When Marjorie Hawkins entered treatment for alcohol and drug abuse in 1985, she seemed a hopeless case. Unemployed, homeless, and addicted to alcohol and heroin, Hawkins found herself at Carrick Hall, a Washington, D.C. treatment center, where she began, almost literally, to see the light.
"I went in," Hawkins recalls today, "and after the first week, I realized I could hear what they were saying. The fog had lifted. I learned that my biggest problem was my addiction, that if I didn’t drink and do drugs every day, I could be a normal person."
Fourteen years later, Hawkins is testament to the contention that treatment works. Ever since she finished her one-month in-patient stay at Carrick Hall and embarked on its six-month aftercare program, Hawkins has been a productive, tax-paying member of society, compiling an unbroken string of employment -all of it related to substance abuse treatment-and sobriety.
"I owe my life to the treatment center and the fellowship of AA," she says.
Today, Hawkins is project director of the Substance Abuse and Addiction Recovery Alliance (SAARA) of Falls Church, Va., which "celebrates recovery and tries to put in place support systems for people who are just out of treatment or who are just going in."
These are people, as Hawkins knows from personal experience, who need all the help they can get. Society, after all, tends to perceive drunks and drug users as people who are paying the price for moral weaknesses best left ignored or shunted aside.
Nobody can tell the story about the wisdom of treatment better than those who have experienced it. But as Dick Dillon, vice president and chief operating officer of Bridgeway Counseling Services, Inc., in St. Louis, says, the recovery community is "a culture of anonymity." That is, people like himself who are in recovery (it’s been 18 years for him) are not accustomed to going public with their personal stories because of the moral stigma that too many people still attach to them. "It’s not a disorder that has a lot of champions," he says.
But that doesn’t mean that people aren’t trying to remove the perception. The Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR), for instance, organized in 1997 to advocate for treatment. According to its associate director, Phil Valentine, CCAR has been lending its support to a state plan for a new alcohol and drug policy that would shift focus from provider to client and to make the search for services more "user-friendly."
Besides its function of advocacy for improved public policy, Valentine says, CCAR’s overall message is one of "focusing on the positive side of recovery."
Valentine’s own story of recovery dates back 12 years when he finally began treatment for his drinking, which had cost him his family and his job as a golf pro at a golf course. Valentine has remarried and is the father of a daughter who, he says, marvels at the stories of his days as a drunk, as though hearing about a foreigner.
Valentine has come forward with his own story, like Hawkins and Dillon, to make a point: "We return to society and become productive," he says. "And rarely are we heard from."
"There’s still a tremendous amount of ignorance among the general public about addiction," says Dillon. "There’s still a lot of people who place the blame on (addicted people). They say they’ve done it by their own free choice."
But he points to himself as a case in point. Eighteen years ago, at age 29, Dillon finally went in for a 28-day in-patient alcohol treatment program in a hospital following "a confrontation with family members who said, ’Get your act together.’"
As a person in recovery, Dillon says, his life has changed completely. When he was a drunk, Dillon recalls, he was a salesman working on a commission basis but without motivation.
Today, he laughs at the memory.
"I was underemployed and I was going broke fast," he says. "I probably pay more in state tax now than I made as income before I went in for treatment."
From Join Together Online
For education – How to Help an Alcoholic see www.BriefTSF.com
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