Taking Pride in Recovery

This post originally appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star, Sept 25 2015:


Written by Topher Hansen.

September is Recovery Month, established to recognize the struggle of the vast number of people in the United States who have fought the battle against the brain disease we commonly call addiction.

Professional circles now refer to addiction as a substance use disorder, due to the information we have learned through science about the nature of this powerful disease. Those that have worked their way through treatment to learn how to overcome the compulsion to use will attest to this power.

Indeed, strong, smart and accomplished people have had their lives turned upside down from substance use disorders, and some have died on the street because they didn’t get the help they needed.

Recovery from this illness is not a matter of will power, moral failing or station in life. It is not even about one’s choice. Science tells us that the changes in the brain chemistry that drive this compulsion to drink, use drugs (or gambling, food, sex, gaming, etc.) is as powerful as our drive to eat food. Our body chemistry is very powerful. The person you know with a substance use disorder is fighting every day against the messaging being put out by their brain chemistry.

Diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer are diseases we often hear about or know someone who has these or other chronic illnesses. Twenty years ago we could hardly say breast cancer in a public space without everyone being a little embarrassed. Today, professional football players are wearing pink gloves with pink shoes to match, to support the fight against breast cancer. Breast cancer is being talked about in all media, has survivor marches, raises substantial money and is working its way toward lifesaving solutions.

It is not quite so comfortable for people with a substance problem to acknowledge their disease. In 1971, Congress passed a law establishing a privilege for people and organizations providing treatment for substance use disorders. The law required the service provider to keep confidential all information about the individual in treatment. The law stemmed from the fact that there was substantial discrimination against anyone that had a substance problem. Congress established the law so people could participate in treatment anonymously and have their information secured.

One of the primary support systems in a recovery program from substance use disorders is Alcoholics Anonymous or AA. Among its principles is that of anonymity. Early development of AA in 1935 recognized the high degree of shame people feel about having the illness and the societal stigma or discrimination that resulted from being identified as “alcoholic” (imagine if we referred to cancer patients as “cancerous,” rather than as a person who has cancer).

After a person went through treatment, they had to return to society and the stigma associated with the disease. There was not an understanding of the disease or general support for those suffering from it. The anonymity rule also allowed for a leveling of the group, so no one person was more important than the next. But regardless of the person’s social status, once sober and sustaining a recovery program, the issue was still viewed as a weakness and moral failing, so it was not publicly discussed, and the secrets continued.

Science has told us how addiction changes the brain, that treatment is effective and recovery a real possibility. But we still put those who struggle with this illness in the position of keeping it a secret. The secrets must go if we hope to reduce the shame and stigma and promote recovery. One brave soul at a time must stand to forge the path by announcing they are in recovery and proud of it.

Everyone knows someone who has a substance use problem. It is that common. So, let’s get behind the person we know and understand their struggle to get healthy and promote an atmosphere of support and acceptance. We understand and support those with diabetes or heart disease who must change their diet, alter their lifestyle and get help from those around them to support them in these critical changes. So, too, with substance use disorders, we need to support a change in our own attitudes and our community approach, so we have marches down Main Street raising our placards in support of recovery and announcing individual pride at being in recovery.

Help the loved one you know who struggles with substance problems. Support them in getting the help they need and being in recovery. It isn’t easy. It takes work from everyone to sustain the recovery program for your loved one. But with recovery comes a vital, healthy person who can contribute and participate in the world.

Topher Hansen is president and CEO of CenterPointe, which provides holistic treatment for people suffering from mental health and substance use disorders.

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Coffee and New Beginnings

This week a friend and former Board member stopped in the office. Samuel Brown is an amazing man, a true gentleman, a lifelong learner, a poet, and a grateful CenterPointe alumni. I always love having coffee with Sam. He reminds me to be intentional about recovery and stay focused on the positive. Over the years, Sam has shared his poems. This one seems perfect for the approaching New Year.

A New Beginning (2012)

Seven years clean

learning to live

Discarding my resentments

a willing to give.

Patience is a virtue

I’m thankful for each day.

Tomorrow isn’t promised

sobriety is the way.

~ Samuel Brown

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Procrastination Post

from Abby D.

I’ve been needing to do this for a long time, stop talking and dreaming and take action, but in what has become habit I’ve been procrastinating on getting this blog done. Deep down inside I am a writer, but it’s been hard for me to find the cohesiveness between words and feelings that I want to convey.

Let me first start with an introduction, I could be anyone of you reading this. I am a parent, spouse, sibling, employee, I am a person living with bipolar, succeeding with bipolar, struggling with bipolar and at times feels like I’m dying with bipolar.

So yes I am writing this because I am selfish, I need to do this for me, but I hope this selfish act will help not only me, but anyone associated with mental illness. I hope that maybe by reading this you will know we are not alone.

I try to avoid getting emotionally involved with tabloids and celebrities lives, however actor/ comedian Robin Williams death hit me upside the head. If even for a brief moment it brought mental illness to the light of the public. As well as stirring up emotions in me that I normally suppress, often not on purpose, but when things are going well I tend to “forget” the bad.

Mr. Williams was a man that entertained millions with humor for decades. He made it very easy for me to laugh which is a hard task. I once had a counselor that told me when depressed watch something silly just laugh. Robin Williams’ was someone that could do that, but while his work brought a smile to my face and a chance to catch my breath, he was battling with his own “demons” of depression.

I am not pretending to know what was going on in Mr. Williams life or mind, but I know the “demons” I battle and as many times I seem alone in the way I feel I am not. I hope that at least in his death people unaffected by mental illness may take a minute to realize maybe they are affected by mental illness, perhaps by someone in their family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances and it can’t be ignored. I’ve always loved the quote “it takes a village to raise a child”, it also takes a village to remove the grey cloud surrounding mental illness. I want to be a voice for this disease. Unlike a cloud mental illness does not dissipate, it harms and it can even kill, but it does not have to!

So, after hearing about Mr. Williams death what became abundantly clear is this…

I will always be bipolar, (I choose to say be and not have). On days I want to disappear, cut myself, wish I would have let the drugs kill me, wish I would have never let people know me, fall in love with me it is overly clear that I have bipolar. On days I’m floating on a pink cloud and life is amazing I have bipolar.

And, on days that are just ho hum making the motions doing what’s in front of me without the extreme happy and sad I have bipolar. All these moods lead to my actions how I live. On pink cloud days and ho hum days are the times I forget and deny. These are the times when I decide that I don’t need to go see my therapist. I can mess with my meds. That is the beginning of the next downward spiral. The best way, only way I can get through the downward spiral, perhaps even prevent it or at least make it bearable is to be proactive during the good times. I need to continue to see my therapist and not mess with my meds. There is no cure this will always be my life. So as not to forget and to stay proactive I choose to say I am bipolar.

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From Amy – a Guest

We’re pleased to share a snippet of a post from a guest writer. Amy lives with schizophrenia and she is blogging about her experiences and recovery. This intro is for a post dated Aug 3, 2014. 
I am definitely not used to living in the country. The nearest Wal-Mart was about thirty minutes away!
After about a month I went off my medications. We could not afford them. I had no insurance or income at the time. A bottle of my medications cost a few hundred dollars. Besides I started feeling better. I felt that I did not need any medications.
Boy was I wrong! I found out later that schizophrenia is a chronic condition.
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Giving Back

So, for a lot of people giving back is part of the recovery process. It makes sense – even if your recovery isn’t based on a 12 step process, you still get to a place where you want to put something into the world for all the things you took out of it while you were not living your best life.

I got a chance to do a little giving back this morning when I went to talk to our local Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) staff. The real purpose of my talk was to share with them all the programs and services that CenterPointe offers.

Let me tell you that can take some time because we’re up to about 30 of them now. I think I covered almost all of them. I’ll admit that even after 5 years I use the brochure as a guide. 

After I thoroughly explained our services, I took just a minute to share a little slice of my own story. Vocational Rehabilitation was vital to me and my recovery. They helped me finish my Bachelor’s degree – a big accomplishment for me.

I don’t think they get to hear very often about their success stories although I’m sure there are a lot of them. It was really nice to thank them for what they did for me and what they continue to do for the people we serve here at CenterPointe.

And although I got applause when I thanked them it wasn’t about that at all for me. It was REALLY about the joy I saw in their faces. When I could tell they were thinking about the fact that their work really does matter. I hope it gave them a little jolt all day long.

They gave so much to me. It only seemed right that I should give a little bit of it back.


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Thank you CenterPointe (2012)

Words can’t express
the gratitude I feel.
Chained to addiction
a life of self-will.
You showed me the path
but the choice was mine.
Sharing my testimony
so others may shine.
Pay it forward
my mission at hand.
God has blessed me
now I’m a better man.

Samuel Brown

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Poem for recovery

Masquerade of Life

I wore the mask of happiness to conceal
my sorrow.
Which false face will I wear tomorrow?

We all wear masks now and then
caught up in a scenario of mix and blend.

As if it were taboo to show oneself,
we choose to keep our feelings
hidden on a shelf.

The facade of emotions, a mystery to me
double identity — confused as can be.

Hollywood actors without the pay
going through changes from day to say.

Trying to con others with a carefree air,
losing your identity, living in despair.

So goodbye to Broadway, not my cup of tea.
I may fool you, but I can’t fool me.

from Soul Searching: an anthology of poems

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Against the Odds

My name is Samuel. I’m a sixty-one year old African American. My past compares to a fictional novel.

I was abandoned as a child, recovering alcoholic, ex-convict, diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, and a prostate cancer survivor. My past was an emotional roller coaster and I experienced mental abuse at a young age.

Today, I’ve been clean and sober for six years. I have a sponsor, solid support system and live life “one day at a time.”

I’m a college graduate and am giving back to society through community service and motivational speaking. I’m happy to be serving on the CenterPointe board.

My Higher Power (God) gives me strength and direction. I’ve discovered life is a marathon, not a sprint.


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If a picture is worth a thousand words…

If a picture is worth a thousand words – what’s a life story worth? My life story is worth a lot to me – I’ve lived it and it’s really pretty amazing.

Amazing that I’ve found my right path. Amazing for all the gifts the universe has given me. And amazing, given my tendency to melancholy, that I do occasionally take time to be grateful.

The details of my life aren’t really important. It’s enough to say that mental illness and addiction run in my biological family and that I followed some patterns of family violence, bad coping skills, and drug use right to their bitter end.

But in the end it was a beginning. All the things I thought were terrible misfortunes were really gifts to learn and grow. I was blessed. And, with a willingness to grow – I faced my demons, forgave myself and started fresh.

CenterPointe helped me do that all those years ago. It was CenterPointe that helped me connect with Vocational Rehabilitation and finish a bachelor’s degree. I’d never be where I am today without that opportunity.

Truly, my life would have painted an entirely different picture. And, although my life today isn’t picture perfect (is anyone’s?) it’s good.

It’s safe. It’s mine. And I am grateful for every single day of it.

Your life and your life story are worth countless words. Whatever you’ve lived – you’re alive today and that is a gift you can be grateful for. Take a moment to be amazed with yourself…


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Hello world!

This is the latest community building effort of CenterPointe in Lincoln, NE. CenterPointe is an organization helping people with mental illness and addiction live healthier, more productive lives.

Check out our profile or website for more specifics…

We’re here in the blogosphere to tell the stories of people living with mental illness & addiction and the stories of people who work with them.

So, why are these stories important anyway?

Because people living with mental illness and addiction are just people. Just everyday people like you. They have desires. They have needs. They eat and sleep and put their pants on just like millions of people do every day.

And, the people who work in behavioral health are a dedicated bunch with a lot of grit and heart. But, both groups are occasionally misunderstood.

How do I know this?

I am a person living with a mental illness in recovery for an addiction. And, I work at CenterPointe with some other cool, caring people.

Check back to read my story and how I came to work at CenterPointe. Then check back again for someone else’s story or words from our staff about why they do what they do.


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