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.

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Listen To Your Body ~n~ Recovery

Hey friends, Carlee here. I wanted to fill you all in on something that that happened in my early recovery.

You see, for a long time while I was using I would get this terrible abdominal pain. This pain would also come with dry heaving and nausea. I didn’t know what it was or what was causing it. Shortly after I got clean, I went to the doctor. It was explained to me that I had an issue with my gall bladder. My first thought was “What the hell is a gall bladder?” So I asked and got some more information. Basically the gall bladder digests fats and filters toxins from food and mine was not working properly.

So, I ended up having the surgery for the doctors to remove it. I felt so much better after the surgery was over. However, a few years later I noticed that abdominal pain was coming back. It was horrible and some nights were spent crying until I went to sleep. I decided to do some research and then I remembered what the doctor told me before surgery. “Your gall bladder digests fats.” OH! And I don’t have one anymore so I probably shouldn’t be eating fatty food!

It was like a lightbulb went off in my head. I had a decision to make. I could either keep eating fatty food while suffering the consequences, or I could change my diet and not suffer from the pain. I chose to change my diet.

Here are some examples of how I eat healthier but still satisfy some of the cravings.

·         STAY AWAY FROM FAST FOOD! I have been doing a lot more cooking at home. If there is a meal or entrée you are craving from a restaurant, look up the recipe online and chances are it will be made with some healthier ingredients.

·         Instead of a greasy hamburger from McDonalds, I choose to make my own hamburgers at home with 95% lean and 5% fat ground beef.

·         When I’m craving chocolate (which I often do) I eat dairy-free chocolate ice cream (Also, I want to mention that most of the time we are craving something sweet, it’s because we are dehydrated and need to drink water)

Also, exercise!! I make my way to the gym 3-5 times a week and that really helps me feel my best. It is important to get those muscles moving. Exercise is one of the key elements to living a healthy lifestyle.

Hopefully this helps the next person who has to undergo gall bladder surgery or is struggling with dietary problems.

And remember to ALWAYS listen to what your body is telling you.

Take care friends.

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Dual Diagnosis

Hey friends, Carlee here. I wanted to discuss something that is near and dear to my heart. Mental health is one of the biggest struggles that people in recovery face. Most of us know that addiction and mental health go hand-in-hand, but what does that mean?

When I first heard the term “dual-diagnosis”, I was scared. I thought I was damaged and that I caused the illness. This is far from true. There is nothing wrong with being diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or any other ailment. It simply means that there is an imbalance of chemicals. It certainly isn’t your fault either (which is something I remind myself daily.)

I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and bi-polar disorder a little after I had one year clean. It was suggested that I get a mental health evaluation after the drugs had left my system, so I did it. I am so glad that I did because I was able to address another factor of my life. Physically, I was feeling good at this point because I wasn’t poisoning myself anymore. But mentally and emotionally I was stuck. I had no hope and wanted to escape from life.

I didn’t get clean to live a life of misery. I wanted to experience life to the fullest which meant that I needed to advocate for myself and my health. Going to the doctor when I was at my lowest was a real turning point in my recovery. I demonstrated that I can take care of myself and take positive action. In the past, I would have ran away from responsibilities like that.

Today I am living my life to the best of my ability. I will say that I am on medication because it was advised by a doctor that I take it. I do not suggest taking ANYTHING that isn’t prescribed by a physician that you trust. It is critical that you feel comfortable with your doctor. Psychiatrists have a great responsibility, so it is important to be able to entrust them with your mental health. Also, if you’re new to this whole thing, give it time! Unfortunately, depression and anxiety don’t go away overnight. Just remember that there are better days ahead. And if I can experience the better days, you can too!

Four Years Clean! (and Grateful???????)

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Four Years Clean (and Grateful).

  Hey friends, it’s Carlee. I need a minute to collect myself. I am just in awe of the fact the on March 22nd, I will have four years clean from drugs and alcohol. For that, I am grateful.

Well, actually, I’m not sure if gratitude is what I’m feeling at the moment. Sometimes I think that gratitude is overrated. In my early recovery I would hear things like “Always have an attitude of gratitude” and “Grateful addicts don’t use!” UGH!

I’m here to tell you all that IT IS OKAY IF YOU’RE NOT FEELING GRATEFUL EVERY DAMN DAY. Some days are tough. Some days I want to scream and cry and be angry at the world. THIS IS OKAY! As long as I don’t use or intentionally harm myself, it’s fine. Let’s be honest, I didn’t get clean to be happy all the time. I got clean so I could experience life – good, bad, and indifferent. Sometimes I need to feel the “bad” feelings because it reminds me that I am human. In my opinion, that is beautiful.

            So I guess I can express my gratitude for the fact that I can feel a wide range of emotions. I can be authentic and recognize that my feelings cannot hurt me. I am no longer chained to substances that masked my feelings. Today I know that I am so much more than what my emotion is. I am Carlee and that is enough.

                   

 

Youth Voices Have Power

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Youth Voices Have Power

The reason I love Youth Voices Matter is because we are passionate about the youth voice. This empowers me to use my voice to create change in my community. The beautiful thing about advocacy is that it allows a variety of people to unite around one cause.  

Across the country we see a rise in youth advocacy. Just recently, students in Florida participated in a peaceful protest at the state’s capital to address gun violence and control. It is truly remarkable to see young people taking a stand and using their voices.

In New York, we have the opportunity to do the same thing. Addiction is plaguing so many lives and people have had enough of it. Overdoses are the leading cause of death among Americans under 50 years old. We are losing an entire generation to the disease of addiction and the opioid crisis. On March 6th hundreds of individuals will be in Albany for Stand Up For Recovery Day. Youth from across the state will be heading to the capital to have their voices heard – some even by bus.

It makes me happy to know that my generation cares about something as important as recovery. Being in recovery myself, I am proud to stand alongside these people and look forward to marching to the capital with them. We have lives to save.

 

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Who Needs a Valentine? ---- LOVE YOURSELF

Hey friends! Carlee here from Youth Voices Matter-NY.

Happy Stupid-Make-Believe-Not-A-Real-Holiday Day! I’m not super bitter about February 14th but I do have some issues with it. Giant stuffed animals with heart eyes and chocolates the size of my body just don’t seem authentic to me. Call me crazy, but I’m not a huge fan of this type of “affection.” Plus the added stress of being single during this “Hallmark holiday” can really be bothersome.

Even though I’m currently in a relationship, I still think it’s important to FIRST love YOURSELF - not just on Valentine’s Day, but EVERYDAY. I’ll be honest, some days I struggle with this. It’s okay to struggle with loving yourself and it’s TOTALLY NORMAL! However, it is important to remember that nothing and no one should EVER come before you.

Long before I started dating my current boyfriend, I was obsessed with finding “the one.” I was so discontent with being single and I just wanted to be in a relationship. I was chasing it just like how I used to chase drugs and alcohol. I realized that I wasn’t actually chasing the “perfect guy”, I was running from myself. I was lacking the confidence that I finally have today and I was looking for someone else to fill that void. This was extremely unhealthy for me.

THANK GOD FOR SINGLENESS. It wasn’t until I noticed this problem that I was able to address it with a solution. I decided that the right person will come when it’s time. I have to be ready for him and he has to be ready for me. I was able to spend my time doing things that I wouldn’t have time for in a relationship. I started painting again, writing, scrap-booking, shopping, and just spending quality time with myself. Self-care is EXTREMELY important (that will be the topic of a different blog.)

Overall, I am grateful for the time that I was single. It molded me into the person I am today. It also allowed me to be the girlfriend I am today. The self-awareness that I possess as a result of being single has been a huge asset in my current relationship. And now, when I’m not with my boyfriend, I CHEERISH my alone time. (Before I was running from it.)

In closing, Valentine’s Day can be tricky. For those who are single, don’t let the pressures of this holiday bring you down. Remember to treat yourself and know that the right person is on their way to you. For those in relationships, show love and affection to your partner every day. Don’t rely on a holiday that comes once a year to remind you to treat him or her special.

And to EVERYONE out there, I hope you have a wonderful February 14th and an even greater February 15th! (Because let’s be honest, the real holiday is when candy is on sale the day after.)

Much love everyone!