No Two Stories are Exactly the Same, But Everyone is Coming to the Table

February 23, 2018

“I am the National Director of Outreach and Engagement with Facing Addiction.”

Facing Addiction is a new organization launched in October 2015 at a big benefit concert in Washington, D.C. Our mission is to unify the voices of the 45 million Americans and their families who are directly impacted by addiction.  Today, when overdoses are overtaking car crashes as the number one cause of preventable death, we want to bring everyone under one tent—the recovery community, treatment providers, family support groups, criminal justice reform advocates, public health practitioners—everyone.

I think of my work as a three-legged stool.  The first leg is working to grow our coalition of partnering organizations into an effective network.  Right now we have 770 organizational partners around the country, with a collective reach of 30 million people.  The second leg is the grassroots and advocacy engagement piece and we’ve just launched a new project called Our Communities.  The idea is to reach into communities and train directly impacted people and their families in community organizing.  We have a goal of training 1,000 community organizers who will then have the skills and resources to fight for evidence-based policies and practices in their community.   And the third leg of the stool is working with our partners and activists at the national level to implement Facing Addiction’s five Action Items contained in our Action Plan, one of which is, “Suffering from Addiction is Not a Crime – Reforming Public Safety Responses.”  We know that we are not going to arrest our way out of the addiction problem.

I’m the kind of guy who once upon a time on paper looked like I had the perfect life.  I’m a college educated white male in America.  I had a career as a professional political organizer, I owned a house, and I had a marriage.  I was climbing the career ladder, going from a local organizer to running statewide political campaigns and eventually managing the State Senate Democratic Caucus in Washington State.  The picture looked great, but the internal reality was that addiction was taking hold of my life. Alcohol and gambling came to dominate everything and eventually led to the behaviors and actions that led to my incarceration. During my time in prison I got to know so many men who had addiction as part of their story.  It just opened my eyes and made me ask, “Why are we here?  Prison isn’t a treatment center.”   I developed a passion for the issue of mass incarceration and addiction while I was incarcerated.

When I got out I was in recovery, but I was ineligible to work in my previous field. So I started to think, “Man, if there was some way to merge my personal passion for recovery with my professional passion for organizing what a dream life that could become.”  Through a series of connections,   I contacted Greg Williams who was in the early stages of launching a new national organization called Facing Addiction.  And the rest is history, as they say.  I feel like I have the best job in the addiction field because I get to work with people from all over the country who are just doing such amazing and inspiring work.  On any given day I can talk to a prevention professional in Texas, a recovery advocate in Ohio, a criminal justice reform advocate in California, and an affected family in Massachusetts.  Everybody comes to the table with their own experience, and no two stories are exactly the same, but everyone is coming to the table.  To see those different personal experiences blending together into one movement with a common goal is like watching a masterpiece painting getting made right in front of you.  It’s a beautiful thing thing!

To say that I was blown away by my first Leading with Conviction forum would be an understatement.  I was excited to go back to work because I was so inspired by the work of the 33 other leaders in our cohort.  I can’t believe we get to do this three more times over the course of the year.  I have felt for a long time that I was a decent leader, but I know I have the ability to grow so much more.   I may think I’m pretty good, but I can still be a heck of a lot better and learn so much from the other people.  I’m very grateful!

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