Honoring National Addiction Professionals Day: Spotlight on CleanSlate Certified Recovery Specialists
Sep 18, 2023
Certified Recovery Specialists at CleanSlate play a pivotal role play in guiding people through their recovery journey. Their unwavering commitment, expertise and compassion are cornerstones of transformative healing. National Addiction Professionals Day highlights the importance of coaching, support and guidance from someone who knows what the recovery journey is like – because they’ve been there.
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How did you become a Certified Recovery Specialist?
KG: I was in and out of prison for roughly 10 years. While I was doing my last little stint, I was asked to work on a recovery unit. I just said ‘yes’ because why not? I started as a peer specialist, and later ran AA and NA meetings with inmates. When Vivitrol began to be administered in prisons, I started promoting that too. I loved it all. It was my turnaround point—my point in life—and the beginning of my hunger for this career. I’ve run with it ever since.
Once I was released from prison, I got factory jobs to save up money. While I was doing that, I took my CRS and CRFS [certified family recovery specialist] certifications. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that because of where I started, I have a heart for this and this is the hub of my recovery. It’s what keeps me going.
Can you describe your personal journey to recovery, and how has it influenced your role as an CRS?
KG: I come from a family of addiction with family members who used alcohol and drugs. Growing up, I was a great student and into sports. But at age 15, I had a sports injury and it spiraled out from there. I dabbled with opiates, but never did heroin. I consider myself lucky because I didn’t go down that road. I combined pills with cocaine, and then I was introduced to crystal meth. I spiraled out of control very quickly and I landed in prison, as I mentioned. But today I am almost seven years in recovery and never look back.
What does a typical day look like for you as a Certified Recovery Specialist?
KG: I am big on making my office very Zen. When I was beginning recovery, the offices I would go to were very boring and stuffy. So I go above and beyond to try to make my office look very fun. I then schedule appointments.
Usually I see my patients for a half-hour, and we just sit and I let them talk. I tell them about me when we first start. The fact that I’m in recovery, and especially that I’ve been incarcerated, really breaks down any barriers between us. As soon as I share my background, we reach a point of “Oh I can trust you—you get this.”
From there, I take notes and we develop goals. I’m big on accountability. So every time they come in, they will be accountable for something and work toward short term goals.
I form a significant relationship with every single person that walks through my door. The biggest thing for me is that they’re human beings. They’re not files. I get phone calls at all hours from people struggling, and I will talk to them or meet them for coffee. That is a typical ‘boring’ day for me. But in my shoes, it’s not boring at all. If I’m helping one person, I’m helping the world.
Right now I have 45 patients to my name, and in a given week I see quite a few of them. I wouldn’t change it. I actually ask for more all the time. I love staying busy, because the more people I put on my caseload the more people I can help.
My day is about to include group work again too. I’m a certified SMART recovery facilitator, and I just the got the green light to start running SMART groups. I love that SMART covers all addictions. I’m very excited and hopeful that it’ll be a success and they’ll start bringing more groups back.
What are the most challenging aspects of being a CRS?
KG: The most challenging part for me is having to step out of it. I’ve transformed my life and built it around helping people, so it can be very hard to detach from work and focus on my own self-care and well-being.
Without revealing any identifying details, can you share a success story or a particularly memorable moment from your work?
KG: A patient came into our office actively using fentanyl. This person had just overdosed and was scared. We immediately helped this patient get to the right level of care in an inpatient setting, and we kept in touch with the patient. The patient came directly to our office the day they were discharged from inpatient care, and we continue to celebrate their progress in recovery.
This patient stays engaged in our support programs, puts in the work with us because they consider us a huge part of their support system. That’s a gigantic leap – from being a medication-assisted treatment center service to someone’s support system. And it takes our whole team providing medical care, counseling and recovery coaching to do that.
How do you maintain your own well-being and ensure you don’t experience burnout?
KG: I definitely am in therapy. I also do quite a few different hobbies—photography, gym, tanning. Those are awesome stress relievers. I have a one-year-old German shepherd, who is my everything. And I have an NA sponsor and an NA homegroup. Embracing my freedom and not taking life for granted is something I remind myself to do daily.
What would you like the general public to know or understand about the role of CRSs in the recovery community?
KG: We are all human beings and we all have faults. We are not just numbers. We all need somebody at some point in our lives to believe in us, to keep us accountable and keep us going. It’s a very big deal to people who are fresh in recovery. I take 30 minutes of my time to sit down and become somebody else’s hub. It could be the world for them, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. One thing that I say to people is, “If you can’t find a light in the darkness, I will always sit with you in the darkness.” That’s my main motto as a CRS.
What advice would you give someone who is considering becoming a Certified Recovery Specialist?
KG: I would tell them that if they are in recovery and they love helping people, there is no other job for them. I am never upset with my job. I love it. I love coming to work. I sleep well knowing that I’m giving my all into the recovery world. We’re in recovery, so we’re all in this together. We need more people to say, “I get you.”
For someone in the early stages of recovery, what words of encouragement or wisdom can you offer?
KG: Pay attention to what you’re paying attention to. If you’re focusing on the wrong things, you’re going to stay focused on the wrong things. It’s never going to be sunshine and roses 24/7. There will be storms and ugliness. I’ve been through those storms, and I will come and sit with you and we’ll get through it together. You’re not alone.
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