“The Disease Of Alcoholism Is Still So Buried In Secrecy And Shame” With Stephen Cohen Henriques
I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephen Cohen Henriques, CADAC II, CASAC, & M.E.d, Recovery Coach, Trauma Specialist and the Founder of The Parallax Solution, a concierge aftercare service for individuals in pursuit of recovery.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was a little over a year sober on my way to becoming a teacher at a posh prep school, after leaving Wall Street when I had a psychic shift that brought me to where I am today. I was volunteering with some inner city young teens in Brooklyn, and one afternoon I drove a brother and sister home. The young boy had asked me to set up a game for him before I left. Within minutes his sister who was all of 14-years-old stepped out into the living room scantily dressed and wearing full make-up. I was stunned to see her like this. She informed me she had to “go to work,” which meant she was prostituting herself. I got so sick at my stomach. I called the police and social services. When they arrived, we found the parents passed out on drugs in the bedroom. This was a defining moment for me that changed the direction of my life. I went home and told my wife I couldn’t be a teacher. I wanted to become some type of addiction specialist so I could help the people suffering from this disease and their families.
How have your personal challenges informed your career path?
When finally physically, mentally, emotionally, and biologically decided to stop drinking, I realized from my experiences of going in and out of rehabs over the years that the missing link for maintaining sobriety was a strong after care problem. You spend 30 days in rehab and the
alcohol or drugs are out of your system, but you’re in a fog and then you’re shot out of the treatment center like a ball out of a cannon set loose on the world. The stressors and triggers that were there when you went into rehab are still there, and you are really vulnerable. 12-step support groups and therapists have their place, but what I saw was missing were the gaps, the time between meetings and weekly therapy appointments. Real-time intervention with what’s going on with somebody in the moment. I enjoy helping people discover their lives today, not recover a lousy past. What I do is very specialized because I engage people in living in the here and the now — -coping, dealing and thriving.
5 Things You Need To Know To Be An Effective As A Recovery Coach That Is Not Taught In Schools
There’s no school or book that is going to distinguish the truth from a lie, when an addict’s mouth is in motion. Intuitiveness is an essential gift, but being an excellent listener is key to communicating effectively with a client. Knowing when to express compassion and empathy without crossing any lines that would be further hurtful to the recovery process — — well, that requires a delicate balance that can only evolve from on-the-job training.
My personal upbringing and military background gave me an awareness where I can read-between between the black and white lines of thinking. People tell me who they are in the first ten minutes. I don’t need the ‘he-said,’ ‘she said,’ stories. I’m adept at picking up on the slightest nuances of body language and I know how to read varying degrees of little-to-no eye contact. It’s about mutual trust to go about treating unresolved trauma, which is the root of all addictions.
A person can go on that deep rewind with me to deal with an issue in his or her past that’s causing the pain, but I refuse to indulge people in letting them stay stuck in a memory. That doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge their feelings, because your feelings are never wrong. We work on your perspective. We move in real time in the present during our work together. Moment, by moment in a safe environment. Nobody can be in a 12-step meeting 24/7, nor can they always wait for their weekly appointment with the therapist’s when one of life’s challenges kicks his ass!
I help weave your unresolved trauma into the current situation, and together we face life on life’s terms in that instance. I love what I do! It’s such a privilege and honor to pay my life’s hurts and healings forward.
There’s my own history with alcoholic parents and it became more of a science driven acceptance. In my family nobody had a problem. Nobody talked about it! My father would say, “Now you’re mother’s got a problem, I just drink a lot.” They were both incredibly abusive in their own way. Finally, the physical and emotional abuse from my mother was unbearable. At the age of 11, I ran away to Connecticut to live with my father.
It was absolute paralysis for the next ten years as I tried to do the right thing, crippled with fear and insecurities. If I didn’t do the right thing, I would lie about it because I didn’t want to get in trouble. A wine bottle cracked over my head by my dad — -whatever weapon of discipline was within reach would do.
The addiction part of it really blossomed for me over the past five years. It’s not so much the addiction, but the self-worth. Because my self worth was ‘zero,’ up until I joined the armed services. Then when I went back to school, I was right back living the terrors of trying to be good enough to please anybody and everybody. I got the right job, portrayed the acceptable image, but I was miserable. I hit a bottom of desperation where I no longer wanted to wallow in everybody else’s designer shit, especially when it was projected on me.
In the last decade as a sober man and a professional addiction expert — I learned first-hand how important the mental health aspects of addiction is. I wish colleges and universities would expand on this. Exploring the metaphysical — how strong the brain is. If you tell yourself, “I can’t stop,” or “worthless,” or a combination, then you won’t stop hurting yourself and others.
People call me the ‘Fixer,’ because I can see the problem coming at me and I am ready with a solution by the time its right up in my face. That thinking on my feet comes to me naturally. It can’t be bought. It can’t be taught.
I’m a mirror for my clients, yet it’s not me who does the work it’s them.
I help the client paint a different picture of their addiction. At the beginning they may see their addiction as 95% of whom they are. However, they will come to understand that it’s a healthy 10% of their being.
I give people the tools and strategies to make meaningful and lasting changes in their lives.
We can read the textbook statistics and case studies, but you are never prepared for when a client dies of an accidental overdose — or commits suicide during a panicked moment of overwhelming despair and pain. I witnessed this recently. A woman I had been working with for months to get her to agree to enter a treatment facility finally agreed to go to a drug and alcohol detox. I was so elated for her. The action of going to the detox prior to being admitted to a rehab meant she was accepting help and she even told me for the first time that she felt, “hope.” Within 24 hours she seized a small window of opportunity to hang herself over the side of the building. While my professional training insists I step back and be prepared for such outcomes as the objective observer, my soul can’t help but grieve for her. I know all too well the hell of alcoholic torture.
In school we study the disease characteristics related to the alcoholic and addict. Low self-esteem is always at the top of the list at the lectures and in the classrooms, and discussed in residential treatment centers, yet all I ever hear are cookie-cutter approaches. This self-sabotaging aspect of the psyche is often times the underlying pain that becomes so unbearable that it paves the way for a relapse. Then the whole vicious cycle starts all over again. I challenge my clients to do do that dig deep rewind, to go to that place that’s paralyzing them today. I don’t allow wallowing in the monologue, but creating a new narrative that makes the dark and dirty stuff come to the light to be used for good, as an experience to help somebody else. I believe and recommend many treatment centers, but the real work begins in the aftercare following one’s discharge from rehab. I employ a multi-disciplinary approach that is unique and effective.
Lessons aren’t learned, they are experienced, and then the knowledge gained from those I share with individuals willing to participate in their recovery and take ownership of their mental health, which includes learning to set and maintain healthy boundaries with friends, families, co-workers and really — — the world. I happen to live in Los Angeles, the mecca of the entertainment world, but I am not impressed by fame. My celebrity and professional athletes are expected to do the same heavy lifting as the housewife, police officer, priest, or doctor and nurse addicted to opioids, to free them from the past. Alcoholism is no respecter of persons,
I treat, don’t debate the disease. Each person is an individual. I love seeing the transformations, which often occur before the client even sees for themselves. That’s what happened to me. I have a duty to pay what I value forward.
Social media and reality TV create a venue for people to share their personal stories. Do you think more transparency about your personal story can help or harm your field of work? Can you explain?
The more transparency the better for mental illness issues. The disease of alcoholism is still so buried in secrecy and shame, that whatever means of getting it into the light, I’m for.
September is National Recovery Month — -but you’ve barely heard a word about it — -unlike observances for other disease which receive so much attention, as they should, but there’s still a stigma with alcoholism, addiction and other behavioral and brain diseases. People need to understand this disease does not discriminate. Whether you are a banker, a sports hero, policeman, or housewife — there is no respecter of persons. There’s such a drug crisis in this country that it’s difficult to find one family in this nation that’s not touched by this disease.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant to your life?
There’s some controversy over whether Albert Einstein actually said: Albert Einstein’s famous line: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” but kudos to whomever authored this quote, because it’s 100 per cent relatable to any addiction. Repeating the same action over and over and expecting different results is insane.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would like to see masses of people with or without mental illness learn to set boundaries and practice them. Because boundaries are what give people what they need to take care of themselves and experience healthy self esteem and all the other goodies that come, which include less stress. It takes work, patience, more work and time, but it’s so rewarding when people ‘get it,’ and make boundary setting a part of their lives.
How can our readers follow you on social media?