my support of medically assisted recovery to allow the return of rationale and reason.
I repeat, curiosity will lead to healthy, helpful, and hopeful learning.
I heard a statement, “What the people need is a good listening to.” John Steinbeck wrote about storytellers and their importance to some semblance of well-being in the California camps and the gatherings during the depression, drought, and dust bowls— the “dirty thirties.”
And it came about in the camps that the storyteller grew into being, so that the people gathered in the low firelight to hear the gifted ones and the people listened, and their faces were quiet with listening.
Oh, and there was music. So many western songs have sweet and sorrowful lyrics. My latest find was this lyric,
and once upon a time, You turned the water into wine, An’ now, on my knees, I’m turning to You, Father, Could You help me turn the wine back into water?
Wishes and worries don’t change the past. Be in the know and now.
I leave you with this thought. Being ashamed brings regret and remorse. Being shamed brings resentment and retribution. Words matter.
Merlyn Karst, Recovery Ambassador
On September 25, with the initiative of The Purpose of Recovery, the first annual Recovery Connection Rally in Orange County was held at Kiwanis Land Park in Garden Grove. The temperature was in the 70s — a day to be lived in comfort and joy. It was a memorable occasion for all of us. September is National Recovery Month, begun in 1989 under the name of Treatment Works! Now in its 32nd year, the theme is RECOVERY IS FOR EVERYONE: Every Person, Every Family, Every Community. With registration necessarily capped at 500, a host of Community Partners showcased the broad spectrum of resources available to those seeking help and hope.
The hundreds of attendees enjoyed music, line dancing, speakers, and a lunch of hot dogs, cheeseburgers, grilled cheese, chips and drinks. Kids were bouncing, having snow cones, and their faces painted. With all of that, the biggest take-away was new knowledge, friendships, and fellowship. As an introductory speaker, I shared the following remarks. Read on and be present in heart and mind.
As a person in active and sustained recovery for more than two decades. I enjoy the benefits of that reality. The primary benefit is longevity. My next birthday will be my 90th. I woke this morning seeking a peaceful heart, a quiet mind, and a purpose. My path to recovery began almost 30 years ago. My recovery paths took me to Colorado and then back to California. When The Purpose of Recovery’s idea for this rally was born several months ago, there were many unknowns’, not the least of which was what place and space. We thought somewhere between a big back yard and Orange County Fairgrounds. Here we are, in Kiwanis Land Park, on a beautiful September day. Welcome. We have so many to thank as we planned and prepared with the pandemic present and the many unknowns. It would have been easy to say fuhgeddaboudit. But like on our paths to recovery, with knowns and unknowns, you persevere and move forward. Beyond our committee, we were joined by Mitch Cherness and the Orange County Collaboration. I met with Billy O’Connell, Huntington Beach this morning. I particularly want to recognize our community partners. As with the first of anything, one is not sure of what to expect. Their presence showcases the resources available in Orange County for recovery support. Thanks to so many for their preparation, presence, and purpose here today. I reserve some heartfelt thanks to all of you for being a part of this amazing event. It will be a good experience in support of our second annual recovery rally next year! The great thing about recovery—IT HAPPENS, every day, every month, every year. Many are here to celebrate recovery and others are here to find out what the celebration is all about. Please visit with our community partners for insight, assistance, and understanding. Whatever the reason for your presence, I invite you to find some joy, gain wisdom and knowledge, and pass it on.
I was privileged to be a founding member of Faces and Voices of Recovery which began 20 years ago in St Paul Minnesota. In a few days, it will celebrate 20 years with a virtual conference. In 2001, a group of us came to St Paul to construct ways and means of establishing a presence and putting a face on recovery. We needed voices with common language in recognition that by our silence we let others define us. Through discussion and planning we establish foundational messaging aimed at reducing stigma and discrimination. We set out to change the language and eliminate labels. Labels have a sticky side for a reason. I have eliminated relapse from my language and call it set-back. It allows one to get back on track, and not look back. Note how I introduced myself, not as an alcoholic, but as a person in active and sustained recovery. We were challenged to return to our communities and begin the work. I lived in Denver at the time, and we started Advocates for Recovery—Colorado.
Labels have a sticky side for a reason. I have eliminated relapse from my language and call it set-back. It allows one to get back on track, and not look back. Note how I introduced myself, not as an alcoholic, but as a person in active and sustained recovery.
I now live in Orange County, but Denver held its 19th recovery rally this year. As lived experience is foundational to peer recovery services, I will share some Denver highlights. It is the birthplace of The Phoenix Multi Sports and of Young People in Recovery, now national organizations and both are present here today. I became acquainted with the LGBT community—now there are more identities. I was not a member but a friend and ally and at one rally, we recognized an LGBT leader as the Recovery Advocate of the Year. He now heads Embark/Peer Coach Academy-Colorado with broad recovery services. I had the experience of watching the emergence of their movement and the advent of pride and purpose. To support our recovery movement, I believe those in sustained and active recovery should stand up, stand out, speak out, and be proud about it.
Here in OC, we have established the first Recovery Community Organization, The Purpose of Recovery and initiated the advent of this rally. On September 1, TPOR was a sponsor and participated in the kickoff of recovery month at the Capitol with Calrecovery and CCAPP. Our team is present here today to meet, greet, and answer questions. Our website can be reached at TPOR.org. Again, thank you for your presence and attention. Be a sponge, soak up fun, joy, and knowledge and go forth and squeeze it out among persons, family, and community. Remember, they don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care.
It has been said, the toughest lessons to be learned, is, what bridges do we cross and which ones do we burn. Let’s make connections and bridge the gap to recovery.
Merlyn Karst – Recovery Ambassador
In the old West, when a community was plagued by bad guys, the townsfolk got together and formed a posse and chased the bad guys out of town. Western movies starring the Lone Ranger usually ended with the Lone Ranger riding into the sunset and a townsman asking, “who was that masked man” Any irony in this today? We might define each peer posse as being a group of peers with a common purpose to overcome the “bad guys”— Substance Use Disorders (SUD). First responders respond to the purpose and needs of the moment.
Clinicians and Peer Specialists respond to the purpose and needs of the future and the sustainability of positive outcomes.
It takes passion and courage but they get a big bang for their pluck.
In a previous blog, I wrote, Together We Are Stronger. A voice is a whisper, many voices are a shout. I note that there are many communities, collectives, coalitions, consortiums, and cultures seeking a broad spectrum of choice, chance, and change. With all these words and labels starting with “C”, there must be some relationship to the term “C” — change. It simply means transformation, so “Cs” the day. Between the pandemic and politics, its happening. Indications are that both parties are giving attention to the needs for clinical and peer support rather than incarceration. There is growing attention to the various mental health issues developing and growing due to the negative social impact of COVID-19. These include depression, suicide, addictions, and domestic abuse.
In 2018, mostly in response to the opiate crisis, congress took action in the passage of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act. It includes policies and resources that support people in recovery from addiction across the lifespan. This provision reauthorizes and modifies the Building Communities of Recovery program to include peer support networks. It provides funding for community organizations providing long-term recovery support services related to substance use disorder.
There are opiate funds available. Seek and you will find. Recovery Community Organizations are being formed at a growing rate with knowledge that the pandemic will put new burdens on the community from increased mental health and substance use disorders.
Nothing About Us Without Us. People with personal knowledge of the recovery process and the historical challenges faced by people seeking and in recovery free of conflicted interests are the best suited for recovery advocacy leadership. RCOs can motivate and educate the newly elected or re-elected community leaders. “By repairing past and current harms in our communities, we bring new possibilities to the future.” Community leaders will be true and valuable servants.
The founders launched Orange County, California’s first Recovery Community Organization recently, The Purpose of Recovery—TPOR. Preceding the launch were conferences, trainings, virtual meetings. Legal matters and site visits to providers of Substance Use Disorders. Our focus was on peer support services. It was gratifying to learn about so many humans doing for other humans being. A fun experience for me was a visit to a new resource, Recovery Road providing food, clothing, and a place of fellowship. I loved the sight of stacks of Vienna sausages. Yum. The Salvation Army complex was a wonder of complete services to men and women. It was a community unto itself. It rang my bell. There are many providers and partners with TPOR with mutual opportunity to serve the local communities. Websites, Facebook and social media provide a broad range of information and resources. Working in peer support is an especially rewarding experience. You get to share the tools, skills, and information you have learned to transform your own life with individuals going through similar struggles. Not only do you get to contribute to the lives of others, but you also sustain your own recovery and wellbeing in the process. As more and more learn about the impact of peer support, opportunities, and career paths for peer specialists the support will grow and expand. The growth of peer support has the potential to radically transform the ways we support people in the behavioral health system. All states have a certification program with defined paths to career opportunities. Our California certification entity is CCAPP, California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals. The Association of Recovery Community Organizations—ARCO, provides a broad spectrum of information about Peer Recovery Services and vital insight into the national recovery movement.
Remember, they don’t care what you know till they know that you care.
Merlyn Karst – Recovery Ambassador