I started doing this work in 2016 and one of the reasons I enjoy it so much is because I like to help others get their life on track. I do it because it gives me so much personal satisfaction seeing somebody do well and seeing somebody who’s in a bad physical and emotional state to be able to better their lives, be a productive person, and not gravitate to drugs. I feel that if they’re given the right support and people care about them, they can turn anything around. Anybody can turn anything around to be happier, more successful, fulfilled … all those kinds of things we all strive for as human beings.
From a personal standpoint, what gives me so much satisfaction is seeing somebody who’s isolating and being addicted to a drug or some type of substance, being able to then turn their life around and then be an amazing human being; having belief in someone who doesn’t believe in themselves. That’s what really propels me. Knowing that that person has it within them to make changes for the betterment of their own life. It’s like adrenaline for me to see that they’re doing better and that then they can then maybe give back to others and the whole world can be a better place. A personal feeling of believing that human beings that I work with can get their lives back on track and maybe even help others. It will just be like a circle and the world will be a better place where we can all thrive and make better decisions.
It’s about somebody really caring. Somebody taking the time to say you’re a human being who needs help and I realize you need help and I realize you can be in a different place. You don’t have to be doing what you’re doing. You can change that and there are ways out of that. I think a lot of times we think temporary situations in our lives are permanent when they’re not. They’re only blips in our evolution as a human being. We think we’re so stuck where we are and there is no way out. It’s a very shortsighted approach in addiction. You’re looking at it in that minute. It’s easier to pick up the bottle and it’s easier to take a pill, it’s easier to do that and it might temporarily work for that short duration of time, but down the road you’ll be in a worse situation. Sometimes it takes another individual to see that. To be able to have the belief that one’s in a bad state right now. It’s temporary but it will pass and they can do things to make their life more fulfilling and they’ll be a happier human being. That’s the goal. It’s not to say their life will be perfect; nobody’s life is perfect. We all have struggles even when things are really good. I see a lot of people who are doing well and having a good life and they will relapse and go back to this life of misery when things are even going well. Sometimes they think they don’t deserve to be healthy. That could go back to childhood issues, that could go back to trauma. I think we all suffer from trauma, some people cope with it with drugs and alcohol and some cope with it using other solutions. I think a lot of people in the world have PTSD and they also have maybe significant events in their lives that have altered their perception of the world and the easiest solution for them is to use because they think they don’t deserve to have a healthy existence. The Island community is unique because we were isolated even before the pandemic. Everything we get is imported and we are surrounded by water and now all these new mandates by the state and federal government make kids, adolescents, and adults feel even more isolated. Parents are fearful and kids just want this to be over. The adolescents I deal with just want this to be over. We just don’t want to go through this anymore; we were into a full year and now it’s 2022, another year of restrictions.
I’m looking back to when I was an adolescent and I thought I was invincible. I thought, oh, nothing can happen to me. I can smoke, I can do drugs, I can do whatever I want. But this virus is complicated. These kids can get really ill and they need to get vaccinated; we all should. But I do think it’s almost like kids can go to their parents and say we’re under these terrible conditions and I’m going to do what I want to do. If my friend’s got some pills, I might just take them. I want to smoke some weed, I just want to chill out, I want to take away this anxiety the world is feeling — and what is going to make me feel better? Well, temporarily, drugs and alcohol do that. But the real crux of the matter is how do we as a community, how do we try to combat that? We do that with programs that give them meaning and fulfillment. And that’s really the main ingredient to fend off any type of addictive behavior.
There’s also a tremendous amount of relapse now, where clients of mine who have been doing really, really well are now becoming very apathetic. They’re just kind of going back to their old behavior patterns and see no way out. They’re kind of looking in a tunnel and hoping they can get through it, but it never ends. Now they have another hurdle they have to get over. There’s a new variant out there that’s affecting them. They get to a point where they’re giving up, saying “Oh, God, we’re going through this again … I just want temporary relief.” Maybe that relief is a glass of vodka or taking oxycontin or another drug.
There are so many people who have relapsed and they might go to rehab 15 times, but that 16th time, if you have the faith and the belief that that person could turn their lives around and they get the right support, that 16th time could be it. Or that 20th time could be it. Never giving up, always having the positive outlook that they can do it, and not judging them and making them feel inadequate or inferior because of their illness. Meet them where they are. A critical part of coaching for me is not judging. Even if they’re using while I’m coaching them, to understand what they’re going through. And being able to refrain from telling them they are wrong but that there are other solutions and other ways of looking at things. And then they can even discover that within themselves, if you give them that kind of support.
I think more people, and it’s not from me being a coach helping people, I think in our society we look at those that are not doing well and we might give up. I’m not talking so much about coaches or people who help, all the mental health people in our community, but I think there’s a stigma against unhealthy human beings, like there’s a stigma against homelessness. Some people just don’t want to deal with it.
As a community on the Vineyard, the stigma of addiction and the way that we treat people with addiction is in a negative way and I think that we all need to be more open to people who struggle with these kinds of things. Some people struggle more than others and I think we really have to come together and try to be more compassionate and caring and not judgmental towards people who have mental illness and people who are more susceptible to using drugs and alcohol to run their lives. That’s my hope for Martha’s Vineyard. That’s my hope for the world. That we as human beings can understand where other people are coming from. They might be different from the way we conduct our lives but we’ve got to be compassionate. We’ve got to care for others to be able to understand what they are going through, not looking at it with your own understanding of the way you’re dealing with the world.
I don’t judge people who have problems with addiction. They’re just at a place where they need solutions, they need a way to get out of that state so that they can do miraculous things with their lives. That’s my hope and I think it’s possible, I really do.
I just never give up on somebody. Even if they relapse. They might relapse 120 times. I don’t care how many times they relapse as long as they have that belief — or I have that belief in them — that they can become sober and healthy and get better. That’s the goal of the people in the recovery community here on the Vineyard. And being totally non-judgemental, that’s what is so important. To be a good coach you can’t judge that person and feel negative about them. You’ve got to feel like they’re wonderful people who unfortunately have problems. But we all have problems in our own way and we can help one another.
Interview by Connie Berry.