The fact I flunked out of [college] was an indicator. I grew up in a very mixed environment where my parents were indoctrinated into the hippy culture, although they were quite middle class. So, the philosophy with which I was raised was that it was fine to do whatever you wanted and to do as much as you wanted. The only thing that was taboo at the time was heroin. Although I stayed away from heroin until I was in college, there was no shortage of doing acid, hallucinogens of all kinds, benzos (benzodiazepine), certainly booze, and pot.
This went on for most of my life because I suffered from a form of depression that sort of kept me underwater for long periods of time. But then I would clear up and I would function well and do well in school and maintain responsibilities. Then I would lose traction. I would fall back into a pit of despair, if you will, and then basically overdo everything and I would abandon scholastic responsibilities, any mature responsibilities, and this went on well until my late 20s. It started to taper when I was in my late 20s and when I got married; that was the last time I did powders. That was about 33 years ago and after that, I drank for recreation, got into a few OUIs on the Island, until about 15 years ago when I had my last OUI. And I’ve been sober ever since.
You have to understand what the term “hippy culture” means, and that is everyone in my world; all the adults, all the teenagers, all my peers, got high. At around 12 or 13, I remember smoking cigarettes for the first time. Around 12, I started smoking pot and drinking. It was so prevalent in my world that we did it every day. Now, for me, alcohol wasn’t the thing, but certainly smoking pot. We had a lot of psychedelics and various types of psychedelics: mushrooms, peyote buttons, and that was very, very big where I was. I defined myself as a polysubstance abuser since I was 13. Meaning, I would do whatever you’ve got, and I would do it and wouldn’t care, including heroin.
I got my master’s degree in counseling psychology in ‘85. I wanted to be a therapist. A confluence of opportunities happened at the same time. I jokingly tell people I desperately tried not to do this work for 30 years — that I’ve been avoiding this work for 30 years. I had long moved to Martha’s Vineyard and raised my children. I had been working in construction when a friend of mine — his daughter was in the ER and I happened to go with him to help address his daughter’s needs. While I was there, I was with the parents and I spoke to their daughter and comforted her and comforted her parents and really deescalated the situation. One of the nurses turned and said to me: “You’re really good at that,” and I said “Yeah, oh, thanks,” and she said, “Community Services could use a hand with crisis counselors.” So, I applied for and got a job as a crisis counselor at Community Services here on the beautiful Island of Martha’s ding-dong Vineyard. That started it.
Then one day, Community Services put down a doctrine saying you need to either have a license or apply for a license in order to continue working here. So I went out and got a license. Then, the opportunity came for me to start my private practice and in a heartbeat, I set up everything to incorporate, got all my educational requirements, facilitated everything I needed to do, and during that period of time I did interventions. Now, without training, without guidance, I was basically helping family members convince their loved ones to get help. Well, wouldn’t you know it, I learned about these programs for training to become certified. I went to Jeff and Debra Jay, two of the best-known interventionists in the country. I got certified in their program, which was called Love First, and then I got trained in the Arise method of intervention through Dr. Judith Landau. Both the Love First and Arise methodologies are based on family inclusion. There are a number of different approaches, but the one most of us are familiar with is the TV-show-style intervention method, which is shock and awe. That method is hardly successful. But, there are times when the individual is knowingly so resistant and so oppositional that nothing short of something like that will get their attention. But there are plenty of people and plenty of opportunities where you can do family therapy and have the loved one involved and have the loved one then understand that we can actually help them, and then they jump on board voluntarily. This is the methodology I’ve used predominantly since getting my certifications some five years ago. I did a lot of training and that led me to where I am. Today, I have a private practice. I’m a licensed therapist in Massachusetts, a certified recovery coach professional, which is the highest level of accomplishment for recovery coaches, and I am a national interventionist as well as a licensed therapist.
Dr. Milton Mazer wrote a book in the ‘60s called “People in Predicaments,” which I highly recommend. He did a series of [observations] in 1961, which were basically paying attention to the different groups of people who lived on the Vineyard back then. What he found was that the dual relationships predominate the structure of the social life of the Island. In other words, if you’d lived in a major metropolitan area, you’d have a dentist, you’d have a doctor, your child would go to school and have a teacher, you’d go to church, and you’d have a preacher. The preacher, the teacher, the doctor, wouldn’t meet each other, and they wouldn’t know each other. The odds of them running into each other would be rare or nonexistent. However, if you move to Martha’s Vineyard, you will see your doctor, your dentist, your teacher, all at the grocery store and school committee meetings, and walking down Main Street in the summer. Dual relationships on Martha’s Vineyard are not only unavoidable, they’re a major component of the structure of the social fabric of the Island, and it remains that way to this day in spite of the incredible increase in residency here. Today, technology has allowed people to be able to spend effort and interest other than on the Vineyard, but back then in the ‘60s, it was all Vineyard-centric.
This will certainly not help you in the social context because once the educational system recognizes you to be a drug abuser, then you have a label, intentional or not. This will also impact your socializing. Jocks hang out with jocks, heads hang out with heads (we used to call them heads because people who get high would hang out with people who got high). So, try to step out of that system. Try to step out. Try to change it. It’s like trying to swim upstream. You’re with a whole group of people who know you to be this way and suddenly you decide you want to change your behavior? It pisses people off. It threatens them. The moment you try to take action to improve your life, your peers are now threatened. They feel threatened by your sobriety. This happens predominantly with alcohol here on the Island.
I want to help others become empowered. I want to help others be able to effect change. So, it’s my intention to encourage everyone that I work with to end up being a recovery coach. And I’ll tell you this, there are quite a few recovery coaches on the Island who are recovery coaches based on my work with them, so I’m very, very proud.
Interview by Eunki Seonwoo.