The Recovered Professional In Observance of Recovery Month
By Renetta Weaver | Sep 26, 2021
Michael K. Williams was an actor who became well known and loved because of the characters he portrayed in The Wire, Boardwalk Empire, and Love Craft Country. However, he became so much more than his characters when he was interviewed by Tamron Hall. Mr. Williams was invited to share his humanity as he and Mrs. Hall had a conversational interview on her show in early 2001.
During their dialogue, he expressed gratitude to Mrs. Hall for being the only media personality who was interested in hearing his real story. He described how he lost and won many battles with substance abuse as he warred with addiction throughout his life. Sadly, in September of 2001, he succumbed to his final battle with addiction at the young age of 54.
In honor of his life and legacy, I want to bring more awareness to those of us professionals who assist others to achieve victory in their fight on the battlefield of substance addiction. And I want to tell it from personal and professional lenses.
I spent over a decade of my career working as the Clinical Director for an outpatient addictions treatment program for the US Military. Before working there, I would have never volunteered to work in that arena. I say that because of the personal suffering and emotional wounds that I experienced due to exposure to addiction. I had become co-addicted as the lives of my siblings were destroyed by the negative consequences of their behavior abound substance use. Addiction had fractured my family, bringing my brother’s pleasure and numbness to pain while simultaneously producing pain and sadness for my parents and I. Substance use had become wired in all our brains and my brain detected it as a threat that was associated with causing emotional and physical pain.
I couldn’t see anything good about addiction, so I wanted to stay far from it. Yet, as life would have it, I was attracted to relationships with various partners who were addicted to substances and needed to be fixed. And just when I was breaking that pattern by swearing off relationships that left me broke and feeling broken, I ran across a job opportunity which led me right back into dealing with addiction.
Just like my relationships, my job in addiction treatment started with joy. However, over the years, a shift occurred, and I was no longer taking pleasure in my work. I was burnt out, dreaded going to work, angry, crying, unmotivated, hopeless, and wanted to leave the field of Social Work altogether. You guessed it, I was experiencing compassion fatigue.
I had changed into this frustrated and bitter person, because none of my patients were changing. I didn’t understand why no one was responding to the model of guilt and shame that I was operating from. I couldn’t understand why it didn’t seem effective when I was reminding the clients that their behaviors were hurting themselves, their family, friends, and coworkers; and that if they continued to engage in addictive behaviors, they were choosing to continue to cause hurt.
One day my colleague shared an article with me about a shift that was happening in the field of addictions treatment. The former stigmatized view of addiction treatment was moving from the behavioral/criminal model to the medical disease model.
The disease model invited treatment approaches that supported the management of addiction by increasing a person’s readiness for change by building motivation. The focus was placed on the benefits of living clean and sober instead of focusing on the guilt and shame associated with using. It also brought more funding for research and holistic treatment programs. The focus was on changing a person’s mind vs the old approach of simply relying on one’s willpower.
You might be asking what all this has to do with National Recovery Month?
Well, every year, there is a theme for National Recovery Month and this year’s theme is; “Recovery is For Everyone; Every Person, Every Family, Every Community.” So, I thought it offered a valuable opportunity for us to reflect on what we can do as professionals to care for ourselves as we care for others.
A few years ago, I came up with this saying, “Healer do your work so that it doesn’t show up in your work.” I believe it generated in my spirit after I started doing my internal healing work and discovered I was carrying some demons and those unaddressed demons were impacting my work. As I started a recovery journey to address my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and change my inner dialogue my outer environment changed. The style of my work with clients changed, my work environment changed and the client’s motivation toward recovery changed. It gave credence to a phrase that is often said in the recovery community: “When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.”
The information about the freedom of recovery was still the same but the delivery and methods to achieve recovery were different. My new approach to addiction treatment was something I call awareness, answers, and action. When we meet with a client, we want to connect with them and guide them towards developing awareness of the addiction. This includes the benefits and consequences of using and the benefits and
consequences of not using. This is also a great time to explore the client’s warning signs and triggers to use. For instance, what situations, places, or people tend to elicit emotion, and what emotions are tied to substance use? After developing awareness, we can guide the client into discovering the answers to what are alternative strategies to managing cravings and how to use those strategies. Lastly, we can guide the client into taking action in their recovery.
Overall, we want to embody the principles of unconditional positive regard, acceptance, and letting go of control. This will allow our clients to develop self-compassion, feel held and seen in their vulnerability vs hating themselves, feeling guarded, defended, and stigmatized. When we bring our healthy selves into the treatment environment we can more easily move into the work of Motivational Interviewing and supporting clients as they move through the Stages of Change.
Healing goes both ways. We can only give the clients what we have. We have to recognize when we are embodying recovery and know when we are embodying battle fatigue. Therefore, we have to continue to check in with ourselves and recover from the impact of our work so that we can offer healthy ways to recover to others. These are some of the secret ingredients to recovery that have worked for me. My invitation is for you to consider this mindset shift in your own work.
Remember, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Let’s show up and perform our work in a caring way. I extend the deepest gratitude to my clients and Michael K. Williams for reminding me/us to care and to hold space for them as they tell their stories.
Happy National Recovery Month to everyone who is doing their recovery work one day at a time !
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Renetta D. Weaver is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Board-Certified Bariatric Counselor. Dr. Renetta founded “Regain No More” which provides pre and post-Bariatric Education and Clinical support. She is a blogger for Clinicians of Color Connect with her at https://www.cliniciansofcolor.org/clinicians/renetta-weaver .