By Andy Thomas, Vice President National Provider Relations at axialHealthcare
One evening in early January, my wife and I took a drive to see our soon-to-be new home. Arriving at the neighborhood, we talked about our future and what was to come. It was a cold, dark Minnesota winter night, but it was a happy one filled with excitement and joy.
It hasn’t always been the case that I could look ahead and feel optimistic. Not long ago, the dark and cold Minnesota weather reflected how I felt inside—this relentless, persistent discomfort. People think substance use is the problem, “if only you could just stop using.” But what most don’t know is that for many, substance use is a solution to a much greater problem; it’s a way of medicating and managing. A way to get back to neutral, to feel normal.
Leaving our soon-to-be new home, we took a different route back to the city and after just a few minutes in the car, I noticed a familiar exit. I asked my wife if she would mind taking a quick detour, and as we got off on the exit, a flood of emotions washed over me. I was overcome with gratitude. I began to tear up. I could barely talk.
Eleven years ago, in early January, I landed in Minnesota as a young adult searching for answers to why I felt the way I did. I vividly remember how terrified I was boarding the flight from my hometown of Washington, DC. and upon arrival, walking to baggage claim wondering, “what am I doing here?” I could barely speak then either. I was filled with fear, anger, resentment, and guilt. A man met me at the airport, loaded me into the back of a van, and drove me to this same exit, down this same road, and into that very place.
As we passed the residential rehab facility, memories of my time there came flooding back. If I could sit down with myself then and describe where I am now, I never would have believed me, not in a million years. While I was chipping away and facing what I was not each day, I slowly found who I am. Recovery has changed my whole attitude and outlook on life. It was a universe shift, a reality bend, a truly cataclysmic process. In a word, recovery is a miracle.
The detour home and the time of year made me reflect more deeply on my journey. This January 7th, I celebrated 11 years of recovery. Largely driven by my gratitude, I shared a quick post on LinkedIn to celebrate the milestone. I’m connected to many folks who have supported me along my journey, but I had no real expectation for the post- maybe someone would see it, maybe not.
I opened my phone the next day to a flurry of notifications from LinkedIn; my post had reached over 30,000 people! I could not believe it, and looking more closely, I realized that a community was being created within my post of people sharing their own stories through comments. My inbox was filled with congratulations and people thanking me. Newcomers were sharing how inspired they were by others. There were numerous celebrations of milestones and anniversaries. It was truly amazing.
Many of us have struggled over the past year—the coronavirus pandemic has only worsened the condition of a chronic disease that thrives off isolation and fear—but this post serves as a hopeful reminder of the progress we have made as a community and the possibilities to come. As someone in recovery and as a professional who works in this space, this experience reminded me of the following:
- The power of vulnerability – One of my mentors used to tell me, “never be afraid to throw dirt on yourself.” Sharing that you are in recovery can be hard with the immense stigma that’s still pervasive. Vulnerability is also a celebration of what it means to be human, to have stumbled, to fail. More so than over, I think we can all find connection through our own vulnerabilities. At axialHealthcare, our peer recovery specialists have lived experience and can lean on that experience with the members we support to create relationships built on trust and vulnerability.
- The power of community – Seeing the comments and connections made through my post made me reflect on how community isn’t a fixed object. It’s not some “place” that exists; it’s everywhere around us. We create communities at work and online. Today more than ever, we can nourish and bring communities forward. At axialHealthcare, we believe that people recover in communities, not just the health care “system.” That’s why we hire local, in–market staff who understand the communities that we operate in. We integrate with treatment providers and work to connect members into their communities.
- The power of perspective – There was a time where I thought the worst thing that ever happened to me was my substance use disorder. With a change in perspective, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. My recovery affords me the greatest opportunity I could imagine by letting me share my experience with others, serve and inspire others, and most importantly, find purpose and meaning in life. At axialHealthcare, we believe in the possibility of recovery. We’ve seen our members’ lives change firsthand. We believe that everyone deserves a chance, and we are relentless in our purpose.