The Council reflects on a year of COVID-19

Almost a year has passed since COVID-19 reached our own backyard. Within this year, we lost more than 500,000 lives, experienced historic social and political unrest, and most recently, endured a traumatic winter storm. Our community has faced a staggering amount of adversity within a relatively short timeline, so it is important to pause and reflect on these challenging events as we move forward to rebuild and recover.

Like most people, by the second week of March 2020, we understood that everything was about to change very quickly, and in a very big way. We also knew that the frightening and unprecedented nature of this global pandemic was going to inflict major, long-term damage on the collective mental health of our community, and that we needed to be ready.

Within the span of two weeks, we transformed our services to keep our staff and clients safe from this new and mysterious virus. Our quality assurance team vetted telehealth platforms, and created and trained staff on new policies and procedures. Our two-person IT team transitioned entire operations to remote work. Our intake department created new processes for virtual paperwork that met regulatory requirements. Our direct services staff phased out in-person assessments, counseling, and meetings, in favor of telehealth and other virtual services.

year of covid-19

That was just the beginning of an unforgettable year of challenge and change. New questions arose for programs and events that often required answers that balanced both creativity and adherence to the rules and regulations of our industry and funders. How do we reach those who need our help but don’t necessarily have the technological means or knowledge to participate in our services? How do we continue to serve students in schools when most are still meeting in virtual or hybrid formats? How do we help those who benefit from support groups we cannot host in person? How can we serve those on the front lines of the pandemic who are most affected? How do we continue our cherished speaker series virtually?

As the one-year anniversary of the pandemic approaches, we wanted to take this moment to acknowledge the complexity and enormity of our collective experiences throughout the last year.

At The Council, we are proud of our determination to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges. But we celebrate these achievements while also remembering that they came with immense personal hardships unique to this natural disaster. We saw teens in crisis after having their social and school lives upended. We heard of clients and community members relapsing after years of sobriety and stepped in to help wherever possible. We responded to cases of acute mental health distress triggered by the fallout of the pandemic.

As we move toward the light at the end of this tragic year, we know that the trauma and grief from the adversities our community has faced – and continues to face – will long outlast the current circumstances. That’s why our resolve to serve the community is unwavering. The Council has learned to adapt and respond to each challenge, strengthening our ability to serve Houston and deepening our passion to help all who need us.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use or another mental health issue, pandemic-related or otherwise, call us at 713.914.0556 or contact us through our website today. Our qualified and compassionate intake team will get you to the help you need and deserve.

Celebrating the Story of The Council

Over the last six months, the communications team has been combing through The Council’s archives in preparation for our 75th Anniversary, poring over thousands of photos, mementos, newspaper clippings, board minutes, flyers, planning documents, and notes. Our goal was simple: to celebrate the story of The Council.

Throughout the coming year, we want to bring that story to each of you – the story of our roots and evolution; our victories and setbacks; the story of attitudes that changed with time and those that remained stubbornly the same; and of the defining values and principles that guided us through the decades to make The Council the organization it is today. Most importantly, we want people to see The Council’s impact on Houston over the last three-quarters of a century and to join us in redoubling our efforts in the years ahead with renewed vigor and excitement. 

The reality is that our work is not yet done, nor do we expect it to ever be fully finished.

In 1957, Dr. Spencer Bayles, a board member of The Council who also supervised our Alcoholic Treatment Clinics, said, “The Council cannot expect to be able to treat all the alcoholics in Houston…[instead] its function should be to point the way and to train others in the treatment process.”

Dr. Bayles’ words still ring true today. The magnitude of addiction in our community cannot be solved by our efforts alone. But we believe today – just as we believed 75 years ago – that addiction is a disease that can be treated and that it is worth our best efforts. And we will never stop pointing the way to recovery.

Story of the council
Mrs. Frances Robertson at The Council’s information center in the State National Building in the early 1950s.

The story of The Council is not just our own. Instead, it is the story of the millions – yes, millions – of lives touched by our work, and how their recoveries have rippled out across time to make our world a better place.

As we celebrate our accomplishments this year, we invite you to join with us to tell your own Council story. After all, you have trusted us over the last 75 years with your time, talent, and treasure, and our work continues today for you and because of you. 

Contact us here to share your Council story today. To learn more about our rich history, click here.

Tips for Coping During this Holiday Season

This blog post was contributed by CHOICES counselor Alejandra Ortiz.

Our holidays this year look quite different from a year ago. The holiday season is typically when we come together in community to share time with one another. This year, while families cannot physically come together, there are other ways we can cope with the stress and depression that social distancing guidelines may cause.

1. Acknowledge your feelings.

It is okay to take time to cry and express your feelings. Don’t force yourself to feel happy just because it is the holidays. It important for you to share how you feel. You may feel disappointment, sadness, or grief, just to name a few. Reach out to someone who can validate your feelings and help you move through them. If you are feeling lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events or communities. Try reaching out to a loved one through text or video calls.

2. Keep active.

Physical activity boosts mood both in the short and long term. Go for a 10-15 minute walk to increase your mood and calmness. You can be artistic and bring your camera to take some scenic pictures. Have you visited some of these parks around Houston?

  • Memorial Park
  • Buffalo Bayou
  • Houston Arboretum
  • Discovery Green
  • Hermann Park
  • Gerald Hines Waterwall Park
  • Terry Hershey Park
  • White Oak Greenway

Remember, with keeping active, it is also important to eat, drink water and sleep well. Make sure you are staying hydrated, eating balanced meals and maintaining a sleeping schedule. Also remember that while alcohol might lift your mood and reduce anxiety at the time, in the long term, alcohol increases the risk of developing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

3. Keep your expectations realistic.

Hearing how everyone is spending this holiday season differently this year could lead to potential disappointment and additional stress. A way to eliminate this is by setting clear expectations and boundaries with family and friends. In addition, it is important to respect everyone’s level of comfort during these difficult times.

If you feel you need professional help with managing depression, anxiety or any other mental health issue, please do not hesitate to contact us. Our highly-experienced counselors will confidentially discuss your unique situation and quickly get you the help you need.

Expanding Outpatient Treatment with ‘Discovering Choices’

The Council on Recovery is excited to announce the launch of Discovering Choices, a new outpatient treatment program dedicated to expanding access to quality treatment services to those in the community who may not have the financial resources to afford it. This program is possible through the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, and helps us to keep our promise to turn no one away.

The introduction of Discovering Choices expands The Council’s long history of best-in-class outpatient treatment – meaning that clients can receive the help they need during the day without staying overnight. Building on years of experience in outpatient treatment, and bringing together a team of highly skilled and compassionate staff members, we intend to bring the same quality of care that people know and trust from our Healing Choices intensive outpatient program to an even broader population of people in need.

outpatient treatment

Treatment options in Discovering Choices are tailored to the needs of individual clients, and can include a six-week treatment program that consists of individual therapy, psychoeducation, and process groups, and an eight-week recovery management program to gradually transition participants into the community. It also includes specialized treatment tracks for adults, pregnant and parenting women, and individuals with co-occurring psychiatric and substance use disorders.

Treating substance use disorders concurrently with co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, helps to address a critical gap in Harris County’s behavioral health system.

“For far too long, we have separated individual disorders of the mind and body, as if they are not interrelated,” says Chance Tran, PhD, director of The Council’s community behavioral health department. “Treating substance abuse in conjunction with co-occurring mental health disorders is necessary because it interacts with the other directly. Worsening substance use will lead to these disorders, and there are also those with these disorders who will use substances in order to self-medicate and cope.”

For more information on Discovering Choices, to inquire about eligibility, or to make a referral, please call (713) 942-4100, option 3, or contact us through our website.

Helping Families Find North: A Speaker Series for the Age of COVID-19

This blog post is contributed by Mel Taylor, MSW, President & CEO of The Council on Recovery

The Council on Recovery, like many of Houston’s essential nonprofits, has had to re-imagine how we operate as a result of COVID-19. That includes taking the time re-examine our fundraising efforts, as we shift from live to virtual events. While there have been many questions and uncertainties, we have taken the opportunity to look at what is and isn’t working, what we can do to increase interest in the work of The Council, and how we can promote greater understanding of addiction and co-occurring mental health issues.

For 36 years, The Council’s Luncheon Speaker Series has been our major fundraiser and friend-raiser, through which we have touched thousands of lives and raised thousands of vital dollars, allowing us to honor our pledge to turn no one away. The new COVID landscape has challenged this effort, so we went to work, boldly asking: what would we like to see in a new event as part of the Speaker Series? How can we increase our outreach? And how can we reach an even larger virtual audience that needs to hear our message?

The result was a painstaking examination of what The Council is and always has been in the face of crisis: leading, steady, reliable, and always here to help people find their way back to recovery from behavioral health disorders. Indeed, it is at the core of The Council’s mission to help anyone with an alcohol, drug or related issue.

We spent many hours re-thinking and re-imagining what was required to create a virtual event that would capture enthusiasm, create curiosity and educate the community. Now, we are proud to present a new look and new brand for the speaker series: Finding North. The concept of Finding North speaks to the heart of who The Council is: a trusted Houston institution, always here to help families find their way.

We remain most grateful to The Waggoners Foundation for their continued support in presenting the Speaker Series. With our new look and new ideas, we hope to increase those who can be helped from our efforts in honoring the life and memory of Jay Waggoner who died from alcoholism. Together with your help, we can help even more families find north out of the maze of addiction. We hope to “see” you on November as we introduce Finding North with our fabulous speaker Sugar Ray Leonard.

To learn more about our Speaker Series, or to become a sponsor for our first Finding North event, click here.

We’ve Been There: The Role of the Family

This September is Recovery Month, and to celebrate we are sharing inspiring stories from our incredible staff members in recovery. For decades, The Council on Recovery and its Center for Recovering Families have approached addiction as a family disease. Each family member of someone struggling with addiction faces pain, fear and uncertainty throughout their loved one’s recovery journey. That’s why we focus on treating not only the individual, but the entire family as well. In this entry, one staff member recounts how the support and participation of her family was key to her recovery…

I knew I needed help for many years. For the most part, it had been 16 years since I had gone without drinking to inebriation and/or blackout on a daily basis, with only a few exceptions. I tried many times to stop drinking on my own, but always failed. In the fall of 2013, I began to realize that people could smell the alcohol on me, even if I hadn’t had anything to drink that day. Basically, my body was not metabolizing alcohol like it once had. I was drinking a quarter to a half gallon of alcohol a day, easily. I was miserable and exhausted, physically and mentally. In efforts to avoid smelling like alcohol, I started running/walking five to 10 miles a day and drank gallons upon gallons of water each day. I was doing everything humanly possible in order to flush the alcohol out of my system before going to work each morning.

I had stopped sleeping because I was in a constant state of severe anxiety, and my muscles were just wracked with involuntarily spasms anytime the alcohol levels in my body got below a certain level. My body just would not let me sleep, anymore. I had just turned 40 and I was convinced I would not be alive to see 41. December rolled around and I was convinced that I needed to make a decision – I needed to either end my life or pick myself up. I decided to pick myself up and I entered treatment on December 27, 2013.

The night I told my husband, “I need to go to treatment tomorrow,” he poured every ounce of alcohol we had in our house down the sink.

My husband has been the most important person in my recovery. In substance use prevention, the family can serve as a risk factor or a protective factor for substance use. The role of the family in relapse prevention is very similar. Not only has my husband been my biggest cheerleader in my recovery, but he has participated in recovery right alongside me for almost seven years, now. I have been fortunate in that my husband put me and my recovery first, and by doing that, he was able to learn how to put himself first, too. The night I told my husband, “I need to go to treatment tomorrow,” he poured every ounce of alcohol we had in our house down the sink. He came to aftercare with me every single Saturday for that first year. He became a member of Al-Anon and attended his meetings once a week – they used to call him ‘Wise Wes’ in group. However, his commitment did not end there.

Here we are, almost seven years later, and he has not had a drop of alcohol since that night in December of 2013. I never expected him to abstain. After all, it was my problem, not his. But something changed in both of us and not just in me. We were both dedicated to being healthy and sane for ourselves and for each other. For me, that meant putting an end to my drinking. For him, that meant gaining control of his health by learning how to eat right and exercise, resulting in a 120 lb. weight loss for him. Every celebration, every vacation, every time we eat out with friends and family, there we are – present and together.