Updated July 6
It was four in the morning and freezing outside — an Island mother had no idea where her 20-year-old son was.
“He had trouble with drugs and alcohol,” the mother said in an interview with The Times. She requested her story remain anonymous. “I found him down a dark, deserted road on a freezing night in January. He was in a blackout. I brought him home and said to myself, ‘I have to do something, or my son is going to die.’”
Prior to that morning, she attended a support group for parents with loved ones struggling with addiction. She met recovery coach Howard “Howie” Marlin, who told her to give him a call if she ever needed help.
She called Marlin after that January morning, and intervention began the next day.
“I was really impressed with his availability,” the mother said. “We did an intervention with my son, two daughters, and my other son. Howie was the strong solid presence keeping everything in check and answering questions. My son agreed to go get help. I think of that morning — if I didn’t have someone to call. I think it saved my son’s life.”
After a lifetime of drug and alcohol abuse, Marlin became the expert. “By the time I turned 13 years old, I’d pretty much done it all,” he said.
Marlin grew up outside Asbury Park, N.J., in the 1960s — a hippie from the Age of Aquarius. “I broke every rule,” Marlin told The Times. “I followed no mold.”
In college, he’d spend a couple of sober months studying to break up his binge months of “pure rock and roll.” “I’m surprised I survived it,” Marlin said. “I came out the other side in pretty good shape.”
Past experiences often shape future professions, and Marlin decided he wanted to be a counselor for people suffering with drug and alcohol abuse. He got his psychology degree in 1985, lived in Dorchester for most of his life, and then moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1995.
He took a break from counseling, until a friend was rushed to the hospital after a drug overdose.
“After I consoled the family, a nurse complimented me on the encounter,” Marlin said. “We talked a bit about my college training, and she suggested I talk to someone at Island Counseling to offer my services. I answered an ad for crisis counselors, and haven’t looked back since.”
Marlin worked for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services and in conjunction with the crisis intervention team at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. The hospital eventually hired Marlin for its substance use disorder team.
“People were calling on me personally for help,” Marlin said. “On the behests of parents, I started my own practice.”
Marlin’s practice, Decisions Counseling Services, launched about a year ago. Marlin’s practice is focused on individual, family, and group therapy. He offers drug and alcohol counseling, life coaching, and is a certified ER Recovery Coach.
Marlin said he works predominantly with college-age boys. He uses cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and hypnosis with his clients. Cognitive therapy is a psychosocial intervention. It is an evidence-based short-term therapy that identifies problematic behaviors and offers alternatives to provide healthy results.
Marlin started slapping his wrist: “See this?” he said. “This hurts. So what happens if I stop?” He stopped. “Now that I’ve changed my behavior, how does it feel? It feels better. That’s cognitive behavioral therapy.”
Motivational interviewing is a “no BS” approach that allows patients to get to the root of their own problem. “I get through to them by being a goofy dude in a loose mood,” Marlin said. “I know how to talk to kids. I understand their psyche. I don’t judge.”
Hypnosis allows for visualization, Marlin said. It puts his patients in a heightened state of relaxation for them to visualize their futures and who they want to be.
“One problem with life on the Island is everyone knows everyone’s business,” Marlin said. “My office is in my house. It’s off the beaten path, and uniquely discreet.” Marlin’s office is good for families, which is an integral part of intervention. “It’s important to work with the whole family,” Marlin said. “Addiction is not an individual disease.”
Part of Marlin’s mission is to inspire hope and take away stigma.
“I beg people to let go of the stigma, and look at it just as you would cancer by cigarettes,” he said. “How you got into this mess may have been of free will, but that’s changed, and it is now simply a disease. It can be treated, and you can recover. I am living proof.”
And so is that woman’s 20-year-old son, who is now two months sober.
“He has a job, he’s paying off student loans,” the mother said. “He has hope, and he’s looking toward the future — he’s doing good.”
Decisions Counseling Services is available for emergency crisis counseling, addiction counseling, and structured clinical family intervention. The office is located in Vineyard Haven. For more information, call 508-687-0068.
This story has been updated to correct where he met an anonymous mother, and where he lived before moving to Martha’s Vineyard.