How Harmony Survived the 2020 East Troublesome Fire
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.”
COVID-19: Keep Connecting During The Pandemic
The current global coronavirus pandemic has presented serious challenges for people in recovery from addiction. Self-isolation, the threat of unemployment, no access to 12-Step meetings, and deep anxiety about an invisible disease spreading across the country—these are all possible relapse triggers.
While these risks should certainly not be underestimated, they could also be treated as an opportunity to strengthen recovery efforts.
“We are clearly facing a very difficult situation at the moment but just like everything else in life, this too shall pass,” says Michael Arnold, alumni community relations manager at Harmony. “I believe we now have a great opportunity to work on ourselves while also being of service and reaching out to help others.”
Connection is crucial for a sustained recovery and nothing disconnects like a lockdown in a pandemic—or does it? With stay-at-home orders across the US, meetings and counseling sessions for those who struggle with addiction have now largely moved online.
“With the help of modern technology, we have the chance to be more connected than ever before,” says Arnold. “The time COVID-19 is giving us at home is actually the greatest gift that our recovery can receive. If you are concerned about being isolated at home, pick up the phone, tablet, or use your computer to reach out to someone. When we choose to connect with people we are helping our own recovery just as much as we are helping the person on the other end of the link-up.”
These types of resources are incredibly valuable right now, say addiction professionals, mental health counselors, and individuals in recovery from substance use disorders. “The peer support group means so much to me,” says Harmony alumna, Spring B. “It’s essential for recovery especially in this period of time to stay connected. It’s super nice to see all the alumni. This group gives me an invisible link to people that understand and support me.”
If you are unsure how to proceed, Alcoholics Anonymous has provided a web page devoted to online options. Narcotics Anonymous offers similar information on its website.
“I don’t know what I would have done if I had been in this situation when we didn’t have access to virtual meetings,” a New Yorker who participates in Alcoholics Anonymous told CNBC. The 26-year-old woman from Brooklyn was 62 days sober at the time and planning to attend 90 meetings in her first 90 days of sobriety. She said a recent meeting she attended through video conferencing had over 1,000 participants.
“It’s so cool that technology enables us to attend meetings with friends in recovery that do not live anywhere close to us,” says Harmony’s Michael Arnold. “Even while we are physically isolated, we have the opportunity to be of great service to one another. When we come together, we can recover. I invite you to see this present moment of crisis as the best time to work on your recovery. Embrace this pause in life and fully engage in your journey of recovery.”
Harmony Foundation continues to serve clients during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak and is taking new precautions to ensure staff and client safety. These include strict hand-washing protocols, heightened and ongoing disinfection of all areas at facilities, as well as updated admission assessments to consider previous travel, potential exposure, and health status. All new admissions will have additional medical screening upon campus arrival.
Upper Limit Problem: Smashing through our self-imposed glass ceiling by Khara Croswaite Brindle
Remember when we explored if we’d quit something before it could go wrong? How you’ve ended a relationship before you could get hurt? We identified these as examples of self-sabotage, which can strike at any moment when we feel that things are gaining momentum in a positive way. But what happens when you achieve the success you’ve always wanted and now, instead of joy, you feel doubt and dread, fearing it is too good to last? Because of this fear, perhaps you desire to remain safe in your career trajectory, creating your own glass ceiling because it pays the bills and supports stability. You choose comfort rather than taking risks that would allow you to reach your fullest potential. Gay Hendricks calls putting on the breaks when our success has exceeded what we thought it could as The Upper Limit Problem, described in detail in his book “The Big Leap.”
Signs you have an Upper Limit Problem
It’s understandable that we struggle with success in thinking it’s too good to be true. Awareness of our reactions to success and the resulting negative thoughts and unconscious self-sabotaging behaviors can be considered a first step in recognizing the problem and identifying viable solutions! Here are some signs that you might be experiencing an Upper Limit Problem:
- You avoid taking risks
- You can’t slow down
- You can’t enjoy your successes due to fear and doubt
- You prevent change in wanting stability
- You love your comfort zone
- You feel uncomfortable with too many successes at once
- You get stressed and sick when experiencing rapid growth
Smashing through your Upper Limit Problem
For many, illness in response to stressors or fear of success in a big part of their Upper Limit Problem. So now that you know what you are experiencing, what can you do about it? Here are some ideas that might help:
- Identify positive affirmations such as “I’m right where I should be.” “I’ve worked hard for this success.” “I deserve good things.”
- Engage your supports. Talk to others you trust about the stress you are feeling in the face of your achievements.
- Practice mindfulness. Engage in mindfulness and meditation practices to reinforce positive vibes and refocus.
- Slow down. Take breaks for self-care and rest up to prevent illness.
By recognizing the signs of your Upper Limit Problem and exploring possible responses, you can remove self-sabotaging behaviors and fully surrender to your success, allowing yourself to enjoy your accomplishments and continue to thrive in the possibilities of your future.
“The goal in life is not to attain some imaginary ideal; it is to find and fully use our own gifts.”
Khara Croswaite Brindle, MA, LPC, ACS, is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Lowry Neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. She received her Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver with a focus on community based mental health. Khara has experience working with at-risk youth and families, including collaboration with detention, probation, and the Department of Human Services. Khara enjoys working with young adults experiencing anxiety, depression, trauma, relational conflict, self-esteem challenges, and life transitions.