2020 has been a tough year for many addiction treatment providers. The COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in the spring and has made recovery work difficult ever since—for people with addiction and their therapists. “Getting sober during COVID-19 definitely has its challenges,” says Harmony alumna Shayla E. The Harmony Foundation had to implement a number of precautionary measures to ensure staff and client safety.
In October, Harmony suddenly faced another dangerous challenge: the East Troublesome wildfire. As with COVID, the entire Harmony community rose to the challenge.
“Before October 21, the East Troublesome fire had mostly been a nuisance,” reported The Colorado Sun, “burning through dense trees and steadily gobbling up terrain.” Then it suddenly turned into a massive firestorm and on October 22, it began to threaten the Harmony campus.
The leadership team immediately came together for an emergency meeting. “There were also other fires in the area,” remembers Harmony CEO Jim Geckler. “We had carefully monitored the Cameron Peak fire earlier that week, which was unsettling enough. Then the East Troublesome fire jumped the mountain and started to burn on our side on Thursday morning (Oct 22).”
It was time to make a decision. When fire officials issued a voluntary evacuation advisory, Harmony decided to play it safe and evacuate. After the leadership meeting made the call to leave and not wait for a mandatory evacuation order, Geckler explained the situation to the clients and let them know what to bring along.
“We had solid communication between all parties involved and because we had done a lot of preparation and training in the past, we were ready to go within 45 minutes. We packed up the medical center, had a great procedure in place for moving the belongings of clients and how to move medications safely. By 12:30 we were lined up caravan-style and ready to go.”
Everything went seamlessly because everybody communicated and everybody knew what they were supposed to do. “Strong communication between the leadership team, the staff, and the clients, as well as the ability of people to make the necessary decisions, allowed us to move forward quickly,” says Geckler.
The destination was a hotel in Greeley, Colorado. With the support of staff at the DoubleTree by Hilton Greeley at Lincoln Park, Harmony was able to successfully relocate all clients and continue to provide them with quality treatment in a safe, welcoming environment.
When Harmony’s chief marketing officer Gina de Peralta Thorne called ahead from the road, the only questions were ‘what do you need?’ and ‘when do you need it?’ “I told them we needed 28 rooms and conference space and that we were 20 minutes out,” remembers Thorne. “They were just remarkable at giving us what we needed to keep clients safe in their recovery. We even used the situation in therapy, discussing how the environment in the hotel was very different from the Harmony campus and how that worked for them.”
The medical team had to quickly build a makeshift detox facility in one of the rooms with an ironing board as a reception desk.
“We managed in an emergency setting,” says Jim Geckler. “I’m proud to say we had uninterrupted client care, every single decision throughout the evacuation was made around client care. It was inspiring to see how people rose to the occasion.”
“Our client-focused culture is collaborative. Over the past seven years or so, we worked diligently to integrate better with other care providers in Colorado,” says Geckler. “We make sure we’re there when they need us and there wasn’t a moment when we didn’t feel supported by others. I received lots of text messages inquiring whether we’re okay, some of them just saying let me know what you need—that made it manageable for us. We had deliveries every day of treats, bottled water, and games. People kept asking how can we be of assistance?”
Once in place in the hotel, the focus was on keeping clients safe. “Usually our patients are in a safe, relatively controlled environment but near the hotel, we had locations where people do drug deals and some clients told us the park was a trigger for them,” remembers Gina Thorne.
Even though the hotel was safe from the wildfire, the Harmony team now had to contend with other dangers. “There was a bar in the hotel, for example, and we had to make sure clients would not be able to order alcohol from their rooms,” explains Thorne. “But the hotel staff learned quickly to work with our unique population. There was never any negative reaction to our clients, the staff was gracious and courteous, they really bent over backward to make sure we got what we needed.”
Again, the open environment was used for therapeutic effect. “We talked about it all the time,” says Geckler. “We made the experience a celebration and congratulated clients on a regular basis. We talked with them and made sure they understood the exceptional circumstances.”
Geckler is convinced that this group of clients will have an exceptional recovery because they are connected in ways other people are not. “It was a bonding experience, and the clients have really embraced it.”
Harmony stayed in Greeley for a whole week, finally returning to Estes Park on October 29. “We now have faced two unbelievable situations this year and we never considered shutting Harmony down,” says Geckler. “Our role is to be of service to our clients who are looking for help—we couldn’t just abandon them. We were able to keep stability for our clients and we were able to celebrate their achievements under difficult circumstances. Everybody stepped up and simply asked what they can do to help. In years to come, I will look back with pride on what we accomplished during this fire emergency.”
Monday morning is a stressful time for many people. Anxiety about work or a depressed mood are not beneficial for anybody but they can be dangerous relapse triggers for people in recovery from addiction.
One way to deal with the Monday blues is to confront it head-on and make a virtue of it. Michael Arnold is the director of alumni and recovery support services at Harmony Foundation. She has found an engaging way to help people in recovery snap out of any dark moods they may be experiencing.
In May, Michael started a podcast called “Monday State of Mind” to give the recovery community a positive start into the workweek. Her sheer boundless enthusiasm alone will cheer up your Monday—or any other day for that matter. “I know the good that happens when I choose to be consciously aware of my state of mind,” explained the woman known as the “Hurricane of Happiness” in episode one. An alumna of Harmony herself, Michael continues to use the tools that were given to her while she was there as a client.
The fuel behind “Monday State of Mind” is her intense desire to “recover out loud” and in the process help others in the same situation. “ At Harmony, I get to help alumni implement the foundation they learned into their daily lives and help show them how to continue to take their power back by creating and living lives that are filled with continuous growth, meaningful connection, service, gratitude, and so much more.”
“Monday State of Mind” means to tackle thought-provoking questions that relate to recovery and how to apply the answers into the daily life of listeners. Michael aims to challenge listeners to ask themselves whether their state of mind is helping them catapult their week forward, or whether it is harming their week.
And when things don’t go your way, you just have to deal with it—appropriately. The week leading up to episode nine reminded Michael to keep it authentic when she realized that her request for listener questions had resulted in zero replies. In typical Michael Arnold fashion, she turned that Monday disappointment around and made it the topic of the episode that followed four episodes about humility after all.
At first, she got anxious and started blaming herself for this “failure.” Destructive, self-defeating thoughts showed up: “Why are you even doing this podcast?” and “No one is listening!” Then her ego chimed in: “Michael, you can’t admit that no one submitted questions. Just make some up!” But she felt fairly uneasy about making things up—she didn’t want to be a fraud. Instead, Michael called a friend who put her straight: “Michael, this is your opportunity to really show what you have been talking about. Your topics are happening to you. You have a great opportunity to be humble to the world and talk about it.”
Michael realized that “in order to change your state of mind you have to make tough decisions to grow. You have to be prepared to be a little uncomfortable.” She understood that she can’t expect listeners to be transparent, truthful, and vulnerable if she is not prepared to be so herself. After all, nobody is perfect and you can’t beat the Monday blues by faking it.
Catch the podcast here: https://stage.harmonyfoundationinc.com/monday-state-of-mind/
Michael Arnold is the co-author of Drowning in Addiction: A Personal Guide to Recovery
Jessica Joiner, LCSW, LAC, has over a decade of experience working with those suffering from addiction, complex trauma, and co-occurring disorders. She uses her experience along with the extensive skills gained to address the many issues that arise for athletes.
In her workshop hosted by Harmony Foundation, Joiner discussed the prevalence of substance misuse among athletes, various ways of identifying “red flags,” and evidence-based interventions that can be helpful in combating the misuse of drugs and alcohol.
As Joiner explained, there are three main reasons athletes misuse substances: pain resulting from injuries, stress from incessant pressure to win, and the desire to enhance performance artificially. Over the years and decades, these reasons have stayed the same but the drugs involved are now more sophisticated than ever, with more options.
The statistics paint a grim picture. Substance misuse is prevalent in high school: approximately 19 percent of males and 14 percent of females binge drink in high school. 21 percent of teens use marijuana and up to 6.6 percent have used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
It gets worse in college where 42 percent of students admit to binge drinking, 28 percent use cannabis, and around 11,000 NCAA athletes admit to taking PEDs. There is a strong correlation between concussions and alcohol use. “Having a concussion is actually predictive for alcohol use,” said Joiner. “If a high school student is entering college with a history of concussion, and we know about the correlation, we could put some measure in place to intervene before things get out of control. We don’t want them to get overwhelmed by the pressure of performing and the grades required to continue.” It’s much better to support them on the front end before things get out of hand.
Should players get drafted into the National Football League, the pain from injuries, the pressure to win, and the temptation to use PEDs get even worse. In the NFL, 51 percent of players use opioids and 71 percent of those athletes admit to misusing them. Many of the pills are not prescribed by medical doctors: 68 percent say they got them from other sources.
It takes only a few days to get addicted to opioids, Joiner warned, and professional athletes have easy access. Professional athletes tend to play through the pain and then “fix it” with opioids and other substances after the game, putting themselves at risk for greater injury and addiction.
Joiner then went over the possible consequences of such risky behavior, which include the impact on performance, health, relationships, and career—and in the worst-case scenario, death.
While substances were initially taken to enhance or maintain performance, escalating use will eventually compromise performance and wreak havoc with the athlete’s health. As is the case for all people with substance use disorder, addiction has “a definite negative impact on relationships.” If there is no intervention and treatment, players may end up with legal problems, a league suspension, or just get kicked off their team.
There are many examples of athletes falling into this trap. Former Boston Celtic Chris Herren struggled with substance misuse for much of his NBA career. While playing for the Celtics, Herren started to use opioid painkillers. In December 2007, he was charged with possession of heroin in Rhode Island and in the following June, Herren overdosed on heroin in Fall River, Massachusetts. According to the attending paramedics, he was clinically dead for 30 seconds.
Abby Wambach—widely considered the best female soccer player ever—was arrested for driving under the influence in 2016. Following the incident, Wambach published an autobiography revealing that she had misused prescription drugs and alcohol for many years.
After going into recovery, Herren started raising awareness of drug addiction and has now spoken to over one million students, athletes, and community members, promoting frank discussions about substance use disorder and wellness.
In the webinar, Joiner, too, stressed the importance of prevention and early intervention to attack this problem. Prevention should include educating everybody involved to raise awareness of mental health issues that often drive substance misuse, so parents, teachers, and coaches learn to recognize red flags. “From the outside, it often looks like they have everything”, explained Joiner. That’s why depression and anxiety disorders are often overlooked. Testing, screening and other interventions should be used in a supportive, not punitive way.
“We should stop just being reactive and be more proactive,” Joiner said. Coaches and trainers of athletes should not wait for a crisis to unfold and athletic programs should provide adequate mental health services for players (and other students). Treatment should not be perceived as punishment for bad behavior but as a concerted effort to heal psychological problems. “We need effective collaboration between therapists, doctors, school departments, and the community that facilitates integrated care,” Joiner said. Currently, too many people fall through the cracks because many athletic departments don’t provide nearly enough mental health professionals. Ultimately, a culture shift is required: our society’s approach to athletic injuries and mental illness needs to change significantly and we need more trauma-informed and stigma-free care—and not only for athletes.
Colorado drug addiction program is celebrating it’s 50th Anniversary with a new intensive outpatient program with a unique twist and a Fort Collins Recovery Center. Gala celebrating milestone was held Oct 25 in Denver with special guest Carnie Wilson of Wilson Phillips. Continue reading “Harmony Foundation Announces Second Major Expansion During Its 50th Year”