Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Long-Term Recovery: The Gratitude List

I used to have horrible mornings, and they would lead to incredibly horrible days. I would set my alarm clock for when I needed to wake up, but it was my daily pattern to hit snooze several times before getting out of bed. When I would finally get out of bed, I would be running late. That would lead to me throwing on clothes, leaving work with neither a prepared lunch nor breakfast. If I was lucky, I would grab a pop tart while I was headed out the door. If I didn’t have one of those, I would stop at McDonalds or just go without eating breakfast.

Generally, I had to go without because I didn’t have time to stop at a drive through and still be to work on time. I would speed through traffic, furious at the people in front of me going the speed limit because they had left themselves enough time to get to work early. How dare they not consider me and when I had to be to work! What were they thinking, following the speed limit? That thing is more of a suggestion, really! Then I would get to work hungry, mad about the inconsiderate drivers and stressed because I was almost late.

How many of you does this describe?

If you can relate to any of the above, I have a great idea for you. It is something that worked for me, and I believe it will work for you as well. It may seem too easy at first, but you will still find it hard to apply. It will involve developing a new pattern, which can be difficult. At least it was for me, at first. Now, I swear by it. Today, I can’t imagine starting my day any other way.

First step is to set your alarm clock for 30 minutes before you need to wake up. That is actually the easiest part. The hard part is getting up when your alarm clock goes off, without hitting snooze AT ALL! As soon as your alarm goes off, roll out of bed and head to the kitchen. Do not snooze, do not go back to bed go directly to the kitchen.

Once in the kitchen, I start coffee. On very rare occasions I will brew a cup of tea. I have a Keurig, so this is really easy. I have known some people who had a clock on their coffee makers who would set the coffee to begin brewing at the same time they set their alarm for in the bedroom. You don’t want it to be ready already, because you still have something to do.

Next I write out my gratitude list while the coffee brews. Then I relax and enjoy my coffee while I give thanks to my Higher Power for the things I am grateful for. I feel this is something that is sorely missing, especially in the  United States. Most people, when they pray, don’t do it to give thanks. The “Our Father Prayer” today would sound something like this, “Our Father, who art in heaven, give me give me give me give me. Amen.”

I choose to give thanks to God for all I have, and the things on my gratitude list give me several things to focus on for the morning. After spending 10-15 minutes doodling, meditating and praying I then get ready for work. By the time I get ready for work I am still ahead of schedule and have plenty of time to get to work. I don’t have to speed, I don’t have to get mad at the person in front of me “only” going the speed limit and when I get to work I am in a great mood and that leads to me having a great day way more often than I used to when I didn’t do a daily gratitude list.

 Enter the gratitude list. Some of you may be wondering what a gratitude list is, or may already be doing one and are just reading this to reaffirm what you are doing. I warn you, my gratitude list is a little different. It has morphed as I have done it through the years and become more than just words on a piece of paper that I threw into a box.

Generally, a gratitude list is simply a piece of paper you write on. You write anywhere from 3-10 things you are grateful for, trying to list different things every time you do it so that your list is not exactly the same, day in and day out. Many people do a gratitude list on a daily basis, generally in the morning to start their day off positive while others do it at the end of their day to help them compartmentalize and unwind. Most have a simple gratitude list that goes like this:

1.      Today I am grateful for my wife.
2.      Today I am grateful for clean drinking water.
3.      Today I am grateful for my car.

That would be great, if you were making a grocery list of things to pick up from the store. The gratitude list is extremely important, not just to start my day off on the right foot but at times to reread if I am feeling a little drained, moderately depressed or completely hopeless at some time over the course of the day. You need to embellish when making your gratitude list, a little or a lot. Own it and make it yours.

Your gratitude list should have genuine feelings so it can elicit a positive response either in the morning when you originally write it out or when you come back and look at it later. If you don’t add details and emotions, then the gratitude list is just one more obligatory thing to do you will check off your daily list. Don’t get me wrong, doing it that way is good. That said, I don’t want you to do good things and live a good life, I want you to do things great and live an amazing life. Supercharge your gratitude list! So how do I get more emotion into mine?

I have several techniques I like to use:

1.      Add details. Don’t just say you are grateful for something, list why you are grateful for it. Instead of saying “I am grateful for _________,” say why are grateful for that person. What do you love about that person? What do you love to do with that person? How does that person make your life better?   
2.      Scrapbook it. Add photographs, use words cut from a magazine, write in different colored inks, doodle.  Grateful for a movie or a band, glue a ticket stub on the page.
3.      Draw pictures. If you are grateful for something, draw a picture of it then write reasons you are grateful for it around the picture.

Bottom line; make your gratitude list yours! Use it to start your day off better and also as a constant reminder when life kicks your butt that you still have many things to be thankful and grateful for. I have used my gratitude list to drag me out of several funks before they got a chance to reach a full blown depressive episode.

I have a picture of one of my past pages, before I got a journal I  put them in, for you to look at. It is pretty obvious you don’t need to be an artist to do this. You don’t have to be a wordsmith. You need only be optimistic and honest about the things you are grateful to have in your life and wake up 30 minutes early to record them.  

This is something so simple yet so necessary that I don’t believe you can have an incredibly strong recovery without it. This is just one more of the reasons I can say that I will NEVER use again. Relapse does not scare me anymore. What scares me is not living life to its potential. If you are like me and constantly look for ways to improve the life you have, add a daily gratitude list. You need only record 3 things a day for 30 days and I guarantee you will have a better outlook on life than you had before you started doing it. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Truth About Recovery: My Perspective

I have people tell me to sum up recovery for them, "In your opinion, what is recovery?" I find this extremely hard to do. I once heard someone say that recovery was like playing a country music song backwards, because you get back your house, your truck, your dog and your wife. I have gained so much in my recovery, that it is difficult to qualify or quantify what recovery means "for me."

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so instead of telling you what recovery means to me I will show you what it means to me:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Are You M.A.D.?

I went to a company conference a couple of weeks ago. I worked for a company called Alternative Opportunities, Inc. and we had just merged with another company called Preferred Family  Healthcare. Together, we cover 5 states and have almost 4,000 employees. The conference was so that people from both companies could have an opportunity to see what the other one did and network so that we could join forces and support each other better.

We also had plenary and break out sessions. The last plenary we had was by far the best, in my opinion. The guy was amazing; his father was a pastor and he was a former college football coach. To say that his session was motivational would be an understatement. When I walked out of his session I was ready to take on the world. The reason was because of a simple question he asked us, "Are you mad?"

I was at first unsure how to answer that question. I thought about it, and I want you to do the same thing. Ask yourself right now, am I mad? When I thought about it at first, I answered no. I am not mad at all. Then I thought about it a little more, and I did sense the anger. I could remember the way I felt several hours before his plenary after reading an article on Facebook about substance abuse.

The article itself didn't make me mad. The article was about the heroin epidemic our country is currently in. The article discussed the number of people in a small Missouri rural county that had overdosed in a one week period. The article was insightful, educational and well written. It was the comments that followed the article that got to me. They sickened and enraged me. Here are my 5 least favorite:

  1. Who cares? Just another dead junkie.
  2. We should give heroin away for free. Once all these junkies killed themselves of America would be a better place. 
  3. Have you heard of that flakka? It is making people act crazy. Junkies should get a free Go Pro camera with each dose so that we can watch them overdose for our entertainment. 
  4. This is Darwin Theory at its finest. Eventually all of these losers will remove their DNA from the gene pool. 
  5. I hate people like this, living off other people and hurting everyone that cares about them. Junkies only care about themselves. Their families are better off without them. 
So as I thought about it, yeah I was mad. As I sat there and simmered he asked another question, "What are you doing about it?" If something makes you mad, what are you doing to change it? Are you just sitting at home, reading a paper or watching the news, being an armchair quarterback or are you doing something about it.

Then he pulled out the hammer. He asked us to put on the bracelets that were at each of our tables. He told us to look at our bracelets and asked if we noticed anything. I did; the mad was not written mad, it was written R U M.A.D. 

"Every day I wake up and ask myself am I mad. I hope that you would do the same thing. I challenge you to do it. I want to start a movement, with this simple question, "Are you M.A.D.? Are you Making A Difference?"


Just like that, my mind was blown. He was not talking about being angry, instead he was talking about doing something about it. I was mad about a lot of situations, especially when it comes to dealing with substance abuse, mental health issues, stigma and recovery. I am educating schools and communities. I am raising public awareness. I am making a difference, even though it never feels like I am doing enough. 

So today, and for the rest of your life I challenge you to ask yourself this question every day, "Am I M.A.D.?" Are you making a difference? If you are living your life to be better and help those around you become better you are doing something right. If you are not living your life that way, you are doing something wrong. 

People, I implore you to make a difference in someone's life!! If something angers you, use that anger as fuel to give you the passion and energy needed to make that situation different. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there and advocate for someone. Stick up for the disadvantaged, stand up to the bully when he attacks others. Don't talk about change, be the change! 


After all, if you don't do it who will? 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Sky is the Limit - My Story as related to Heroes in Recovery

My story was recently put on the Heroes in Recovery website. I would ask that you visit their website (www.heroesinrecovery.com) and check out everything that they are doing to break stigma and share the hope that there is a Better Life in Recovery. Here is the link to my story on their website: http://heroesinrecovery.com/stories/9206/

Here is what they printed:

Hi, my name is David and I am a person in long-term recovery. What that means for me is that I have not used drugs or alcohol since January 31, 2009 and because of that I have been able to accomplish things I never would have dreamed possible. I am a husband, father, sponsor, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, hope dealer and director of the nonprofit Better Life in Recovery (BLiR).
I was abused physically and sexually as a child. I used alcohol and other drugs to escape my past and deal with anger, depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder I was diagnosed with. I was introduced to methamphetamine my senior year, and partying ended up being more important than school so I dropped out of school.
After over 20 years of substance use, attempting suicide, dying more times than I can count on one hand and being to jail more times than I can count on my fingers and toes I thought nothing would ever change. Boy was I wrong.
I asked God for something different, and He answered that prayer. I have not used since I decided to focus on recovery instead of substance abuse. My focus shifted. I paid attention to my successes instead of my failures. I applied the five pillars of recovery: Higher Power, meetings, sponsor, accountability partners and the 12 steps. Then I added the missing piece, service to my community, and it has made all the difference.
Don’t get me wrong, my life has had ups and downs. At times, life kicks me in the butt and my world shakes. The difference is how I cope with that today. I work through my problems and conquer them instead of letting them beat me. Doing this has made me stronger and wiser! I have gone from dealing dope to dealing hope!
Currently, I am a counselor for the Greene County, MO treatment courts through Preferred Family Healthcare. I went from high school drop out to having four college degrees. I married an amazing woman and we have an amazing family. I sit on multiple boards and planning committees that are focused on making the world a better place.
My passion is BLiR. Our mission is transforming lives with recovery. We deal hope and reduce stigma people who struggle with substance use and mental health issues face through community service, education and awareness events that celebrate people in long-term recovery. In 2012 we did one event, in 2013 we did three events, in 2014 we did eight and we are aiming for over 50 events in 2015 with weekly fellowship events.
Today, I know the sky is the limit for people in long-term recovery. My goal is to educate people on the wonders of long-term recovery, give people who are still struggling hope they can achieve long-term recovery and people in recovery the courage to come forward and be proud of who they have become while rejoining and making their communities better!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Depression (A chapter from my upcoming book)

Here is the chapter from the book I am currently writing addressing Depression. I would love to get some feedback on it, as I am still trying to get the book cleaned up to send off to the editor! Please, let me know what you think:

Now if there's a smile on my face
It's only there trying to fool the public
But when it comes down to fooling you
Now honey that's quite a different subject
But don't let my glad expression
Give you the wrong impression
Really I'm sad, oh sadder than sad
You're gone and I'm hurting so bad
Like a clown I pretend to be glad
Now there's some sad things known to man
But ain't too much sadder than
the tears of a clown
When there's no one around

In my addiction, my hopelessness and depression reached abysmal depths. I got so low I attempted suicide. If not for my sister finding me unconscious in a pool of blood, I would not be here. She saved my life. Not that I would call what I had then a life.

When you spend 6 days awake on methamphetamine, sleeping only 1 day a week, you are not really living. I would have told you otherwise, if you would have cared to ask. I would have told you I was fine; FINE stood for Fearful, Insecure, Numb and Emotional.

Fearful - I was afraid that I would never stop using drugs. I was scared that my life was never going to get any better. I was terrified that when I died I would turn to dust so nothing that I ever did mattered. I was horrified that I had let down my family, and would never do anything they could be proud of me for. That fear turned outward, and was expressed as rage. I was violent and angry in hopes that no one would get close to me. I did not want to give people the chance to hurt me again, so I stopped caring about anyone and anything but myself and my next fix.

Insecure – I knew that other people had not been beaten like I had, but I could share that. I knew that other guys had not been molested like I had, and was so afraid of what people would think if they knew. I was depressed all of the time and felt weak and soft.

Numb – That is what a lot of my drug use was. I never wanted to be hurt again emotionally or psychologically, and staying high was a great way to insure that no one could get close. If my focus was on getting high, I developed no close relationships. Staying spun allowed me to feel nothing. No true relationships and not feeling are the perfect storm for creating that numb condition I desired.

Emotional – I would cry when I was by myself. I could feel alone in my house with 10 other people, or at a club that contained hundreds. I was depressed to levels that no one should have to live with. Other times, I was so angry that the littlest thing would cause me to erupt. I would put holes in walls and hit people for no reason other than I did not like who I was and what I had become. I was so unhappy in my own skin, and nothing I did changed that.

As for the suicide, that would not be the last time I tried to kill myself. No, I was sure that there was no hope of sobriety in my future and my addiction was wearing me down. It had not even taken me 2 years of using drugs IV to realize that life sucked. Beyond that I only knew one thing, my life was only going to get worse.

I promised my sister that I would never try to kill myself again. I lied. I would attempt suicide on several more occasions, probably a half dozen times. It would generally happen on my birthday or after really long meth runs (a meth run is an extended time spent awake on methamphetamine without sleep). In order to keep my promise to my sister, I would play Russian roulette. I could make the argument that it was not me killing myself if I was successful, but instead that it was chance.
I would empty my revolver of all but one bullet, spin the cylinder and put the gun to my head. I would be lying if I told you that the hammer clicking was not the loudest sound I had ever heard. 

There was some anger at the gun not going off, and relief at the same time. I was so conflicted about what I wanted to do and whether or not I wanted to live.

People who struggle with addictions can justify anything, even making decisions they really don’t want to. It wasn’t that I wanted to die. I just knew that I could not go on living my life the way I was. I was so tired, hopeless and depressed. I always covered it up so well that no one knew. I put on the mask of the clown, laughing and joyous on the outside.

I was an amazing actor. I had built walls that I hid behind and no one was ever allowed to see the real me. I had been faking those walls since my early youth. It had started when I was being abused at 3 and 4. Through the years I had gotten really good at showing people what I wanted them to see. They saw happy, popular, outgoing me. It could not have been further from the truth.

I was depressed all of the time. I looked around and saw how happy the people I partied with were and I knew that there must be something wrong with me. How come I was not happy? Why did I not feel motivated to do anything unless I got high? Why did I feel so alone while they all seemed to be living it up?

The lie most people hear is that people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol use because it makes them feel great. It helps them escape from the day and be irresponsible. That could not have been further from the truth. I was no longer using to feel good. I was using to feel less bad. My life sucked each and every day. I did not have the motivation to leave the house and if I went to sleep I didn’t have the ability to get out of bed and function unless I got high.

Today I know most of the people I partied with were depressed as well. Most of the clients I have worked with over the years are just as miserable as I was. They too are hiding behind walls they have erected, never showing people the real them. That makes you even more miserable. You cannot be you out of fear of what others may think or do if they knew the truth.

You can never be yourself because you are terrified that people will either judge you or see you as weak and use you. Most of us have learned how to read people and act accordingly. For me, it began with my grandpa. The babysitter taught me how to hide how I was feeling, but my grandpa taught me that you had to read people to avoid abuse and hate.

Now I have studied the science of addiction. It has shed even more light on why I was so depressed. I will try to explain this in the simplest way possible, without getting too deep into the science of it.
The nerve cells in our brain act as a communication system by receiving, sending and processing information. Drugs disrupt that communication by either overstimulation the reward circuits of the brain or masquerading as naturally occurring chemical messengers in the brain.

Opiates and marijuana are the spies, infiltrating the brain by confusing the receptors and then sending abnormal messages by activating nerve cells. Stimulants, on the other hand, either prevent brain cells from recycling neurotransmitters or cause them to release tremendous amounts of neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine.

I will focus on the amphetamines, because they saturate the brain with dopamine. Dopamine controls many things, but our focus in on how it impacts motivation, feelings of pleasure and emotion. We have these tremendous amounts of neurotransmitters released which make us feel amazing and in turn our brain teaches us to continue doing whatever it was that causes the euphoric effect.

I became behaviorally conditioned to do drugs, because they over stimulated the chemicals in my brain that make me feel not good, but GREAT! That sounds amazing, and at first it really is. I could escape my past, my depression and my trauma by flooding my brain with dopamine. Who wouldn’t want this, I thought at the time.

I did now know where the chemical process would soon lead me. Over time, the brain gets used to the intense amounts of dopamine being released and begins to reduce the amount of dopamine receptors and produce less dopamine. That means that I can no longer feel happy, joyous and free like a normal person because my brain has began rewiring itself. Not only that, but the amount of drugs needed to make me feel what I used to feel has to be increased. They call that tolerance.

That is just dopamine; we also have other neurotransmitters that are impacted over time: serotonin, norepinepherine, GABA and glutamate to name a few. We have depleted levels of the feel good, behavior control, memory, decision making, motivation and pleasure producing chemicals in our brain. The only way we can even come close to feeling normal is to take more and more of the drugs we are using. That is why we use, that is why I found myself mired in my substance abuse.

The truth…………………..

I was not happy.

I was miserable.


Even using no longer made me feel the same feelings I once had. That is what they call chasing the dragon, trying to find that same high you once had. I got the same feeling if not a better feeling from using a little bit more and a little bit more for years. Then the drugs stopped working that way. They started having less and less of an impact on my moods and motivation.

I woke up in the morning after sleeping with no desire to get out of bed, swallowed in a well of depression. I could never quite get out of the well, but I could pull myself up to the top and at least see the sun. Using took the edge off. It did not make me feel euphoric like it once had, but it made me feel a little bit better.

I had depleted levels of neurotransmitters in my brain.

That is why I was depressed all of the time.

In the end using made me feel less bad, and that was enough to keep me using despite all of the negative consequences substance use had on my life. 

Today, I have found happiness. I have found a Better Life in Recovery. How did I find this? 

For starters, refer back to the 5 Pillars of Recovery. Reread the Platinum Rule and  the 3 Questions that Changed my Life. Apply the Locker Room to your life. These are all things that I did and have seen many others do, and we have attained long-term recovery. Also, remember a couple  of things.

Don't just focus on taking negative people, places and things out of your life. Instead, continually add positive people, places and things to it. The negatives will be forced out due to the positives smothering and suffocating them. The positives you add will usurp the negatives. Slowly but surely, making positive choices will become second nature because they will create new neural pathways. 

Never sell yourself short; you too can find happiness. It does not happen all at once, but it WILL happen. 

It takes time.

 As I have heard many people say, "Don't leave before the miracle  happens." 


Monday, December 8, 2014

No More Burning Bridges

A couple of people talked to me about the damage I am doing without realizing it. Sometimes I burned bridges and others times I simply put my foot in my mouth by speaking about things as candidly as I do that I am not an expert on. In fact, on occasion I speak on things that I have no idea about because my experiences have not given me the insight I need to talk on the subject. That in turn has made me sound ignorant, ill-informed and even offensive at times.

Due to this, I will try to keep my opinions centered on the things I know best. They are recovery, addiction, mental health issues, trauma, treatment,  parenting, weight struggles, my personal faith, positive ways to impact the communities we live in, stigma faced by people who struggle due to past addictions, mental health issues, trauma and criminality and how to overcome all of those things.

I need to do this for multiple reasons. We are filing the 501c3 paperwork for Better Life in Recovery and forming the board of directors next year. We are also planning to host 24 Better Life in Recovery events that will require many sponsors and volunteers. I need to build connections with the community, and tackling issues outside of my scope of expertise and passion is detrimental to me successfully attaining my immediate and future goals.  I need to stay focused, because  Better Life in Recovery has a lot of things coming up in the future. 

From now on, my blog Spiritual Spackle will contain blogs that address all of the areas I am passionate about. Better Life in Recovery is a new blog starting the first of the year. It will address stigma, stigma reduction, addiction, recovery, mental health issues and positive ways to impact the communities we live in as well as what I have learned through my personal recovery in 500 words or less. Sometime next year I will be starting a Better Life in Recovery podcast that will mimic what I address in the Better Life in Recovery blog

My posts on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter will follow this same plan, adding random things about my family and everything involving Chicago sporting events (other than the White Sox because they reduced the amount of Cubs games I see on WGN so they are dead to me). 

In making changes to what I speak about and adding more outreaches both on social networks and publicly, my hope is to continue making an impact on the communities I truly care about without alienating people along the way. I know the more people I turn off by speaking of things I have no knowledge of, the less impact I and by proxy Better Life in Recovery will have. If there are fewer  people listening, than the impact we have  on our communities is smaller and easier to ignore.

For those who had open and honest conversations with me, I appreciate your candor and hope I can use the feedback I received to have a far greater impact on the communities my heart leads me to reach out to. I want to unite people, not increase the divide that already exists between us. My goal is to afford Better Life in Recovery the opportunity to reach more people each and every day while becoming a force for the sharing of long-term recovery and the eradication of stigma.

In order to meet this endeavor, I will remain as extroverted and animated as I always have been. The difference will be a sharper focus, which will help both me and Better Life in Recovery get more things accomplished. Look forward to the upcoming year, hope you are able to join with us as we continue to share hope and reduce stigma while trumpeting a simple truth, THERE IS A BETTER LIFE IN RECOVERY!!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Putting Your Best Foot Forward in Recovery

What does putting your best foot forward mean?

It means you lead with your strongest selling point, your strengths. If I am applying for a job, that means my resume leads with my positives. If I am interviewing, I talk about my accomplishments. I steer the focus away from my deficits and towards my strengths. I also avoid buzz words that could leave a negative lasting impression on the person I am talking to.

Someone who does this well would be Donald Trump. Mr. Trump has filed bankruptcy 4 times. When he meets someone in the community, how do you think he refers to himself? “Hi, my name is Donald and I am a businessman who has filed bankruptcy 4 times.” Of course not, he refers to himself by his successes. When people think of him they think of his successful properties and TV show.

What does this have to do with recovery?


“I’m David, and I’m a grateful recovering addict” is how I used to introduce myself. I stopped because it never felt right, and it did nothing to reduce the stigma the community leveraged against me which I felt personally. All the general public heard me say was ADDICT! They visualized a junkie and the conversation was over.
When I said recovering alcoholic, they heard recovering Alcoholic!! They picture me passed out in an alley snuggling a bottle of Ripple. To avoid this, I started introducing myself as, “David, and I’m in recovery.” I was fine with this for the last 5 years.

Recently I watched The Anonymous People. They talked about recovery language and it resonated with me. It reinforced how I felt and what I have been telling clients the past several years. They also added to it. You start with an introduction, add that you are in long-term recovery and define what long-term recovery means to you. Then you talk about an accomplishment from your recovery.

This is a great elevator speech, and allows you to answer any questions they might have and leave a lasting impression all at the same time. So in closing, I ask  you, which sounds better? Which leaves a better impression? Which of these introductions will you use?

1.      Hi, my name is David and I’m a grateful recovering addict and alcoholic.
2.      Hi, my name is David and I’m in recovery?
3.      Hi, my name is David and I’m in long-term recovery. What that means to me is that I have not used drugs or alcohol since January 31st of 2009, and because of that I have been able to do start an organization called Better Life in Recovery whose mission is Transforming Lives with Recovery. If you have a minute I would love to talk to you about it.

For me, I rather enjoy the 3rd one and will continue to use it. After all, I would rather put my best foot forward and lead with my positives!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Featured Write Up about Better Life in Recovery from Addiction Professional Magazine's November/December 2014 Issue by Gary Enos

In his role as an addiction counselor, David Stoecker figures he can have an impact on possibly around 100 people a year. As director of the community organization Better Life in Recovery (BLIR) in Springfield, Mo., Stoecker is looking to influence the lives and thoughts of thousands.

The community events that BLIR sponsors might seem modest when looked at in isolation, but Stoecker sees them as building local traditions and putting a public face on recovery. Maybe a river cleanup event will strengthen a recovering person's resolve to continue to give back in her daily life. Maybe seeing an elected leader throw out the first pitch before hundreds of recovering individuals at a ceremony preceding a minor-league baseball game will give a fan in the stands some pause to think about how substance abuse affects his world.

“The idea for BLIR started on a bike ride with my wife,” recalls Stoecker, 42. “I felt that I wasn't doing enough, but I wasn't sure what to do.”

He started the effort four years ago, around a year into his own recovery. “I was kind of letting things come to me at first,” he says. He knows exactly the moment when it became clear that he needed to turn up the intensity on his work in recovery advocacy: It happened when he read online comments posted by ordinary citizens reacting to the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.

“They disgusted me,” Stoecker says of the postings. “People were saying things like, 'See, these people never get better,' and 'Who cares? It's just another junkie.'”
Uncovering opportunities
Stoecker has recruited subcommittees to work on extending BLIR's mission, which its website describes as an effort “to deal hope and decimate stigma” surrounding addiction through educational and awareness events. The momentum for bringing on more assistance started when around three dozen local treatment and recovery leaders accepted his invitation to a meeting to discuss ways to change the language around addiction and recovery in Springfield. At that meeting he shared data about relapse, and his own resolve that the community could do better.

BLIR, which two years ago became a nonprofit organization, has been seeking closer partnerships with community entities such as the Springfield public schools. A group of people in recovery recently completed playground restoration work for the schools. Stoecker has even visited his 7-year-old's elementary school class, but he'd like the chance to speak before state legislators soon as well.

“We're reducing lengths of residential stay in Missouri,” he says. “We're going to create a revolving door and keep people mired in their addiction.”

Stoecker's wife is a videographer and has assisted in raising BLIR's visibility. Stoecker is also featured in a public service announcement that is frequently broadcast locally, and he is working on a documentary for which he is seeking grant funding, with the goal of being able to show the film in local schools. He says the organization that employs him as a counselor, Alternative Opportunities Treatment Services, has strongly supported his efforts in the greater community.

“Community awareness and education, that's really my passion,” he says. “Fighting stigma head-on.”

Gave faith a chance
Stoecker, who grew up in Illinois, says he had started using substances by 7th grade. Moving to Missouri in part to escape the drug culture, he instead became introduced to methamphetamine and dropped out of high school during his senior year.

“I was in and out of jail,” he says. “I turned 21 in prison. I would end up getting my GED in prison.”
Stoecker experienced his own revolving door of treatment stays and life in the community, usually with little recovery support during periods at home. He had been abused during childhood and considered himself agnostic, but would later experience a shift toward the spiritual.

“I figured I had tried everything else, so I would give God a chance,” he says. “When I focused on recovery and faith, I never looked back.”

He attends 12-Step meetings at least once a week, usually gravitating to those that his counseling patients are unlikely to select.

Participation in BLIR events continues to grow, with 300 people involved in the ballpark event in Springfield in late August and 125 people running in a 5 and 10K event in town the following week. Stoecker is no longer willing to wait patiently for a community response to develop. “This all made me realize I couldn't sit back,” he says. “I had to be proactive.”

Monday, November 10, 2014

Reducing Stigma in Your Community

How do you reduce stigma? We have so much of it to battle, and it has existed for so long at times it seems insurmountable. After all, the attention is almost always focused on the negatives. We hear about celebrities dying of overdoses and their public behavior when they are intoxicated. The news is always splashed with stories about the drunk driver involved in the fatal accident, with reporters saying, “Authorities think drugs or alcohol may have been involved.”

According to the medical profession, alcoholism has been a disease since . In 1808 Benjamin Rush said, “My observations authorize me to say, that persons who have been addicted to them, should abstain from them suddenly and entirely, “Taste not, handle not, touch not' should be inscribed upon every vessel that contains spirits in the house of a man, who wishes to be cured of habits of intemperance.” He went on to say, "habitual drunkenness should be regarded not as a bad habit but as a disease"

In 1987 the AMA said, "drug dependencies, including alcoholism, are diseases and that their treatment is a legitimate part of medical practice." They went on to add coding to the ICD under both medical and psychiatric sections.  Alcohol and drug use has been identified as being a disease because it has biological, neurological, genetic and environmental origins and causes changes to our brains.

Yet we face the stigma because people say it was our choice to use. That may be true, but a lot of people have various health issues; diseases that they have control over.  Immediately coming to my mind is: lung cancer, obesity and diabetes. When someone survives lung cancer, even though they attributed to it be smoking for years, his victory over cancer is celebrated. When someone is in the middle of a crisis because of their diabetes, people rush to help them. I have never heard anyone say, “Who cares, they did it to themselves” even though that might be an accurate statement.

Most people struggling with a disease are surrounded by their friends, and praised for the efforts they are making. They are met with love, understanding, encouragement, compassion and empathy. Not so for most of us who struggle with the disease of addiction. We are met with apathy and occasionally sympathy. We are looked down on frequently when we visit emergency rooms and urgent cares. Something has to change, and here are examples just from this year:

·         I had people not buy tickets to the Recovery Day at Hammons Field because they were worried the parents of their kids friends might be at the game, “If they were to see me with the recovery group and find out about my past I am afraid they wouldn’t let their kids play with mine.

·         When Phillip Seymour Hoffman died, the comments on social media were horrible, “Who cares, just another dead junkie” and “He was sober for a while and relapsed. These people never get better.”

·         When Hallie was murdered, “Who ever did that had to be taking something,” This implies that drugs and alcohol are the cause of evil in our world. Evil is evil, no matter.

We have a lot of changes we need to make in order to combat the stigma that exists. Here is what we have been trying locally. We still have a lot more to do, but we had a great start and things will only be getting bigger based on what follows.
In 2013 we had a couple of events:
1.       River Clean Up float trip that 5 people went on. We met in the morning, floated, then left.
2.       BBQ for Recovery Month that was attended by around 100 people.  We had hot dogs and games and gave away about $1,000 worth of stuff.
3.       Baseball game attended by 15 people in recovery.

In 2014 we grew and accomplished more:
1.       River clean up that was attended by 75 people. We got there in the afternoon for live music, BBQ, prizes and 3 speakers from 3 different fellowships. We had a speaker from AA, NA and Celebrate Recovery then we finished the night with smores and a camp out. The following morning we had a pancake breakfast and floated and cleaned up the river followed by more prizes.  The cost was only $20 a person!
2.       5K/10K Recovery Run and Family Friendly BBQ. We had 125 people register to run, then after the run had BBQ chicken and sides, bounce houses, temporary tattoos, face painting, free massages from massage therapists, adjustments from a chiropractor not to mention door prizes. The cost was 30 for the 5K, 40 for the 10K and the BBQ was open to the public and it was free! Senator Dixon presented a proclamation for recovery month from the state and Councilman Compton presented a proclamation from the city of Springfield!
3.       We had recovery day at Hammons Field that was attended by 300 people who were either in recovery, worked with people in recovery or loved someone in recovery. State Rep Eric Burlison came and threw out the first pitch to support us while we had a parade around the field that had come out to support recovery day.
4.       We partnered with Springfield Public Schools and painted 2 elementary school play grounds over the summer.
5.       I presented at the annual Voice and Choice Conference about what BLiR was doing locally and  how it could be duplicated by other people in other areas.
6.       We have partnered with SoBear, which is a sober collegiate community at Missouri State, and are screening “The Anonymous People” next Monday at 6 followed by a panel discussion with door prizes including an iPad and a $100 Visa gift card.
7.       We will be featured in Addiction Professional Magazine, I made a recovery PSA with KY3, Ozark Journal did a piece on BLiR and BLiR was on KY3 news twice and KOLR10 once. 

I cannot wait to see what is coming next year, as there are talks of starting a community garden and a stream team. BLiR will be attempting to do 24 education, awareness and service projects in 2015! I am in the middle of writing the 501c3 paperwork so it can get filed and we will be forming a board. We are busy and it will only be getting better, but WE NEED YOUR HELP!!!

If this is something that interests you or you can do, we will take all the help we can get. Whether it is donating time, money, experience, writing grants, volunteering, becoming a founding board member or just enjoying the events when we have them contact me and I will add you to the mailing list. Together we WILL reduce stigma while celebrating people who are in long-term recovery!!!

If you are in the Springfield, MO area and are wondering what we are doing, come by Plaster Student Union at Missouri State University at 6 P.M. tonight and see the documentary that is getting people excited about recovery. Admission is free and open to the public. Door prizes include an iPad and a $100 Visa gift card. Stay after the screening for a panel discussion and an opportunity to ask any questions you may have!

Monday, October 27, 2014

I Used to be an Addict.............

Everyone wants a magical cure, especially addicts. That is the dream. We as addicts want not only a cure, but we want it quick and easy. After all, it I could be cured from my addiction than I could once again be just like everybody else. I could be normal. That would be amazing.

That is the promise from Passages, will locations in Malibu and Ventura. Their trademarked slogan is "At Passages - Addiction Ends Here." How comforting that must be, to know that all I have to do is go to one of their places and my addiction will end. How can Passages make such a lofty claim? Because Pax has been clean now for over a decade and was helped by his father Chris, who did self-help seminars to make people successful.

Based off of the experiences that Pax Prentiss and his father had with the addiction Pax struggled with, they have figured it out for everyone. I guess that when it comes to recovery, one size fits all. That is so good to know, that what works for one person can be "guaranteed" to help everyone else. Because of that, they claim to do treatment different from everyone else.

For starters, they have a cure for something that is not a disease. Passages states that after all of their research they have discovered that the entire medical and psychiatric field is wrong. Addiction is not a disease. Since it is not a disease, they have a cure. Unfortunately, all of the research I have read has stated that addiction is a brain disease. They base that off of the changes that occur in the brain chemistry and wiring using that pesky scientific model and research that can be duplicated.

Next, they claim that the 12 steps are antiquated, much like the disease model of addiction. Passages Malibu claims to have cured thousands. of people. The antiquated 12 steps, on the other hand, have helped millions find long-term recovery. I guess that you can make any claim that you want, warranted you are not asked to provide any research to back it  up.

I want to add that I don't disbelieve all of what Passages says and does. They use psychotherapy, or one-on-one individual counseling, as the core of their practice. I fully believe in that. Use evidence-based practices to treat the disease of addiction. They also state that the drug/alcohol is not the problem. Instead, there is another issue that drugs/alcohol are used to numb and escape from. I also agree with that.

In fact, that is the reason why people who go to 12 step meetings are expected to get a sponsor and work the steps with that sponsor. That is why all treatment providers that I know of do co-occurring, trauma, CBT, Adlerian, Gestalt, Psychoanalytic, Family and narrative therapies with their clients. These methods are all used to work  through the "why" of our use. It has been that way since the inception of the 12 steps Passages makes it sound like they invented it, but it has been done for quit some time now.

They also stress exercise, watching what you eat, meditating and taking better care of yourself. This is vastly important, because most of us while our addiction is active don't take very good care of ourselves at all. Add the anxiety, depression and trauma that most of us deal with and you have a perfect storm for unhealthy physical habits to kick in.

Passages is also big on activities such as Tai Chi, Yoga, Ropes, hiking and team sports that are obviously done all by yourself, because they don't believe in group therapy according to their website. I agree with all of these as viable modes of treatment, but all of these sound like what other places call group therapy. Why do other places call it group therapy? Because it is a form of therapy and it is done with other people, ie a group. Hard to have team building without a team.

Group therapy also allows you to find support and build accountability partners. The 12 step support meetings allow for us to do the same thing. Yet, according to the Passages website these are outdated and don't work. I personally swear by them, and I have met thousands of other people who have used them to find and keep long-term recovery. Many of them I have met have been clean and sober since before Passages started. Guess I should tell them the method they have used to attain multiple decades of sobriety isn't effective.  

The price tag of Passages is amazing. Last I looked it was about $65,000 at Malibu and $40,000 at Ventura..................a month!!!! Chris Prentice is good at making money, and he found a new hustle his son could enjoy so that he would no longer feel the need to hustle on the streets. Instead, they found a legal hustle that leads to the death and destruction of others. That scares me!

For as much as Passages says they are interested in helping others, they set many up for relapse if not death. You see, if I am cured, than I can use again. End of discussion. If I discover why I drink and/or drug by working through my past problems, than I can now drink and drug again without a problem. That will lead to relapse, and the next relapse someone has could very well be the one that kills them.

You see, I have worked through the abuse of my childhood and multiple other intense traumas. I have worked through the memory of dying more times than I can count on one hand, gong to jail umpteen times and finally going to prison. I have forgiven and accepted all that I have done in the past because it makes me the person I am today. I define myself today not by  my addiction, but by my recovery.

That said, I never want to forget my past. Not only did it make me the person I am today, it gave me knowledge of my limitations. I have a disease that makes me unable to use drugs and alcohol like "normal" people. I will always have that inability. Some call it an allergy, but based on science it is a disease and it has no known cure. However, I have found that through the 5 Pillars it can be managed!

The 5 Pillars
  1.  Higher Power - Find something bigger than yourself that can give you acceptance, love, respect, forgiveness and validation. The only thing I have found that works for me is Christ. I have seen others use the fellowship. 
  2. Meetings - Find a place where you can get support and feedback from peers. I get the most hope from speaker meetings and Celebrate Recovery testimony nights. 
  3. 12 Steps - Find a game plan to change the way you live your life. I use both the 12 steps and the Bible, as they compliment each other in many ways and both lead me to a richer and more fulfilling life. 
  4. Sponsor/Mentor -  Find someone who has the life  you would like to have in 5 years and ask them to teach you how they got there. This is the person who will help you apply the 12 steps, kind of like a coach teaching you a game plan for success.
  5. Accountability Partners - Find people who you can depend on who are not afraid to call you out when you are falling short, support you when you are struggling and encourage you when things are going well 
There is one thing I would add to the 5 pillars that many people are missing, and it makes all of the difference, community service. Community service puts us back into the communities we live in, and instead of taking them for all they can give us we instead are giving all that we can back. It helps us reengage with our community and once again feel a part of it. Service work is very important for my sobriety, community service is vital for my recovery. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

One Day (A Poem)

One day I saw a falling star
Remembered that I had a wish
To be with you til my dying day
While I'm away to be missed

For you to think of me while I'm gone
Missing me more every minute
Thinking how lonely life is
Without me there to be in it

Than I remembered dreams are for kids
I've never had one that came true
I shook my head wiped away a tear
Tried to sleep but thought only of you

This was my mindset when I was younger. I lamented the past and dreamed of what might have been. This poem was written about the girl I left behind. Her name was Britt. I lived in Illinois and realized that I was not good for her. She is a major reason I moved my senior year to Missouri. I was afraid that I would corrupt her. Moving broke my heart, so I wrote this poem.

I did not realize then that many years later she would have a beautiful family and so would I. Neither of us would have the families we have if things had not played out the way they did 25 years ago. I learned a lot from that. Today I live with no regrets from my past, no thoughts of what might have been because life has taught me a lesson that I would love to pass on to you.

Things don't always work out the way we want them to, but they always work out the way the are supposed to. Every time I look at my wife, my son and my daughter I thank God for that!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Meth Takes One More..........

17 years ago, I met a sweet, innocent 18 year old fresh off the farm from Arkansas. She was from a town of about 100 people. She was raised with a strong work ethic, and a strong faith. Her family was church of Christ and they were pillars of their church. She was a really good kid. When she walked into Mesquite Charlie's, which was the restaurant I was currently the server manager and trainer for, she was like a shiny toy I wanted to make mine.

I was 25, had been out of prison for a couple of years, and was an alcoholic/addict involved in the manufacturing and distribution of methamphetamine. I was a functioning addict, if you want to call how I was living my life functioning. I worked 80 hour weeks a week. I worked open to close doubles 6 days a week and trained new servers as they came into work. I would wake up Tuesday morning with a shot of meth, go to work and not sleep again until Monday morning. I slept a day a week.

That was the person I was when she met me. She did not see that. After all, I was a chameleon from years of practice. I had learned how to read people from a very young age, and I took her inventory as soon as I met her. She was a little shy but extroverted and had pretty low self-esteem. All I had to do was show her positive attention and tell her she was pretty and she was as good as mine.

Everyone at work was told that she was mine, so she was treated with a "hands off" approach from the people we worked with. They listened to me, because I was the person who supplied most of them with speed and weed. She made it through the training class and was my star pupil.At Mesquite Charlie's, we were given call names. Mine was Desperado, and her call name after she passed the training class was Santa Fe.We went on our first date the day she graduated the training class.

Needless to say, our lifestyles were polar opposites. She was small town and I was big town at the time. She was a small fish in a small pond and I was a big fish in a bigger pond. Everywhere I took her, people knew  me. Every party we went to, people sucked up to me. That tends to happen when you make a lot of money and always have a pocket full of dope with access to all the other drugs people could possibly want.

I made drugs and the addict's lifestyle look very attractive, and she bit. It started slowly, with a couple of wine coolers. From there she moved up to marijuana, and then ecstasy. She enjoyed everything she ever tried. After being told how horrible and evil drugs were her whole life, she was finding them to be quite pleasurable. The hook was in.

She was a really good server, but wanted to be able to work the hours I did so she could make more money. It was impossible to work the way I did without meth, so about a month after working at Mesquite's she tried meth for the first time. As soon as she took her first line, I knew she was like me. I saw her eyes go glaze over and that smile of pure joy play across her face. She was hooked from that first bump.

For the next couple of years, we remained a couple. She went from snorting to smoking it while she was with me. Although I was shooting it at the time, I  never let her know it. I did not want her to ever get introduced to the needle. Back then, that was one of my last vestiges of humanity. If you had never shot up, I would not be the person to do it for you. I also put out the word that if anyone gave her a shot of dope, they would never get dope from me or any of the guys slinging dope for me.

We had our problems, that much is certain. I broke up with her twice before the final time. She met another dope cook, who happened to give her that first shot of dope during our first breakup. I still would not let her shoot up around me. I knew what shooting meth had done to me, and I didn't want it to happen to her. The damage was already done. Shooting dope changed her.

She got violent after her first shot of dope. I can still remember the first time she got violent with me. I pride myself on never having hit a girl, and she punched me. I was spun out, and I laughed at her. She punched me again, and I laughed again. She reached up and yanked my ear ring out. I looked at my shoulder, saw the blood flowing down it, and froze. I knew that if I moved I might hit her, so I just locked up.

That infuriated her, and she started screaming and punching me. One of our friends was walking by and heard the commotion. He had my sister who lived down the hallway unlock the door, thinking I was hurting Santa Fe. They walked in to find me covered in blood from my ear and my  nose with her still screaming and punching me.

There were other times, I would be sitting on the floor playing games and she would be on the bed coloring. I would be so zoned into the game I would not hear her talk to me, and she would kick me in the back of the head.She would fly off of the handle and start yelling about the littlest things, always starting fights with me. She started hanging out with the dope cooks I had nothing to do with because of their moral standards. These were the 30 year old guys who would give a 14 year old her first shot just so they could get their hooks in.

That was the person meth turned her into. I watched her change in front of my eyes. She went from one of the sweetest people I had ever met to a girl that was angry and trusted almost no one.

I did nothing about it. I could have cared less, honestly. I egged it on. The night that she ripped out my ear ring Santa Fe went down to Brian's apartment with Brian and my sister. They talked to her for several hours to calm her down. I slept with our next door neighbor, who Santa Fe was friends with.

The last time I broke up with her, I wanted it to stick. I slept with the person Santa Fe cared most about in the world, her sister. Santa Fe then promptly hooked up with one of the kids who I had slinging my dope, and just like that she was out of my life. When I broke up, I liked clean breaks. Generally I would make sure that I did something that guaranteed they would be out of my life for good. I still saw her boyfriend on occasion, as well as her sister, but she was gone and soon forgotten.

That was, until this Saturday.I was contacted by one of my friends from back in the day with some news. Santa Fe was dead. She had died due to complications from an infection from IV drug use. She had gotten that infection from  her husband, who was the kid who used to sling dope for me years back. He also is deceased from the same infection. I guess that they had gotten married, and it had been chaotically every after. That is what drugs will do to your life.

They left behind 4 children, from the ages of 2-10 years old. What is sad is that the children may actually be better off without them, if they were unable to find their way out of addiction. At least the kids have good grandparents to live with that will allow them to stay together, from what I hear.

What I am reminded of  now is how our choices have long lasting effects. That, and there are two ways to live our lives once we get sober: abstinence and recovery. I chose recovery, and I will explain what that means.

As I reminisce on Santa Fe's life, I am reminded that if not for me she would not have been introduced to meth and the dealer's lifestyle. I have talked to multiple people, and they all tell me the same thing, "It's not your fault." That is then followed by several other statements, "If not you it would have been someone else" or "She made her bed" or "It was the disease, not you that caused you to make the choices you did back then." I abhor all of those statements, so I will address each of them in turn.

  1. If not you it would have been someone else - That might be true, but the fact is that she did get her start from me. It wasn't someone else, it was me. She got her first taste of the lifestyle from me She get her first taste of drugs from me. She met her husband through me. I turned her out, and the drugs turned her into someone she never was.  
  2. She made her bed - Her choices were all hers, and I can agree with that. My choices, however, were also mine. I chose to introduce her to the drug that would ultimately be her downfall. If she is responsible for her choices I should be held responsible for mine. 
  3. It was the disease, not you that caused you to make the choices you did back then - I can't blame it on the disease. I know a lot of addicts that did not make the same horrific choices that I did back then. I ruined people's lives, and I knew what I was doing. I knew that once I got my hooks on someone they were seldom the same, and I chose to do it anyway.
Ultimately, I have found that holding myself accountable for my choices and actions is the reason I stay sober. I have what I consider to be great recovery for a completely different reason. I have made my life a living amends because I hold myself accountable for the collateral damage my past choices and actions have incurred. Because of that, my recovery is fierce. I refuse to go back out and use again because I don't want to hurt myself, the people who care about me, other people and the people that care about them. 

One of the best things about recovery is that you get your feelings back. One of the worst things about recovery is.......you get your feelings back. I am glad that I feel, and no one is going to take that away from me. Although everyone ultimately makes their own choices, I also made all of mine. Because of the damage those choices made both in my life and the lives of so many others, I care about outcomes now. I have a heart. 

I have a heart for the addict who still struggles, the person who has just started using but is not an addict yet, the individual who has yet to use but will as well as the former addict who faces stigma every day. I know the choices we make today come back to haunt us. I made a decision 17 years ago and today 4 children don't have a mother or father because of the damage that decision caused. 

Will I beat myself up about it forever. No, but I did for a day. Then I remembered that the louder my message of hope, the more people will avoid the dangers of drug use. When they say, "Not even once" they are not kidding. Drugs take no prisoners. In my addiction, I did not make friends; I took hostages. I will never live my life that way again. 

I know firsthand the dangers of addiction. I have been in and out of jails and prison, died more times than I can count on one hand just to be brought back. I also know secondhand the dangers of addiction. I have lost more friends than I can count on my fingers and toes either to addiction or the violence that comes from the addict's lifestyle. Because of that, my voice guiding people towards a different lifestyle is loud. I am tired of losing people I cared about to this disease millions of us share. 

If you have started using, there is still hope. I am living proof! There truly is a BETTER LIFE IN RECOVERY. Join me and BLiR as we share the dangers of drug use and the victories of recovery. We are TRANSFORMING LIVES THROUGH RECOVERY!!