“As you discover what strength you can draw from your community in this world from which it stands apart, look outward as well as inward. Build bridges instead of walls.” – Chief Justice Sonya Sotomayor

With over two years of work experience in the Alumni Department at Transformations Treatment Center, I was gifted with an invitation to join Helana Cabral, our Director of Alumni Services, at the Treatment Professionals in Alumni Services (TPAS) Fall Collaborative in Malibu, California. Despite my initial anxiety that I would be far out of my league with little to contribute, it proved to be a profound experience which I am sure I will not soon forget. Over the course of three days, industry professionals gathered to share their experiences with working in the treatment field, proffering ideas and suggestions to develop and strengthen alumni departments, and forming long-lasting bonds with others in this particular subsect of the drug and alcohol treatment arena. It was refreshing to be surrounded by others who shared the same passion and drive for alumni services, and moreso, who understood firsthand the triumphs and tribulations of working with clients post-treatment.

 We came to know our fellow collaborators, people visiting from across the U.S. to Canada and Antigua, through early-morning discussions on topics and questions posed by the leaders. It was immediately evident that each person in attendance at the Collaborative personified new ideas and fresh perspectives, which could then be implemented or integrated into existing alumni programs to foster growth and development. There was an effective mix of treatment centers with freshly-budding alumni programs in their infancy to those who were long-standing and well-established. Throughout the day, we met in various groups to learn from the other attendees what programs, procedures, and events we may be able to incorporate in order to strengthen our alumni program at Transformations, and we were also able to share with them some of the things we have done throughout the years to encourage and support our alumni, such as weekly in-house meetings, monthly events, and a 24-hour hotline. Few can understand better the emotional, mental, and spiritual tolls that are par for the course in working with those who have left the controlled environment of inpatient treatment and have reintegrated into the real world, and we were thereby reminded of the need for self-care by the TPAS leaders. Evenings were spent in social groups either at the beach, dining out, or at the scenic Serra Retreat, where we were able to enjoy the company of some incredible people and craft deeper bonds.

The days spent at the TPAS Collaborative and the relationships that developed among people from different regions and all walks of life was reminiscent of the community that has sprung from our alumni. We have people from other states, varying socioeconomic classes, different races, etc. who come to Transformations with the same objective – to find a solution. As they navigate the waters of early recovery, they share their personal experiences with one another, and how they were able to overcome those obstacles to remain sober. I have seen lifelong friendships form and flourish, I have seen our alumni reach out for help and others reach back with nothing but unconditional love and support, and I have experienced the electric energy of a group of recovering addicts and alcoholics who stayed clean and sober for yet another day.

Throughout my personal journey of recovery, the importance of community has been repeatedly stressed. While I did not initially recognize the value in being surrounded by others who walk along this path with me (and my introverted self stubbornly resisted) I now cherish the relationships which I have found in sobriety. Being open and vulnerable with others is not something that comes naturally to me, but there have been (and will be more) times when my only choice was to reach my hand out to a sober support, lest I find myself instead with a drink in that hand. Those people have listened with compassion and in confidence, shared their relatable experiences, and loved me until I was able to love myself again.

 As the old adage goes, it takes a village to raise and child, and in the same spirit, I believe it takes a community to heal an addict. Understanding that we do not have to trudge this road alone, that if we share our common burdens then they will feel less imposing, may be the defining factor between those who need recovery and those who find it. To echo the sentiment of Chief Justice Sotomayor, we must build bridges and not walls, for what we cannot do alone we can undoubtedly do together.

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