Sunday, February 22, 2015

Of Destiny, Heroes, and Brave Women

"Destiny is real. And she's not mild-mannered. She will come around and hit you in the face and knock you over and before you know what hit you, you're naked--stripped of everything you thought you knew and everything you thought you didn't know--and there you are! A bloody nose, bruises all over you, and naked. And it's the most beautiful thing." --C. JoyBell C.

I'm sitting at a desk in a hotel room in Brentwood, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville. I am mentally (mostly) and physically (somewhat) exhausted, but I had to pull out my MacBook and write a little bit about the Heroes in Recovery lead advocate summit that I participated in over the last few days.

Like C. JoyBell C. writes, destiny is indeed real. And I believe that destiny is the thing that not only brought all seven of this year's lead advocates to Heroes in Recovery, but also to this specific group of lead advocates. Stuff happens for a reason. Just deal with it.

This year's winter lead advocate summit was different than last year's for a few major reasons. First of all, I am no longer a Heroes in Recovery "rookie." Last year, as excited as I was to be working for such an amazing movement, I was equally scared. I had no idea if I was going to be any good at advocacy on an organized level. When Heroes invited me to come back and do it all over again this year, I was so grateful.

The 2015 group of advocates is also different. In addition to three returning "veterans," our team has four first-timers, all of whom are fantastic human beings. It's so cool how you can spend only a couple of days with people and just know that they are special and share your passion to help others. They all have stories--doesn't everyone?--and, like me, the plot line of their stories plopped them down in "The Volunteer State" (apropos?) and handed them a mission: Help break the stigma associated with addiction and mental illness, and make people realize that it's okay to seek treatment and recovery.

But the biggest change in this year's winter summit involved a single event that we all participated in.

Saturday evening, the Heroes in Recovery advocates headed to downtown Nashville to serve dinner to the residents of The Next Door, a nonprofit residential addiction treatment facility for women. In addition to their residential program, The Next Door also offers partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, outpatient, and residential transition programs. In other words, they do everything they possibly can to help women 18 and older find recovery and get their lives back on track. They even offer affordable housing in the form of permanent apartment living for women and their children, with onsite recovery services.

The Next Door's mission reads: "With an evidence-based approach to clinical treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, our mission is to address the physical, mental, and spiritual needs of women in crisis, equipping them for lives of wholeness and hope."

What a beautiful statement. And what an incredible place.

I was almost moved to tears when the residents and lead advocates all stood in a circle, held hands, and prayed before the meal. And while we were serving dinner to these brave women, I couldn't help but see the hopefulness and gratitude in their eyes. These ladies, some of whom had come to The Next Door right from prison, were taking a giant step toward recovery, and I was, at that moment, right there in the middle of it. It was one of the most humbling things I have ever experienced.

As I stood behind the food counter, wearing plastic gloves and using tongs to place sausage on multiple dinner plates, I was also engulfed by an enormous wave of gratitude. Seeing so many women just beginning their journey to recovery made me appreciate even more the journey that my son and my entire family has been on. We may have gone through hell, but we came out on the other side.

Not surprisingly, volunteering at The Next Door made me think of one of my favorite Anne Lamott quotes: "Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides....When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back."


I am looking forward to a productive and successful year with the 2015 Heroes in Recovery lead advocate team. I can't wait to get down to business with Susanne, Hillary, Marta, Lisa, Bo, B., and, of course, our inspirational leader, Heidi.

But, to be totally honest, what I'm most looking forward to right now is flying back to Michigan and reuniting with my wife, younger son, three cats.


Heroes in Recovery lead advocates at work.
Ready to serve dinner at The Next Door.

The aftermath of an excellent post-volunteering sushi dinner.

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