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: Blessings of Recovery

This September is Recovery Month, and to celebrate we are sharing inspiring stories from our incredible staff members in recovery. Here at The Council, we know that the road to recovery can be difficult, because we’ve been there. But we also know that recovery is worth it. To anyone who’s considering taking that first step, we want you to know that we are here to carefully listen without judgement, and provide the vital support and solutions you need to recover. This story is the first entry in a series especially for Recovery Month to celebrate recovery and to honor our amazing staff who share its gifts with so many others.

I am a woman in long term recovery, established December 3, 2001. My journey in recovery began after a 25-year addiction and the thankful interruption of the criminal justice system, which inadvertently saved my life. The most important thing for me in my recovery journey is being able to live and have purpose in my life, rather than existing in the darkness of addiction. Someone told me early in recovery that whatever you go through in life is a blessing or a lesson, and when you learn from the lesson, it too becomes a blessing. Hence, all of my life’s experiences are a blessing. 

My recovery evolved over time from a 90-day treatment program, to aftercare while simultaneously participating in a 12-step mutual aid group and living one day at a time. My recovery means everything to me. Without it, I could not have met the many goals and received the many blessings bestowed upon me. I am an advocate for the recovery movement and speak proudly of my experiential knowledge of addiction and recovery. During my 18+ years of recovery, I have overcome many obstacles and removed barriers for those wanting recovery from their substance use disorder. I love being a soldier for recovery on the battlefield, helping others become recovery soldiers and lifting up our fallen soldiers. There is hope after dope!

The Connection Between Substance Abuse & Suicide, with Dr. Sam Buser & Kimi Buser-Clancy

For Mental Health Awareness Month, we invited Dr. Sam Buser, psychologist for the Houston Fire Department, and his daughter Kimi Buser-Clancy, actor and activist, to our podcast to discuss the connection between substance abuse and suicide, and how we can reach out to others to prevent both during traumatic times.

For more enlightening conversations on mental health and substance use, listen to Healing Choices on our website and wherever you get your favorite podcasts. For more honest and open conversations on suicide in our society, visit Sam and Kimi’s podcast on suicide and prevention, Leaving the Valley.

Sober Living in the Pandemic

Guest Blog contributed by Rick Renaudin, member of the Board of Trustees for The Council on Recovery

Like many of you, I am a creature of habit. I’ve got my set routine which includes family, work, exercise, playing with our puppy, etc.

Sobriety begs for a good routine.

Roughly 7 or 8 weeks ago, it became apparent that my life was going to change due to the “shelter in place” recommendations that arose from the Coronavirus pandemic. During this time I have celebrated my 4 year sobriety anniversary.

Rick (right) at the 36th Annual Spring Luncheon in 2019

I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am for my sobriety. I can’t even imagine the nightmare this confinement would have put me and my wife through otherwise… all of the planning, scheming and hiding that would have been necessary to extend my drinking, would have exhausted my whole family. Thanks to them, I am facing this most unusual period in all of our lives with a clear mind. A mind absent all of the angst and turmoil that went with prolonging my drinking.

If you are struggling with any kind of substance abuse, please know there is help right around the corner at The Council on Recovery. Whether you’re worried about yourself or a loved one, The Council is the place to start. It’s confidential and it will change your life forever!

The Lifelong Quest for Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero’s Journey – Part 61

In the ancient Greek world that spawned so many great mythic stories, the tales of Sisyphus are ones that resonate with many of us.  Sisyphus was the King of an ancient city that is now known as Corinth.  He was incredibly wise and crafty and took delight in playing tricks on the gods.  He was also mean and oppressive, terribly abusive to travelers and guests, a condition that particularly angered Zeus, the king of the gods.  Sisyphus’ disdain and abuse of the gods and men finally provoked Zeus to doom him to a horrendous eternal task…that of forever rolling a monstrous stone up a steep hill only to have it roll back again just as he reached the top, each cycle happening over and over, forever.

This story has become a much used analogy to depict those daily mundane tasks and recurring life cycles that seem to go on and on, endlessly…a mind-numbing routine job, repeated conflicts with family, keeping a garden free of weeds, etc.  But, to me, it is nowhere more resonant than in the repetitive acts of insanity that attended our alcoholic and addictive acting-out.  It has been said that the surest sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result each time.  We drank or used endlessly believing that each time would result in a different outcome, perhaps a glorious permanent state of the euphoria that attended the first ingestions of the substance. But all of it, each time, only made our lives worse.  We may even have pursued this style of living disdaining the presence of any higher power in our lives, making a mockery of all spiritual beliefs.  We didn’t need God…we were God.  The alcohol, the drugs told us so…

But there is no recovery, no redemption for Sisyphus.  He is doomed to his task forever.  He is like many of us who never do recover from alcoholism or addiction and eventually die in the disease.  How glorious is it for those of us who, in the horrid depths of our disease, begin to sense the presence of something bigger than us and begin that agonizing, gut wrenching crawl to the light.  How wonderful is it that we can live forever in this light and never be Sisyphean again.

The Lifelong Quest for Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero’s Journey – Part 60

In the process of doing these Notes, I keep coming back to the Odyssey, by the ancient Greek poet Homer, as a particularly rich text with many stories that fit the parallel of our own individual journeys to Sobriety. The companion piece to the Odyssey is the Iliad, which is the definitive story of the key closing events of the monstrous Greek war with Troy, the powerful kingdom on the western edge of modern day Turkey. In many ways, the Iliad is about men in war, the men of the various Greek states locked in a mad, addictive rage over deep resentments against their enemy, the people of Troy.  It has all the elements of an epic military struggle in which its protagonists are locked in a berserk-like confrontation.  In this sense, it is very similar to the states of our own being when we were mired in our own diseases, engaged in insane actions and behaviors induced by various substances and actions.

But the Odyssey, on the other hand, can be seen as a parallel to the long process of recovery in which all of us are steeped.  It is the story of the men of Greece trying to recover from the excesses of the Trojan War and find their way home to lives of peace and family.  Odysseus, who was the key figure in the final conquest of Troy, is the central figure of the Odyssey.  His part in the conduct of the war put him in the center of this analogous process of recovery.  We can see his journey home, which was the longest and most tortured of all the Greek leaders, as particularly intense when compared to the events in our own processes of recovery.

Odysseus’ journey takes him to many places with encounters of both intense danger and beautiful delight. Of these encounters, three key ones are, first, with the beautiful Calypso who detains him for 7 years as her lover and offers to make him immortal; then with Circe, the enchantress, who tries to enslave him, but eventually gives him the key to find his way to Hades where he gets the information he needs for his continuing journey; and lastly Nausicca, the young maiden who convinces her father, the King of Phaeacia, to equip Odysseus for the last leg of his journey home. Forgetting about the romantic elements of the first two of these, what Odysseus is receiving from these goddess-like personages are the wonderful elements of nurturing and recovery that will enable him to return as an authentic ruler of his homeland. In a sense they are much like what we learn in our tireless working of the fourth to ninth steps of our own recovery.

In many ways, I see one of the key themes of the Odyssey story as that of the futility of war and all the elements of war.  His journey to Hades, where he meets many of his fallen comrades from the war is very poignant here. Achilles, the key player in the Iliad story, tells him that all of the glory of his life as a warrior was all for naught.  He would take one day as a simple common man for all his years of glory as a warrior.  Similarly, Odysseus’ stay in Phaeacia at the urging of Nausicca results in his telling his long grim story to an assemblage in court, much as we do in our Steps 4 and 5. 

The message for all of us here is to see our recovery, our getting sober, our going to meetings, our working the steps, and our immersing ourselves in service to the cosmos, as a journey so very similar to Odysseus’. It is one where all of our encounters, all the people we meet, all the friends we make, all the advice and direction we seek of our mentors in recovery form a spectacular web for a life in the sunshine of the spirit, just as all of Odysseus’ adventures made him a much more authentic ruler of his homeland once he got there.