Melissa’s Story

MelissaIn 2006, I found myself in a career change. Not exactly a career change I wanted, nor a career change I was sure of. In 2005, I had lost my dream job, because of my addiction. Now granted, I had been to most of the 12-step rooms AA, OA, NA, DA, Al-Anon, CoDa, and I could be in the GA rooms, given I buy lottery tickets and fantasize about how I will spend the winnings. In 2005, at 49 years of age, I found that I had another addiction. As most of you know, behavioral addictions or process addictions are hard to beat. So as I was attempting to get a grasp on what sobriety was in the rooms of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, I found myself looking at a career change to keep me sober . Many of us in the rooms are doing the same thing. It states in the SLAA Basic Text on page 140:

“Even in the midst of withdrawal, we turned to hobbies or new pursuits that were engrossing and would consume some time and energy. As the addictive cravings lessened, we often found ourselves actively enjoying these new activities and the discovery, or re-discovery, of talents. We have among S.L.A.A. members, new PhDs, new musicians, new marathon runners, and new artists. By definition, our image of ourselves expanded to include these new developed talents, and these lead to new and healthy roles in the world . . .” (Augustine Fellowship, 1986)

As an executive, I had received coaching to help me improve my job performance. I had coaching on PowerPoint presentations, public speaking, writing, as well as coaching for conflict management. I really liked my coaches. As part of my severance package I was fortunate to receive outplacement counseling through a large executive outplacement firm called Right Management. As part of this package, I received my first Myers Briggs assessment. The assessment was to help me grasp what new position would match my strengths. To my surprise, I have had many positions that have matched my strengths in my 30-year career. I have been an artist, art gallery owner, museum curator, facilities manager, real estate owner, chef, entrepreneur and in fact, only two careers were on the list that I had not yet attempted: therapist and executive coach. I selected executive coach. I was intent on going back to school to learn this new career and was quite surprised when I was accepted for a master’s program at the University of Pennsylvania in Organizational Dynamics. So I plunked down part of my severance package for the first semester at Penn, and I found a home.

As I was moving through the OD program at Penn and simultaneously living in the rooms, I saw several professionals in the 12-step rooms dealing with their addictions, and many of them high achievers in the business world. I immediately made the link. Executives in recovery need to learn how to balance work, as well as recovery. Entrepreneurs in recovery needed to fix the collateral damage that addiction has caused their business. So my concept of recovery coaching was born. Little did I know that recovery coaching was such a young field at the time.

In April of 2007, I read a New York Times article by Mireya Navarro, describing a young, tattooed, recovering heroin addict coaching a music-industry executive to remain sober. The picture of this recovery coach was to me (a middle-class, suburban, white girl) a bit shocking. The coach was a 20-something male, muscular, pierced, sporting a goatee, shaved head and tattoos over the majority of his body. He was an ex-gang member, convict and an addict (Navarro, 2007). There was no photo of the executive, obviously. Was this the industry I was interested in? I said yes!

In the article, three firms were mentioned that refer recovery coaches to recovering executives, Sober Escorts in Florida, Sober Champions and Hired Power in Los Angeles. I immediately sent my résumé and cover letters to all of them and followed up insistently to schedule an interview. I traveled to California for a face-to-face meeting with Nanette Zumwalt and Doug Caine, but it was Rick Parrish who hired me for my first sober transport job. I want to thank Rick for his faith in me, because that experience and the subsequent transportation trips I have made for Sober Escorts was a better education in recovery coaching than the University of Pennsylvania could have ever given me.

So several years passed and I wrote two theses on Recovery Coaching, much to the chagrin of some of my Penn professors. Luckily one, Dana Kaminstein, PhD, a psychologist whose first professional position was at a treatment center, and now a Wharton Fellow, had faith in me as he coached me through my practicum. It was Dana that suggested I work with several clients who needed to maintain their recovery, as well as clean up the collateral damage the addiction had caused their businesses, and compare the results. What a life lesson! I learned everyone achieves recovery in a different manner. Dr. Charline Russo was there for me, as well, recommending a client for this practicum which was further proof of her faith in my recovery-coaching theory.

Then I started in a position working with a social services agency, Center for Family Services, that supported outpatient programs for recovering addicts and had just received a grant to run a co-occurring treatment program and to start a recovery support center. They wanted me to be the Center’s project manager. I got to see the peer-recovery support specialist, and the recovery support center’s role in the Recovery Management Model, first hand. I could compare these roles to a paid recovery-coaching role. I also saw the impact of co-occurring disorders on recovery.

While writing a book on recovery coaching, I was the president of Recovery Coaches International, an association for Recovery Coaches, and saw the need for coaches to receive better education and more affordable training. I was very happy to work with Jorea Kelly, executive director of PARfessionals, and the SJM Family Foundation, in writing the curriculum for their affordable, recovery coaching training.

Today, I receive letters from recovery coaches around the world. Like Kyle, the man in prison in Texas, who took a course on recovery coaching at his prison, and whose mother mailed him a copy of my book. His story about his teacher, Ms. Stringer, the eight other men that took the course, their commitment to their recovery, their role in helping others within the system and their plan to continue as recovery coaches when they get paroled, moved me to tears. The power of that letter, as well as many others I have received, like the letter from an Oxford House manager, the letters from the women in a homeless shelter in Los Angeles, and a Millennium with six years sobriety who wants to give back as a recovery coach, have moved me profoundly.

From my early research in 2006, I discovered there was no book on recovery coaching. I knew this text could help others. This field is growing and changing so rapidly that there will be several books on recovery coaching, and hopefully, several editions of this book as time progresses. I hope you receive the information you need about recovery coaching, whether you want to help the homeless, crack addict in a Detroit recovery support center or an alcoholic wife of a doctor in the Silicon Valley.

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