Recovery is for Everyone: A Recovery Month Message from our President & CEO

This blog post was contributed by Mary Beck, LMSW, CAI, President & CEO of The Council on Recovery

Friends,

This National Recovery Month, we celebrate and honor our friends, family members, coworkers and colleagues who are in recovery from addiction and other mental health disorders. Recovery is not a single finish line; it is a daily, lifelong commitment to better oneself and reach one’s full potential in the face of chronic substance abuse and mental health conditions. Such an effort can be difficult for anyone, but 75 years of service to our community has taught us this – with adequate resources and support, recovery is possible for everyone.

The theme of this year’s Recovery Month is “Recovery is for Everyone: Every Person, Every Family, Every Community.” In this year of growth and change for our organization, this theme reminds us of our commitment to welcome everyone to recovery by lowering barriers to recovery support, creating inclusive spaces and programs, and broadening our understanding of what recovery means for people with different needs and experiences.

Lowering barriers to recovery

To fulfill our vision for a community in which substance abuse is no longer a major problem, we must be willing to offer our services to all who need them. Serving the diverse community of Houston means understanding the various needs of people from differing backgrounds, as well as the unique barriers to recovery they may face.

Whether that means providing virtual services, combatting shame and stigma that still exist with substance use disorders and related mental health conditions, or offering an extensive range of treatment services to meet each person’s individual needs, our team is dedicated to helping all Houstonians who need us.

Creating inclusive spaces and programs

Addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer, which means the opportunity of recovery can and should transcend race, gender, age, sexual orientation, creed, wealth, and any other label. Addiction and other mental health issues can affect anyone at any time, yet we know that those most affected often are afraid and uncertain or unable to access services necessary for recovery. Through our comprehensive service offerings, wellness opportunities, and compassionate, diverse team of addiction professionals, we strive to create an inclusive environment that celebrates our differences and unites us in a common goal of recovery for our entire community.

Broadening our understanding of recovery

Creating inclusive spaces for healing also requires understanding that recovery is not a single, defined process, neither is it limited to those with substance use disorders. The reason there is no universally agreed-upon definition for recovery is that the journey of recovery looks different for everyone. According to SAMHSA, recovery is “a process of change through which people improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.”

Our understanding of the effects of substance use, as well as its relation to other mental health conditions, has greatly improved in the past few decades, along with our approaches to treatment and recovery support. Through initiatives like our Center for Co-Occurring Disorders, we are working with trusted organizations across Houston to broaden our understanding of addiction and recovery to treat those who need our help more effectively.

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use or another mental health condition, we welcome you to begin your own recovery journey today. Call us at (713) 914-0556, or contact us through our website, and our intake team can connect you with the help you need.

The Impact of Family Roles on Addiction

This blog post is contributed by Lori Fiester, LCSW-S, MAC, CIP, CDWF, Clinical Director for The Council on Recovery

Have you ever wondered why some families seem to have roles in their family? I’m not talking about the roles of mom, dad or siblings, but roles people assume throughout their lives. As a therapist and an adult child of an alcoholic, I’ve been aware of my role in the family, both at work and in relationships. I’ve often joked that I didn’t become a social worker because I like people, but because I was born into this role. I am the hero child! And I worked hard to be that way… until it stopped being functional.

family roles

Family roles can happen in a family system where there has been upheaval, but they are usually solidified if that upheaval becomes a chronic occurrence, like in addiction. Basically, the family system strives for equilibrium.  Equilibrium is what holds the family steady. Family members slip into their roles to re-establish equilibrium when faced with anxiety. For instance, when one member is struggling, usually the system helps that one member gets back on their feet, and the system returns to normal.  When addiction occurs, the anxiety becomes chronic, and the roles are then utilized until eventually they become part of our behavior pattern – all in the name of equilibrium. 

Frequently observed family roles:


The addict is the one who is addicted to a substance and is the person the family revolves around to unconsciously provide equilibrium.

The enabler or caregiver is most likely the significant other. That role entails making sure everyone is happy and ensuring the addict suffers no consequences. Enablers often lose themselves in the lives of others.

The hero ensures that the everyone in the family looks good by overachieving, overdoing, and perfection.

The joker keeps the family laughing, which helps distract the members from the pain and suffering.

The lost child’s job is really to stay out of the way and not create any concern for the family or cause further distraction.

The scapegoat is similar to the joker, which is to provide distraction for the family through rebellion and drama.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction or a related mental health disorder, The Council can help you and your whole family to break these roles and recover together. For more information, or to get help, call us at 713.914.0556 today or contact us here. Telehealth options are available.

How Can We Fix Texas’ Mental Healthcare Crisis?

This blog post is co-authored by The Council on Recovery’s President & CEO Mel Taylor, MSW, and Executive Vice President Mary Beck, LMSW.

Substance use is a primary driver of readmission to the hospital and/or criminal justice systems.  If we addressed substance use disorders in conjunction with mental health disorders, the number of people in need of care would significantly decrease. Yet time and again, substance use is viewed as a secondary concern and not as a confounding disease affecting the majority of people with a mental health disorder.

As we read Alex Stuckey’s three-part series How Texas Fails the Mentally Ill, we were met with a mix of emotions. On the one hand, it is heartening to see a light being shined on this decades long travesty – a crisis that strips people of their dignity and basic human rights; that tells people they have to wait, homeless on the streets or in jail to get the care they desperately need. On the other hand, it is concerning to see the pronounced blind spot regarding co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders that exists among healthcare providers, behavioral health providers, policy makers, and the community at large.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, multiple national population surveys show that about half of those who experience a mental illness during their lives will also experience a substance use disorder and vice versa. And the coronavirus pandemic is only making matters worse. A recent study conducted by The Recovery Village asked 1,000 American adults about their use of drugs and alcohol in the past month, and 55 percent reported an increase in their alcohol consumption in the past month, with 18 percent reporting a significant increase. When asked what prompted their substance use, respondents cited stress, boredom, and an effort to cope with anxiety or depression.

At The Council on Recovery, we’ve watched this dynamic intensify over the past year, with more clients struggling with relapse, suicidal ideation, and overdose. So what can be done? First, we must acknowledge and embrace the fact that the mental health care system is in disarray, and if co-occurring substance use disorders continue to be discounted and dismissed, it is unlikely that outcomes will improve.

Beyond that, we know that we cannot overcome this crisis if fragmented policies and underfunding continues. Texas needs a comprehensive analysis and long-range plan for the entire system, led by behavioral health experts who equally represent substance use and mental health disorders. The plan must study leading-edge best practices for the treatment of co-occurring disorders. Most importantly, it must identify multiple financing options that incentivize public and private providers – as well as payers – to participate in the plan and to provide best practice care.

Last fall, The Council on Recovery launched The Center for Co-Occurring Disorders as just such an initiative.

This multi-partner Center will explore and document current best practices, conduct evaluation on models of care, and identify and advocate for financing options. Led by The Council, other partners include The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, Harris County Psychiatric Center, Baylor College of Medicine and Harris Health, as well as a psychiatrist in private practice and community members with lived experience.

Over the last 75 years, The Council has witnessed the changes in the landscape of behavioral health care unfold in real time, along with the devastating consequences. In the wake of the pandemic, the oncoming tidal wave of mental health and substance use disorders will undoubtedly inflict even more suffering on the individuals trapped within our broken system.

But we can turn the tide.

Initiatives like The Center for Co-Occurring Disorders can help to educate the public, policy makers, and behavioral health professionals about the crisis in our mental health system. Together we can advocate for legislative priorities that support these efforts. Because doing nothing is not an option.

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use or a co-occurring mental health disorder, contact The Council today. We offer telehealth services to all who need it, regardless of their ability to pay.

A Special Announcement From President & CEO Mel Taylor

Dear Friends,   

I wish to inform you of my intention to retire as President and CEO with The Council, effective August 31, 2021. Although this retirement will be effective in August, I have been asked to remain in an “emeritus” position working for the Foundation for the next three years to ensure a smooth transition, assist in planned giving, and aid with institutional memory.  A search process to identify my replacement is underway, capably led by our Board Chair, Dean Quinn, along with the help of outside counsel. I’m excited to be handing the baton over whenever that person is chosen and will support them in any way I can.   

In my 28 years as President and CEO, much has changed, and as I reflect on my time with The Council, I am filled with awe and gratitude. In August 1993, I went to work for The Council at a most difficult time. We had a deficit of $93,000, almost no available cash reserves and were nearly 90% financed by state and federal grants. Less than 1% of the Houston community had ever heard of “The Houston Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.” We had a Foundation in name only. But, we had the passion, vision and dedication of a few willing board members, a couple of 3 x 5 index cards of donors and a powerful, if not resilient, intention to prove that, as someone said, “We really can raise money for drunks!” 

Today, we are operating with a balanced portfolio between public and private funds. We have established the organization as one of the best — in culture, in meeting mission, and in esteem by the community we serve. We have established Foundation reserves to help ensure the Council’s operation for years to come, secured a stable annual operating budget, and continuously serve more than 65,000 people each year!   

During this 28 year period, we have helped a lot of people – those we can tell of, and many who were helped that we will never know. We have seen miracles of recovery many times over, and we have experienced the deep loss that comes when addiction is not faced head on. I am profoundly grateful to you and our many friends and partners who shared in our passion and helped to grow and sustain our mission. My greatest gift has been to experience so much passion and dedication by an incredible staff, board, and community who serve a purpose greater than themselves and have given back to service in untold ways. 

Through it all, it has been my honor to help lead this organization through fires, mergers, and pandemics, building new programs and responding to changes in our community. Each day of those 28 years I have never tired or desired to be elsewhere, looking forward to coming to work and to the opportunities we have been given.  

As we look to the light at the end of the tunnel of these past twelve months and ahead to our 75th anniversary, The Council is well positioned for the future. We have launched our Center for Co-Occurring Disorders, completed a successful reserve fund campaign, secured grants and contracts for the next several years, and have a strong and devoted leadership team and board of trustees.  

And so, the time is now for me to step aside and make room for the next person to assume leadership as I retire from daily service to The Council. Until then, we continue to serve those that need us, now and in the future – vowing never to turn anyone away.  

Yours in gratitude and recovery, 

Mel

For The Council’s official press release detailing Mel’s career and legacy, click here.

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.