Check Yourself, Before You Wreck Yourself

by Tiara

I’ll never forget the day Alcohol seductively crept into my life and persuaded me that nothing would love me the way they did. Alcohol, it was my friend, my confidant, my ride or die. When we were together, we were the life of every party. We stayed close. When life’s challenges arose, they were right by my side to comfort me. When goals were accomplished, they were there to celebrate with me. Then as time progressed our relationship began to morph into something me and the people around me were not comfortable with. This then influenced me to reevaluate our relationship in order to gain control back over my life as I felt it was slipping away.

 There were a series of events that encouraged this audit, and I will share with you the top three reasons why I decided to conduct a reevaluation of this relationship:

  1. My friends and loved ones didn't like who I was when Alcohol was around. Let’s just say, they would encourage me to do and say things in a way I would not normally.

  2. I found Alcohol in everything. I mean EVERYTHING. I couldn't get away from them. If I didn't bring Alcohol to the party, some way somehow, they found themselves there. To the beach, to the park, while I was doing homework, while I was out bowling. I mean EVERYWHERE. The only condition which they appeared to respect was my career. Although Alcohol and I did not engage while I was at work, there were days I could not wait to clock-out to go and hang out with them. 

  3. I had challenges distancing myself from this relationship on my own. I would make promises to myself that I could not keep. The level of guilt that I would feel when not holding to these promises was brutal! This was the turning point when I decided to get professional help as a result of not being able to change the relationship on my own.          

As I came to terms with not being able to manage this relationship by myself, I decided to bring these concerns to my therapist. His clinical perspective was not only helpful, but it gave me more insight to myself. We both agreed that my behavior (with alcohol) was taking me to a place that would be very challenging to come back from and it was time to come up with a plan. It was hard to admit I had an unhealthy relationship with Alcohol, but if I was serious about being in control of my life, I had to first acknowledge there was a need for improvement. I’ve been taking it one day at a time since 2/7/2017 and it’s been the most rewarding & challenging journey.

If you are in a place where you’d like to do a soft check-in with yourself, I encourage you to try these two smartphone apps, DBT Daily & I am Sober or call SAMHSA National Helpline 1-800-662-Help (1-800-662-4357). I want you to continue living, loving, laughing, and recovering.

With Hope,

Tiara

I Don't Drink and That's OKAY!

by Carlee Hulsizer

Hey friends, Carlee here. I hope everyone had a wonderful and safe Memorial Day weekend. I’ve been doing some reflecting on the summertime and summer holidays. It seems like drinking plays a huge role in the celebration of summer. I understand that those without a substance use disorder can partake in that sort of thing, but why is it that I always get questioned and harassed about why I’ve decided not to drink alcohol?

Sometimes I find that being a young person in recovery can be challenging. As a 23-year-old, I constantly see others my age drinking alcohol. Because I am someone with a substance use disorder and alcohol was a huge problem for me, I chose not to drink. This always make me feel like an outcast. I feel like I’m being judged for my decision.

I’ve talked to others in recovery and I’m not the only one who feels this way. Many of my friends have also been questioned by people on why they don’t drink. What I’ve learned from talking with them is that I have nothing to be ashamed about. When someone asks me why I don’t drink, I tell them that it’s because I’m in recovery. I don’t have to feel like a loser or someone who doesn’t fit in. I must remember that I have a community that welcomes me and loves me. While other people might not understand what recovery is or why I chose to stay away from alcohol, my recovery family does. I never have to feel alone or ashamed about being an individual in recovery.

Becoming Shameless

by Carlee Hulsizer

Hey friends, Carlee here. I’ve been thinking a lot about different aspects of recovery besides just not using drugs anymore. For me, it’s more than that. I am in recovery so that I can become the best version of me.

As human beings, I think we’ve all experienced shame and guilt – I know I have. In early recovery I was consumed with it. All I kept thinking about was how terrible of a person I was. Shame kept me from seeing the truth.

Letting go of shame can be difficult, but it is necessary if we wish to move forward. Focusing on the negative things of the past keeps us there. I started changing the way I talked about myself. Instead of saying “I am bad” I started saying “I have a bad disease, how can I heal?” It was only until then that I began to release the feelings of shame and guilt.

If you find yourself stuck in the shame pit, there are ways to get out. In my experience, I had to surround myself with positive people. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a supportive network of people cheering you on. For me, it was important that I kept these people close because they helped me and continue to help me become a better version of me. Being in community with others who are fighting the same battle is so helpful. I love that I don’t have to heal by myself.

My hope is that everyone reading this will take the next step in their healing process. My experience is not the only one, and I would like to hear from others about what has helped them become shameless. If you have a story or some tips on what has helped you, please let us know and we will feature them!

 

My Paradoxical Addiction

by Sean Cuddihy

Sometimes when I look back on my addiction there is a point where I get sick to my stomach with regret. I can see and feel all the people I have wronged. From stealing, lying, and manipulating, I lived in a state in which some would call hell. To put it in laymen's terms, I was a scumbag. But what do we do when the result of the terrible, malevolent, selfish actions we have done is the exact reason, from those same actions, that has made us an incredible and beautiful changed human-being? If I did not steal, I would not have been arrested. And in my cell; that's where my biggest breakthroughs happened. That's where I made my decision to change from a pessimistic, negative, self-loathing human being into a positive, confident, self-loving human-being. It is quite the enigma.

I have hurt a lot of people. I have done a lot of things I am not proud of. But if it were not for those things I would not have my life in the positive upswing that it is in today. Everything is interconnected. People do terrible things to us, and we do messed up things to other people. But if we are all learning and growing from these terrible things, maybe they are not so terrible after all. Maybe there is no such thing as "terrible things," maybe there is just things that happen to us and it is our job the learn from them.

I believe these circumstances become terrible when we have our eyes closed. Having our eyes closed can drop us down into a state of self-pity. I have spent many many years in the depths of self-pity. As far as I can tell, as far as I can see, when one is in the depths of self-pity you miss the teachings that lay in front of you. And what follows is nothing but complacency, depression and anxiety. There is another option other than being in this hopeless state of mind, as mentioned earlier, it is paying attention and learning. And it takes utter and complete honesty with oneself to be able to learn in troubling times. Honesty proves to be very difficult. Why is that? In my experience, this is due to the fact that our minds are extremely powerful. I can absolutely believe, with all my heart, that something is true and have it turn out to be a hundred percent false. Obtaining this honesty is a difficult task and takes continuous checking oneself and all the facts involved. If this honesty can be achieved, self-pity is on its way to dissipation.

After we can obtain honesty, the other path, the path of learning in despair, is taking disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, anger, jealousy, fear....etc....etc...and transforming it into a period of beautiful evolutionary growth. There is truly no moment that is too heavy for us in which we cannot learn from. It does not matter the situation. It does not matter the circumstance. It can and will teach you something if you allow it to. It's the self-pity, feeling sorry for myself, “poor me,” “the world does not understand me” attitude that keeps us from learning in our struggles. Now, in my experience, this will not lessen the pain. It will not make the path and journey easier. But, what it will do is give it meaning. And that's what every humanbeing longs for.....meaning. We cannot just run, we cannot escape. As we all know the attempt of running and escaping leads to more pain and more trouble. It leads to addiction, it leads to materialism, it leads to neurosis, it even leads us to more drama. There is no escaping. There are two options 1) Self-pity or 2) Keep your head up and learn.

When I broke into my girlfriends house and stole from her, when I manipulated and lied to her… I hurt her more than anything else has ever hurt her. This eventually led her to call the cops and get me arrested and then I was put in jail. This was one of the most difficult times for her. Being in jail was one of the most difficult times for me. But we both decided to learn and grow from this extremely difficult situation my actions put us in. We both decided to pick ourselves up off the ground, open our eyes, and pay attention. Not only can forgiveness stem from this state, but thankfulness can also show itself. Imagine an entire world filled with relationships where people learned and paid attention when tragedy, mistakes, and fuck-ups occur. Imagine the individual benevolent growth that each and every one of else would uphold. Pay attention when struggle is with you and maybe you'll realize that struggle is illusory.

You're My Hero

by Carlee Hulsizer

What makes a superhero?  Is it their cape or costume?  Is it their ability to fight evil?  Or, could it be the fact that millions love and adore them?  To be honest, I really don’t believe it is any of these things.  I believe there are many types of superheroes who are living among us – we just don’t always know it.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Not all superheroes wear capes,” but what exactly does that mean?  When I was a little girl I thought of my mom as a hero.  She was patient, loving, and could literally do anything!  I witnessed her operate her own business, go back to school, volunteer, and raise two kids.  As a child, I thought there were many heroes.  My doctor being one of them because he made me feel better when I was sick.  The volunteer firefighters in my community were very brave heroes to me as well as my teachers, simply because they taught me new things and truly cared about me.  My childhood assumptions were not wrong.  Sometimes we must look past the titles of “doctors,” “firefighters,” and “teachers.”

When I think of a superhero, a few words come to mind.  Words such as, “brave,” “strong,” “willing,” and “committed” all dance around my head.  These words challenge me as an individual to truly think about who qualifies as a hero in the world today.  I’ve always loved the saying, “Everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about.”  In the past 22 years of my life, I have fought an awful lot of battles and you know what?  I was brave, strong, willing, and committed during each of them.  Anytime an individual overcomes a struggle, they are proving that they possess the same qualities that I believe to be that of a hero.  Maybe we are all heroes without capes.

Being a hero doesn’t mean you have to fight evil and save millions of people from the end of the world.  Sometimes, it means being the best version of yourself and taking responsibility for everything life throws at you.  Maybe you’re reading this, and you are a doctor, firefighter, or teacher.  Or maybe you’re an individual in recovery from Substance Use Disorder fighting the disease of addiction, one day at a time.  Perhaps, you’re a single mom raising two kids and juggling many different jobs.  Whatever the case may be, I want you to know that you are my hero.  The grit, dedication, and hard work that comes from each of life’s challenges is something to be very proud of.  So what challenge has life thrown at you?  Are you currently struggling to find your “inner hero,” or want to share a story about being a hero? Let us know!

Connection: The Missing Piece of the Puzzle

Addiction is everywhere. We see it in the news, in movies, even in our own lives and the lives of those we love. But how do we treat those who are suffering with this brain disease? How do our views towards celebrities and Hollywood differ from that of the lonely 20-something year old living in suburbia? Do we cast blame where we shouldn’t? Are we numb to what’s happening because of someone else’s fame? Why don’t we treat everyone suffering with a brain disease the same?

The answer is simple – connection.

It’s 2018. Advances in social media give the illusion that everyone is our “friend” and we “know” how other people are living their lives. Never before have we been able to relate more closely with famous people. From what they are eating, to where they went last night, we have access to it all. That’s what makes it easy for us to watch celebrities like Demi Lovato, someone who has been completely open and honest about her history with substance use, and who has come out about her relapse. When the news hit that she was hospitalized after an overdose, fans all around the world took to social media – me included. I was pleased by the amount of people who shared news stories with positive messages about how she shouldn’t give up. However, let’s take a look at how “ordinary” people are treated.

I took to my laptop and searched “Rochester, NY overdoses” to see what the local news had to say about this pandemic. In doing so, I noticed something very different than what I observed just weeks before with Lovato’s news. There were countless messages and comments degrading those who overdosed. “Junkies should just die” was the common theme throughout my research. This blatant stigma is the anthem of the same people praising Lovato’s bravery and courage. So why is there such a stark contrast between two people suffering from the same illness? I said it before – connection.

Unlike Jim, a 28-year old from middle-class America, a college graduate who was prescribed pain killers for an injury in high school, thus contributing to his current heroin addiction, we feel more connected to celebrities. Jim isn’t posting on Instagram about a soy latte he just drank. Jim isn’t the one playing sold out show across the country and documenting each experience to his fans. Jim isn’t the one posting pics from his multi-million-dollar mansion. Millions of people don’t idolize Jim or even knows he exists. Jim is perceived as just “a low life.” Jim isn’t praised for wanting to turn his life around – he is expected to do so without society’s support.

All of this got me thinking about how we, as a society, are failing people like Jim. Recently we lost Mac Miller to this disease. His death hit me and many other people really hard. I think it’s easier for us to mourn and wrap our mind around losing somebody famous than it is for us to accept that people within our own communities are suffering too. Connection is a huge missing piece of the puzzle. Maybe it’s time we stop following celebrities so closely and open our eyes to the injustice and dehumanizing actions we’ve been taking toward people in our towns and cities. It’s about time we start treating EVERYONE with substance use disorder the same – with compassion, understanding, respect, and encouragement.

 

Celebrity or not, we are all human beings. We are all capable of giving and receiving love. It’s time we start acting like it. My challenge for those who feel compelled to take action, is to say one nice thing to someone today. It can be a person with substance use disorder, someone with depression, or someone who is just having a tough day. Speak a kind word and see what happens. The world needs more of that and I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Take care friends.

2018 NYS Recovery Conference

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2018 NYS Recovery Conference

Hey friends, Carlee here. What an incredible past few days! Not only was I able to spend some time on vacation last week, but the next day when I returned home, I was able to attend the 3rd Annual New York State Recovery Conference in Albany. I had the most amazing time with some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met.

The conference started on a Sunday morning August 19, 2018 – this was actually the pre-conference institute. Youth Voices Matter-NY was hosting an all-day Strategic Planning Session for youth and young adults looking to get more involved in the youth recovery movement. It was refreshing to hear everyone’s new ideas. We discussed where YVM-NY has been and brainstormed where we would like to be a year from now – and even five years from now. We finished the day with a discussion with Road Recovery about Rock-N-Ride which has been our biggest summer initiative. It was really overwhelming for me to see how far we have come in just one year. I left that room feeling like Youth Voices Matter-NY is moving in the right direction and we are becoming a powerful force across the State of New York. Later that evening, there was a dance. I danced for hours and at one point had to go barefoot because the heels just weren’t working out for me. Overall, it was an amazing day and start to the conference.

Monday August 20, 2018 – the OFFICIAL first day of the conference. I woke up that morning feeling energized and ready for the long day that awaited me. I attended a workshop about living a purposeful life. I was really moved by the information I was given. It forced me to really look at the life I was living and find out how much meaning there really is behind what I do every day. After that workshop was the fun part. I knew that I was going to be on two back-to-back panels. This made me a bit nervous so I did what I always do when I have to speak in front of people – I prayed. Prayer has been a huge part of my healing process and my recovery. I simply asked my higher power to use me for the right purpose and any anxiety that I was feeling to be lifted from me. I also made sure to ask that whatever I was meant to say, be spoken with clarity and confidence. Let’s just say that after speaking on both panels, I had nothing to worry about. Both workshops went very well and people who attended asked some very insightful questions. I was so grateful to be able to add to the solution to many of the problems plaguing our community.

Tuesday August 21, 2018 - Day two of the conference was also very memorable. One of my favorite moments happened on this second day. I was able to watch my mom speak on a panel about siblings and grandparents in recovery from their loved one’s addiction. My mom has an incredible story, not only about being a person in recovery herself, but also being affected by my disease and the disease of my brother. I sat in her workshop as a proud daughter, just as she sat in mine as a proud mother. I really enjoyed sharing these past few days with her. Recovery has brought us so close and I am grateful that we have each other as supports.

The 2018 NYS Recovery Conference will be talked about for years to come. I cannot even begin to explain how many people made an impact on my life simply by attending this conference. One of the coolest things was being able to meet people that I’ve only met through Facebook and other social media. This conference connected all of the dots and opened my eyes to see how big the recovery community is across the state. My challenge to anyone reading this is that if you didn’t attend the conference this year, please attend next year! You will not be disappointed. And for those of you who did attend, we want to hear from you about your favorite part or something that inspired you at the conference. What do you have to say about the amazing three days we had together?

Take care,

Carlee

ROCK-N-ROLL... I mean… RIDE!

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Hey friends, Carlee here. Phew! The first leg of Rock-N-Ride has been successfully completed. For those of you who have been living under a rock the past month, Rock-N-Ride is an initiative started by Road Recovery, a non-profit partner, mentoring organization and friend of Youth Voices Matter-NY. In celebration of Road Recovery’s 20th anniversary, Gene Bowen, founder of Road Recovery, decided that he would ride his bike (not a motorcycle but an actual bicycle) across New York State to the different Youth Recovery Clubhouses (YRC’s). I know what you’re thinking, and yes I thought he was crazy too, but this adventure has opened my eyes and my heart in a way I never thought possible. (Let me be clear and say that I did NOT ride my bike but travelled from the comfort of my car)

Our first stop at a YRC was the TC Commons Clubhouse in Elmira, NY – a quaint little town in the southern tier and a perfect starting point. Here we engaged in conversations with young people about advocacy and doing the right thing. Some of the youth shared on the topics of bullying and family member’s substance use. It was eye-opening to hear stories from these young people, some as young as elementary school. After our discussion it was field day. These kids had a blast with water balloons, basketball, and even a dunk tank! It really was perfect.

Next stop, Canandaigua, NY – a beautiful lakeside town just southeast of my home city, Rochester. We gathered at Canandaigua CrossFit, known for its intense workouts and caring staff. We participated in another discussion with youth. This time, the topic of being strong for others came up. One individual shared about his experience with family members he has lost and how he stayed strong during those times. Another young lady was courageous enough to share about her aunt’s struggle with substance use. I was blown away by the honesty and the impact these stories had. Afterward, all of us joined together with the owner of Canandaigua CrossFit to partake in some interesting (and freakin’ challenging) workouts with youth from EPIC Zone. We rolled and flipped tires, threw medicine balls, and even jumped in Canandaigua Lake to cool off. The second stop of the Rock-n-Ride did not disappoint.

Stop number three, The Spot Clubhouse in Oswego, NY – a college town with unique charm nestled on the southern edge of Lake Ontario. The YVM-NY and Road Recovery teams met with young people at the Youth Recovery Clubhouse affiliated with Oswego County Opportunities and had interesting conversations about substance use and trauma. Several young people shared their experiences with physical, sexual, and emotional trauma, as well as dependence on substances. Other youth encouraged these individuals to keep doing the things that help them heal. Two youth in particular spoke about how journaling helps them cope with different situations. I found this fascinating because that’s exactly what I do. When everyone was done sharing, we ate food and kept the conversation going. There was nothing super fancy or elaborate about this event – but as these kids spoke, there was so much weight in their words and honesty that at times I would get emotional. I was truly moved by the remarkable insight and experience these young people possess.

 

Last stop of route one, Horizons Clubhouse in Massena, NY – a small town plopped in the north country of New York. So far north that you can actually see Canada. As we arrived, we were greeted by friendly staff. Young people started to join us and we ended up having an in-depth conversation with them about life after treatment and what is needed to help them sustain recovery. A couple young people suggested that they wanted more things to do and more events. Many young people were from other parts of the state and expressed concerns about going back home after they leave treatment. Youth Voices Matter-NY was able to provide them with support for when they return home. There were two young men who were from my region of the state and it was nice to be able to talk with them about specific struggles they are facing in their respective communities. After talking with the young adults, we played games at the clubhouse and had a BBQ. The young people that attended this event were left knowing that better days are coming and they will be supported when they leave treatment.

Overall, the first leg of Rock-N-Ride was unbelievable. At times it is hard to believe that this is my job and I have the privilege of doing this service work. I am so grateful for this opportunity because it has opened my eyes to so much. I’m looking forward to the second leg of Rock-N-Ride at Oneonta Teen Center, Creative Connections Youth Clubhouse and the 2018 New York State Recovery Conference (August 19). I encourage anyone reading this to talk to a young person today. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation but pick their brains on different things and I promise you’ll be amazed at what you will learn. In addition to reaching out to young people, I challenge those reading this blog to speak out about how YOU are recovering today. Whether it be from addiction, abuse, mental health, or a crappy day, how do you find peace at the end of the day?

Take care friends.

 

“Nama-Stay in the Moment

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“Nama-Stay in the Moment”

Hey friends – and yogis, Carlee here.

WOW WOW WOW is all I can say and here’s why.

On Saturday June 9, I attended the New York State Yoga Festival. Now, I’m not familiar with yoga so when my boyfriend’s sister, Danielle, asked me to join her, I hesitated. She explained to me the benefits of yoga and how amazing it feels after, PLUS she had a free admission because her mom couldn’t go. So I decided to give it a try.

On Friday June 8th my boyfriend, Danielle, her husband, and I made it to Letchworth State Park for a weekend of camping – which I LOVE. The whole day I was worried about the yoga festival. “What if I can’t perform a specific move?” “What if my form isn’t good?” “Are people going to be watching me?” I felt very uncomfortable and tried to find ways to get out of going.

Fast forward… Saturday June 9th 8:30 am. We are on our way to the festival. Nerves are setting in. We make it to the registration table and I become a little more comfortable. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly. We made our way to the main stage and a little while later, we began our first class of the day with 1300 other attendees.

IT. WAS. INCREDIBLE.

Struggling to talk through my tears, I said to Danielle “Why have I never done this before?” The release I felt after that first class was unlike any other. I can remember the instructor saying “Be happy for this moment for this moment is your life” and for some reason that really resonated with me. I began to slow down and really savor the moment I was in. It is a piece of my life and I want to enjoy it. The instructor also had us reflect on our bodies and their ability to bend, twist and move. This was very new to me because I always disliked my body. I finally found appreciation for it when I realized all the incredible things it can do.

It was at this point that I knew the rest of the day was going to be amazing. We participated in two more classes after that. One of them was called Hip Hop Yoga. I WAS SO READY FOR IT! The instructor started bumpin’ 90s and early 00’s beats and the entire crowd went crazy. I had a lot of fun during that session, especially when we had a dance party midway through.

Overall, my first real experience with yoga was so freakin cool. Since the festival I bought my own yoga mat and have been using it regularly.

For those interested, I HIGHLY recommend trying yoga if you feel the need to let go of some emotions or negativity. The instructor will continuously say positive and reaffirming things that have you feeling so much better. Just remember not to worry about who is watching or if you’re going to get the position perfect. Take it from me – I was shaking my butt and dancing like a fool when the hip hop session broke out. If I can feel comfortable doing that, then you can too.

And if you try yoga and it just isn’t working out for you, that’s okay too! You have to be comfortable with whatever helps you recover and stay positive in the crazy life. No matter what activities you participate in, remember to be happy for this moment, for this moment is your life

Arrested in Recovery

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Arrested in Recovery

Hey friends, Carlee here. I’ve been doing some reflecting on how I have changed and grown up in recovery. Not only have I been able to put down the drugs and alcohol, but my behaviors have also been transformed.

I don’t share this story often, but I feel the need to speak about how even though I am a person in recovery, there are parts of me that are still sick – and it’s okay to make mistakes. It seems as though, as people in recovery, we tend to set unrealistic expectations on ourselves (such as having to be the “perfect recovering addict.”) We don’t have to be perfect.

So the story…

It was right around two years clean that I started shoplifting. I got away with it the first time so I decided to do it again and again for the next few months. I had a whole system put in place and treated it very seriously. The rush that I experienced was similar to that of using a substance. I felt almost proud of this bad behavior and thought I would never get caught. Stealing clothes, jewelry, and beauty products became my habit for about six months.

I was finally arrested on July 19, 2016. I will never forget that day. I remember feeling super embarrassed and ashamed. “How did I get here,” I asked myself. As the police officer handcuffed me and escorted me to his car, I began to cry. I thought about how I wish I never went to the store that day, or if only I stole less items maybe they wouldn’t have caught me. My mind was racing and I knew what I had done was wrong.

After I was taken to police headquarters, they released me and brought me back to my car. I told the officer that I was in recovery and he suggested that I get to a meeting as soon as possible. I thanked him and went directly to a meeting. I cried as I shared about what I had just experienced. I also told on myself and asked others in the meeting for some experience, strength and hope. Feeling guilt and complete shame, I was embraced with hugs from fellow members in recovery and was told that I am still growing and learning how to be the best “Carlee” I can be. Those words helped me tremendously.

Today, I can honestly say that I haven’t shoplifted since July 19, 2016. It hasn’t always been easy but it is totally worth not being handcuffed in the back of a cop car. I still make mistakes in recovery, but the important thing is that I learn from them and try to do better the next time.

To anyone who might be going through a similar situation, I hope that behavior changes for you and I am more than happy to walk this journey with you. I couldn’t always change my behaviors on my own. I needed a supportive community around me to help guide and encourage my new way of life.

Take care everyone.