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!