Work Hard/Play Hard: My Story of Addiction and Recovery (Part 2)

Contributing Author: Susan Broderick, Senior Attorney, NDAA

Credit: Orlando Recovery Center/Stock Photo

Last month, I wrote about my struggle with alcohol and my decision to get sober back in 2001 while I was a prosecutor at the Manhattan DA’s office. It was not a decision that I made overnight and it had been a long time in the making. I knew that I had a problem with alcohol (and it started way back when I first started drinking) but I honestly didn’t think I could stop. Nor did I think I wanted to and frankly, I could not imagine a life without alcohol.

For a long time, I made excuses. I also used the fact that I was a lawyer in a phenomenal DA’s office to rationalize the fact that I couldn’t be an alcoholic. Looking back, the most laughable justification I used was the fact that I hadn’t had a DWI. The reality was that I didn’t have a car and I traveled by subway. But sometimes denial can be very powerful (and selective with the truth!).

But finally, after yet another embarrassing and mortifying Saturday night, I knew something had to be done. I cried as I walked into a church basement on a muggy Sunday afternoon in July and soon admitted in front of a room full of strangers that I had a problem with alcohol. While it was a bit terrifying, I also felt a tremendous sense of relief that I was finally being honest with myself. Looking back, I realized it was the most courageous decision I ever made in my life.

I have not had a drink since that day, and I know that left to my own devices that would have not been possible. I was very fortunate to connect with people who drank the way I drank, who now were not drinking and were happy. They represented “living proof” that I too could do this. I also knew that there was something much greater than me at play and my faith became instrumental to my sobriety.

For many years, my sobriety was confined to my personal life and my professional work remained focused on the justice field. That all changed in December of 2010, when I had the good fortune to meet Dr. John Kelly at the Joint Meeting on Adolescent Treatment Effectiveness (JMATE) in Baltimore. During his presentation, Dr. Kelly discussed how the justice system could provide the motivational fulcrum to seek treatment and recovery. I will never forget that presentation, because I knew it to be true on a personal and professional level. As a prosecutor, I had seen many lives turned around in a positive way because of a referral to court. As a woman in recovery, I had personally experienced the transformative power of sobriety.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the JMATE conference was a turning point in my career. I soon began collaborating with Dr. Kelly and found that there were tremendous strides in the research around addiction. Perhaps even more importantly was the discovery that we know more today about recovering from substance use issues than we ever have before. There was a paradigm shift underway and concepts such as “Recovery Oriented Systems of Care” (ROSC) and “Recovery Capital” (RC) were emerging to explain the internal and external changes that initiate and sustain long-term recovery.

While historically the focus of treatment had been on the reduction of symptoms and pathologies, ROSC embraced a much more comprehensive approach that moved from an acute care response to models of assertive and sustained recovery. Given that this was a preventable yet potentially chronic condition, it needed more than a 28-day treatment response. And instead of waiting until someone is in dire need of treatment, ROSC shines a light on the prevention and early intervention given that the earlier the intervention the better the prognosis.

Another important point is that unlike other potentially chronic and deadly conditions such as cancer or diabetes, remission for a substance use disorder can start immediately. The minute someone decides to put down the drink or the drug can mark a turning point in his or her life. While relapse may occur, many are able to maintain continuous sobriety from the beginning. According to the latest national survey, it is estimated that approximately 23 million Americans have resolved a significant drug and/or alcohol problem.

Another unique feature of recovery from substance use disorders is that it can often be resolved without resort to formal treatment. The national study also found that over half of those in recovery had used no formal services whatsoever. Not only that, but unlike other diseases, where the goal is to get back to “well”, with recovery people actually transcend and get “better than well.” Studies conducted in both the United States and United Kingdom confirm that this concept of ‘better than well’ offers a model of hope and change to populations and suggests that the goal of recovery is not a narrowly constrained model of symptom reduction, but a quality of life process of ongoing growth. (Hibbert and Best, 2010). Not only do people recover, but they also achieve an improved quality of life. Recovery has come to mean more than a return to “normal” and it includes transcending to a state that can be characterized as ‘better than well’.

A few years ago, I happened to mention to John Kelly that I believed my recovery was miraculous, given that I had never even tried to quit drinking before that fateful day in July of 2001 and did not have to go away to treatment. John just smiled and said, “It may have been a miracle, or you may have high Recovery Capital”. I had no idea what he was talking about at the time but have come to learn that the concept of Recovery Capital is a critical component in the field of addiction and recovery.

Recovery Capital is defined as “the breadth and depth of internal and external resources that can be drawn upon to initiate recovery from alcohol and other drugs problems” (Granfield and Cloud, 1999). The measurement and building of strengths and assets over time has shown to be a better indicator of long-term change than the customary deficit-based tools. (White and Cloud, 2008). Recovery Capital is composed of three sources of ‘capital’:

When I looked at my own sources of capital, I realized that I was fortunate to have plenty to be grateful for. That capital came in the form of many family members and friends who were supportive of my decision along with lots of recovery sources in my community. Once again, John Kelly was right.

The concept of Recovery Capital is especially important for many in the legal profession who are still suffering in silence. Many of the factors that enable someone to remain “functioning” and deny that things are “that bad”, are in fact sources of Recovery Capital and can play an important role in the recovery process. I know from my own experience that my personal, social and community strength and resources have had an enormous impact on my ability to get and stay sober.

While the headlines in the media continue to focus on the problems of addiction and overdoses, I have chosen to talk about solutions. As a prosecutor, I was always more interested in solutions and as a woman in recovery, I try to find the positive in a situation. The truth is that there is a lot of good news to share. At a professional level, the Recovery Research Institute (www.recoveryanswers.org) is one of the best resources for the latest research on the advances in the field. If you or someone you know is struggling, please know that help is available. You can contact your HR department or the Legal Assistance Program in your state. Or send me an email (sbroderick@ndaajustice.org) and I will help. The one thing we know for sure about recovery, no one does it alone.

National District Attorneys Association

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The National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) is the oldest and largest national organization representing state and local prosecutors in the country.

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