I’m pleased today to be joined with Young People in Recovery, Ell Fabricius, who’s the Denver chapter leader, and Emily Burks, Colorado program coordinator. Welcome. So good to have you both here on a beautiful summer day in Estes Park, Colorado. Really glad that you’re here and really happy to talk to you all about YPR and what you all do. I just learned today at lunch that it’s a Colorado-based organization. I had no idea. You all are national, which is even cooler. We’re going to get into learning about YPR in a minute, but we want to learn a little bit about both of you. Let’s start with you first, Ell. What is it that got you connected with YPR?
EF: I am currently enrolled for school in human services with addiction studies. I actually started with YPR as an intern. Then, about a month into my internship, there was an opening for the Denver chapter lead. I applied for that position and it’s been awesome since. I just have been planning all the events and everything like that. For just Denver. Then the all recovery meetings as well.
We’re going to talk a little bit about the structure of YPR, because I think you guys have used a different bit of language that I’m not familiar with as far as chapter leaders and teams and things like that. I want to learn a little bit about that too. Emily, how about you? What got you connected with YPR?
EB: My background is in mental health. I’ve worked with children and adolescents affected by trauma for the majority of my career. But I have a family who has been deeply affected by addiction. Upon moving to Colorado, I found YPR and felt a big pull to the work that they do. It’s been a learning curve because it’s not doing direct care. I manage the program and I manage the grant that funds our programs and our chapters. I’m learning a lot. I’m also feeling like I’m getting to work with the recovery community, which is a population I feel really passionate about.
I’m with you. I’m not a person in recovery, but I have family and friends that have been affected by the disease. For me, it was a huge learning curve when I came into the field 10 years ago. First there’s that whole fear of, what can I possibly contribute? Because I’m not a person in recovery. I think we all realize, and your shirt says it beautifully … Tell me. It says, “I love someone in recovery.”
EB: It says, “I love someone in recovery,” because I do. I have lots of someones. We have a link to our shop where you can purchase different shirts. This one’s for allies and family members. Then we have ones that also say, “This is what recovery looks like,” for people in recovery. There’s a couple of different options on our website that you can purchase them through.
That’s the kind of thing that I love about being in the recovery space with folks is that you don’t have to be in recovery per se. Although I do think what I hear is that everyone’s in recovery from something. I’m excited to hear more about the structure of how YPR works. Before I talk with you, Ell, about this idea of recovery-ready communities, let me ask you, Emily, when someone wants to approach YPR as part of getting involved, can you describe a little bit around the organizational structure of what YPR is and what does that involvement look like?
EB: I would say the foundation, the real heart of our organization, is our chapters. Those are all of our community-based groups that are across the country. We have 37 different chapters from coast to coast. I think we have seven in Colorado right now. If someone wants to get involved, then they would just use our website to find the chapter that’s closest to them. They could come to a meeting or a social event. If they felt called to join the organization in terms of being a volunteer, then they would talk to the chapter lead. They could connect that way. We like to prioritize hiring people who are in recovery themselves too, to give people leadership opportunities and opportunities to get back to their community too. Always looking for good leaders, and oftentimes those do come out of people who are involved with the chapters too. I really like that flow to our organization as well. I think that there’s a lot of value and a lot of opportunity to learn when we have so many people who have had real time firsthand experiences with substance use disorder who are doing the work alongside us.
Which is a great segue into this concept around you all are building these communities of support for folks in recovery, whether they’re early in recovery or even later in recovery. Ell, your focus as a Denver lead is to really create these recovery-ready communities. You talk a little bit about that on the website as well. What does that mean to be recovery-ready?
EF: For a recovery-ready community ideally would be affordable and equal treatment for everybody, stable quality housing for people in recovery, equal educational opportunities, financial literacy and understanding that. Then, our biggest I think would be our pushing towards recovery messaging, which is changing the language of how we address people who have substance use disorder, trying to remove words like calling them, saying that you are an addict, and instead referring to yourself as someone that’s in substance use disorder.
That’s big, because I know that there’s a lot of people that struggle with the idea of being identified as an addict or alcoholic versus a person in long-term recovery, because it feels very … it feels negative. I know that that’s based deeply trenched in some of the 12-step communities where they really still focus on that. But I have heard more and more of a movement happening, maybe with the younger generation, where they’re moving away from that.
EB: I think that’s where we’re seeing it a lot. Because we really emphasize the importance of feeling empowered in your recovery and being able to live a self-directed life. If you’re speaking about yourself and you’re speaking about your recovery from a really empowered stance, other people who may have certain perceptions and certain negative connotations of people in recovery, they witness you talking about your experience in a really positive and a really empowered way, then it shifts this whole social mindset of what it means for someone who has substance use disorder who’s in recovery from substance use disorder. That’s really what we’re looking to get everyone on board too. Not just people who have been directly impacted. Because you can’t exist in society and not be impacted. It’s everywhere. Looking to have that kind of shift in social consciousness is really important for us. Giving people the tools and the language to say, “Hey, if that’s how you identify, that’s cool.” We’re not going to say, “Go reinvent the wheel when it comes to your own recovery.” But also consider these alternatives to how that feels for you and how that feels when you’re engaging with other people too.
EF: I was going to say, a lot of it is focusing on the positive side of recovery rather than the struggles that you’ve faced. It’s more of. let’s not focus on all the negative and let’s focus on the positivity that recovery has brought you rather than the negative from substance use disorder.
It makes so much sense. Then your concept around these recovery-ready communities, we talked a little bit about this at lunch in regards to creating a culture and a community where people can do the basic life skills that a lot of them have forgotten how to do in their disease. Absolutely. We’ve learned over time, even in addiction treatment, that sometimes we forget about connecting the dots. That’s why a lot of folks are now starting to introduce these recovery coaches who can teach people. You have a sober living that you’re going to live in over here and your IOP is down the road, but you don’t have a vehicle to get there. Somebody forgot to talk about the bus line.
EB: Those dots are not connected.
How do you help people in early recovery even grocery shop and recognize that Red Bull and Cheetos is not the best option for you in early recovery. What about let’s take you to the grocery store and teach you basic life skills?
EB: Go to the produce section.
I talk to a lot of people in early recovery who say when they slip, not necessarily relapse, but when they slip, it’s because it’s the early life skill stuff that they didn’t learn. What you all are creating I think is brilliant around how do you help create that safety net for people in early recovery. I think that’s fantastic. One of the things that you all are also known for, I guess, is the work that you’re doing around advocacy. It ties into the recovery-ready communities because so much of what you’re talking about as far as affordable housing and job skill training and even equality in finding good jobs, how does YPR create an advocacy role in addressing those issues?
EB: It looks different based on different chapters across the country too. I know in Pennsylvania our chapter there has been doing a lot of great work in terms of lobbying for legislation to be passed around housing and different having expectations for what sober living looks like and making sure that those are safe places for people who are just starting out in their recovery, because like that’s step one is having that safe environment. What that looks like just on a day-to-day basis for us too is just having conversations with people, just like right now, of what people need in order to be successful in their recovery. I know Denver was talking in past months about a safe use site, and that’s been tabled for now but that’s something that we feel really passionate about. The access to Narcan for people. We have a contract with Signal, which we’re really proud of, so we’re able to give Narcan and do training for people too so we can be saving people’s lives. Those are the two things I think are Denver-specific that I think really take the forefront.
But then the housing, access to education, all of that too, people don’t think that they’re tied to recovery but they totally are. Again, they’re those basic fundamental things that everyone should be entitled to. Just because you’ve struggled with substance use disorder doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve to have these pillars of living an empowered and successful life. At least have the opportunity to access those things. Otherwise, it’s like you’re swimming upstream.
I agree with you. It’s great to know that there’s somebody advocating at the state level here in Colorado around those kinds of things because sometimes there’s a forgotten voice. There’s so many other things that are going on in the political arena. To know that there’s somebody up there making those decisions and helping us advocate for parity and equality and some of the other issues that I know a lot of people in early recovery really struggle with.
We were even recently having a conversation with a friend of ours who works for a state-based organization too around creating a warning system around fentanyl for people who are still actively using and what that would look like in the community and how we can alert people when there are deadly amounts of fentanyl and other substances that are killing people senselessly. That’s something I think that I would like to do more work around with our partners too because I think that that’s a really good idea and I think it’s really, really important.
You probably get this a lot. I know I asked the question today as far as YPR, Young People in Recovery. It’s a great group, but the names sometimes can be a little misleading. Because the assumption is, is that YPR is just for young adults and people that are almost millennial types. What is that? Is that true?
EF: No. That’s not the case. The organization was started by young individuals. That was what the name was chosen for. But we serve people of all ages. If you are in recovery, seeking recovery support, the recovery lifestyle, we welcome you with open arms. You do not … I like to emphasize the seeking recovery, because I think a lot of people think that they have to be sober to come. That’s not the case. Even if recovery sounds like it could be something you’re interested in, we will welcome you with open arms. Any age, any demographic.
EB: You could be 85 years old. If you think that recovery might be for you. I don’t want you cruising up trying to preach some outdated ideas and all that. But, at the same time, there’s always something to be learned from different generations and having people interact from that perspective is really neat.
I think so too. I think that’s great. Let’s talk a little bit about both of you and getting to know the people behind the program. Ell, if I were to give you an opportunity to put a saying or quote on a billboard that you would want the world to know, what would you want them to know?
EF: It is actually a quote by Buddha. It is, “No matter how hard the past, you can always begin again.” Because I feel, especially in recovery, so often it’s easy to just sit and dwell on your past and think about all the past demons and everything. It’s easy to forget that you are able to be whoever you wanted to be, starting today. Everything that happened in the past, you do not have to forget it. Your past can be super hard and that is all still completely valid. But that does not mean that you do not deserve to make your future everything that you want it to be. You don’t have to be stuck just in the hard times that you have already overcome.
But by what you want your future to look like. I like that. Thank you for sharing that. Emily, if I were to offer up the word harmony, what do you think it means to live a life in harmony?
EB: That’s a good one. I think harmony is peaceful coexistence. It’s not one way is the right way. It’s everyone supporting each other and being a community and having the beautiful gift of diversity and being able to celebrate differences in that. That’s something that I think that we’re constantly striving for. It’s not seeing that us-versus-them approach. It’s having these recovery-ready communities as being able to have people in recovery feel like they are part of the society, not separate and isolated from society. When I hear harmony, that’s what I think of.
It’s a great parallel to what you’ve talked about as far as what YPR is also about, which is really cool. I think that’s great. Thank you for sharing that. Just to wrap up, our last question, if someone was listening to this podcast today and they wanted to access services at YPR, how could they get in touch with you?
EF: The easiest way would be to go to our website, which is youngpeopleinrecovery.org. You can click for link with all of our chapters and click on the chapter location closest to you and send an email. Also, if someone is looking for one in the Denver, Denver Metro Area, my phone number is 720-666-4699. If I cannot serve them in the Denver, I do have contact with the other Denver Metro chapters and we can get it linked up or anyone in Colorado I can help get linked up.
Perfect. Perfect way to end it. Thank you both so much for coming out today, It’s been a pleasure learning about all of you.