ifIknew is a health initiative for young adults that uses a multi media approach, including social media and in person programs, to address the contemporary issues that impact the well-being, self-image, careers, and relationships of people in their 20's and 30's.

If I Knew is a prevention education project that raises awareness about risky behaviors that can profoundly impact lives.

The Opposite of Addiction: Connection

A Personal Story of Addiction: This blog gives insight into one person’s experience with a loved one’s recovery. ifIknew aims to bring to light the many experiences and options available to those battling substance use disorder and mental illness.


Yesterday, I got a call from my Dad’s case manager. When I saw the number pop up on my screen, my heart dropped. Had he relapsed? Was something wrong? Did he have to leave his recovery program?

Fortunately, none of these things were true. His case manager actually wanted to give me positive feedback and share how amazing my Dad is doing. She also asked me one important question: “What do you think he needs most from this program?”

Before I get to that, let me offer some context. My Dad is a recovering alcoholic and has been sober for two and a half years now. His reckoning in 2016 was born out of him nearly dying of liver failure and other complications caused by decades of drinking. He had been in and out of rehab, Alcoholics Anonymous, and many other programs for a very long time. To be honest, I had given up all hope of him leading a healthy, sober life and had started thinking about making arrangements for his funeral.

What saved him was being accepted into a recovery program that focuses on helping adults overcome both the challenges of mental illness and substance abuse in order to achieve a meaningful and fulfilling lifestyle. In the program social workers, therapists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals provide one-on-one counseling, group therapy and community-based activities to support participants holistically.

And, the best part? It’s free -- it’s all covered by insurance. I thought it was too good to be true but it’s real. For the past two + years, my Dad goes to this wonderful place, five days a week like it’s his job. He’s fortunate to have some pension money from his 40-year career which he uses to live a pretty modest life.

During his years of addiction, my Dad had gone to various 30-day programs coupled with AA. Sometimes it helped him get through the day, and sometimes it didn’t. AA has saved thousands of lives and is one of the most successful programs out there supporting recovering addicts. However, the 12 steps didn’t help my Dad into recovery this time. It was the connection to other people that guided him into sobriety.

So, back to the question… “What do you think he needs most from this program?” the case manager asked me.

Right away, two things came to my mind. First, relationships. His program focuses on community which builds a sense of belonging, and relationships which offer trust and validation, both of which have been extremely healing for my Dad. Over time, he has built a relationship with his case manager and has made friends with people who can empathize because they’re fighting similar demons.

Prior to this experience, my Dad never really had close relationships in his life. He is insanely kind and genuine, but he has always had trouble building and keeping friendships, especially male ones. And, with his addiction, he was even more isolated which compounded other mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

We are all hardwired to connect with others -- I believe it’s why we are here, why we exist. When we are isolated, the loneliness can exacerbate our mental illness.

The second thing that helped my Dad was access to therapy and psychiatry. The stigma surrounding mental illness in our country is still a huge obstacle for many seeking help. In addition, the cost associated with therapy and having to shop around to find a therapist who meets your needs makes it almost impossible for someone with little means and serious mental health issues to find healing and recovery.

The program has facilitated him seeing a therapist multiple times a week for the past two and a half years, and it has been transformative. My Dad was once someone who didn’t believe in the power of therapy or counseling, but now he is a believer.

There are hundreds of different solutions and combinations of support that can help someone get and stay sober and find recovery, and not all of them are accessible or understood. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size fits all answer for successful recovery in my opinion. Connections with people were a huge part of my Dad’s healing -- whether it be with his peers, his counselors, or even the broader community. I am filled with gratitude that my Dad found this program that has worked so well for him, and that he is sober, happy and healthy today. I only hope that more people battling mental health illnesses and substance use disorder can also find the help they unquestionably deserve.

Holiday Heartwork

Illustration by  Mari Andrew

Illustration by Mari Andrew

“What happens when people open their hearts?”

”They get better.”
— Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

The holiday season is marked by Hallmark movies and hot cocoa, gift wrapping and good cheer. Many consider the month of December to be “the most wonderful time of the year.” Others, like myself, struggle to fend off the familiar sense of dread the moment the days grow shorter, the skies turn gray and the temperature drops far below sweater weather.

As the sun begins to set well before dinner, Winter whispers, “Remember me?”

Contrary to cultural clichés that celebrate the rest and relaxation of “the most wonderful time of the year,” the hibernation wintertime brings requires hard work—heart work—to shape us for the new year to come. Winter elicits introversion and introspection that other seasons simply don’t demand. Cabin fever forces us to face the true emotions behind our hurried and socially-conditioned responses to, “how are you doing?”

“Oh, just fine.” (Insert smile or emoji to confirm acceptable emotion and shorten conversation length.)

Winter enters in, despite our desperate pleas, fixes us a pot of tea and asks, “No. How are you really doing?”

While I am grateful for the Winter season to tune into my intuition, take stock of the yearly accrual of emotional battle scars, strip away what has died or needs to, I admittedly tend to resist the healing process. Whether setting aside some space from a toxic relationship or resisting FOMO with my friends for some evenings of journaling, candles and self-care, sometimes I just don’t feel like feeling.

Feeling―and healing―can be incredibly demanding of the human soul. Healing takes time, perseverance, focus and impenetrable hope. Besides, by the time healing summons my participation, I’ve usually already convinced myself that I’m doing “just fine.”

I’d much rather stay busy—spend time shopping or aimlessly scrolling the internet. By mindlessly disconnecting, I can construct a batterment to constrain the burdens in my heart, head, hands, shoulders—wherever. I’d rather suffer endlessly from the weight of stress and worry if it means I don’t have to unpack, unload, face some pretty painful memories and actually deal with them. Masochism in its finest.

Our instincts provide us with powerful resources for recovering from trauma. Shock grants us a short-term coping mechanism to ease us back into the rituals of daily life, but, if untended to, fresh cuts can rot and remain underneath scabs of selective memory.

Oftentimes, when a painful feeling arises, we’ve nearly forgotten the origin of the wound in the first place. So when a memory floats to the surface and pulls the pain up along with it, we’re taken aback.

“I thought I got over this days/months/years ago!”

We treat unresolved emotions like unwelcome dinner guests devoted to delaying us from reaching our dreams and destinations. So we slam the door shut the moment they arrive.

But Winter is persistent. “Make time for your heart. From it flows the wellsprings of life.”

If we surrender ourselves to the process and bravely face the feelings rising within us, we would soon identify the link between our undiagnosed outbursts of abnormal behavior and that thing that happened in 2nd grade that nearly destroyed us. The cavern in our hearts reserved for unresolved emotions can provide a roadmap of clarity to help us better understand ourselves and provide healing to our relationships with the world around us.

But sometimes healing hurts more than we’d like it to. Sometimes healing hurts like death. It can be messy, scary, ugly and shame-inducing. So we’d rather just sit this one out―for life.

So how do we heal when we really don’t want to? We begin by accepting Winter’s invitation to peel back the layers of our hearts and remember the experiences we thought we’d long forgotten.

The wound is where the Light enters in.
— Rumi

What ways do you tend to resist processing painful emotions? Set aside lots of time this winter season to surrender the denial, the excuses, the shoulder shrugs. Be still and feel all you’ve been storing away, shoving down, hiding from.

Reserve an evening or weekend just for you and your heart. Sit with yourself for a while in a hot bubble bath with a glass of wine or camp out in your bed under a bundle of blankets, pillows and popcorn. Stay at an Airbnb in a remote, preferably wilderness location (so you won’t be tempted to resort to your usual distractions/defense-mechanisms).

Be still. Breathe. Ask your heart about all the hard stuff. I recommend using self-proclaimed ‘Advocate of Ease,’ Sandra Pawla’s list of self-discovery questions.

Write. Listen. Respond.

And begin to heal.