Our country is in the middle of a drug epidemic that’s claiming hundreds of lives each day. The mounting death toll caused by overdose and addiction is reaching alarming heights that America has never seen before, and it’s not expected to slow anytime soon. But in the midst of the crisis, September’s Recovery Month serves as a reminder that not all addiction stories have to end in tragedy. As long as you are alive, recovery is possible. Maeve O’Neill is just one example of the many Americans who have dedicated their careers to helping those suffering from addiction find success in long-term recovery. As the Vice President of Compliance at Vertava Health, Maeve’s priority is making sure clients receive safe and effective care that provides them with a strong foundation for life after treatment. With almost 30 years of experience in the addiction treatment field, Maeve shares some insights on what makes long-term recovery possible.
Do you think there are definitive steps to recovery?
I believe that everyone has a unique recovery story. With that being said, there are definite challenges and obstacles that are similar across many people in recovery. One of the biggest challenges I see clients in recovery facing is resuming their new life without substances after treatment. People get home and they often don’t know how to cope with uncomfortable emotions or stressors while also remaining sober. Incorporating what people learned in treatment into their life after is the biggest shared challenges I see among those in recovery. [middle-callout]
What can someone do to set themselves up for the best chance of long-term recovery?
There is no magical time limit to recovery, but we do know a couple of things that work for most clients across the board. Clients need to continually engage with an aftercare program or some sort of recovery resource like the “A Balanced Life” program. They also need to follow the recommendations of their doctors and therapists. Last but not least, those in recovery need to find some sort of support system- whether that be family or a support group in their community. Support is imperative to recovery. I think another big thing those in recovery can do for themselves is realize and accept that life after treatment is going to be tough. There are good days, but there are also bad days. And unfortunately, not everyone is going to support their recovery. People will shame and judge those in recovery for what they’ve been through. The best thing treatment professionals can do to prepare their clients to handle these situations is talk about them. If we acknowledge the challenges of recovery, we can put measures in place to help our clients overcome them. At Vertava Health, we also invest resources in staff development, training and wellbeing to improve our quality of care and client outcomes.
Is relapse a part of recovery?
Yes and no. Not everyone is going to relapse during their recovery, but relapse can happen. The goal is to catch it early and have a plan in place to help support clients and their families if or when relapse happens. This way, if they think about using or start using again they know what to do or who to reach out to. What we don’t want is to stigmatize or shame someone for relapsing.
Speaking of family, how important is the family in recovery?
Family support is critical. I think treatment facilities need to do more to educate and support families throughout recovery. It’s not that the family doesn’t want to help, most of the time they just don’t know how to. No one is inherently born with the skills to support a loved one through recovery, and that’s where treatment centers should step in. Treatment centers need to help families understand how to talk about addiction treatment and recovery with their loved ones so that everyone involved feels accepted and is receiving the support they need. I love family programs for prevention education, and also to encourage family members to seek help and treatment if they need it.
Do you find that recovery from alcohol vs other drugs is different?
It can look and feel different during the detox and withdrawal period. Once that’s over and the actual healing process has begun, I tend to think that recovery from different substances is pretty similar. There is no way to determine which substance is easier or harder to recover from. I think that is based off of a number of other factors including the overall health of the client before or after recovery. What I can tell you is this, recovery is truly a mind and body experience. I love all of this new research on the benefits of exercise, sleep hygiene, mindfulness and meditation. If someone approaches recovery as a mind and body journey, it doesn’t matter what substance they were using- it will make a positive impact on their recovery.
What is the biggest misconception about addiction treatment and recovery?
That treatment is a fix-all for addiction. It is not. Those in recovery have to work just as hard, if not harder after treatment to resume their life without substances. At the end of the day, long-term recovery is about finding a way to manage the everyday tasks, like school, work or marriage, with recovery goals.
How has addiction treatment and recovery changed since you’ve been in the field?
I would say that we’re much more holistic in our approach to recovery now. What was once seen as a luxury, is now seen as an absolutely necessary part of recovery. To heal brains and bodies we have to address them with all different tools. Before, we would recommend something as basic as going to support meetings as aftercare. Now we have the ability to say: “Find what works for you, and do that.” It could be going to a meeting, going to a doctor or therapist, doing a reading, trying an education course or taking a yoga class. Whatever it is, we now allow clients to create a recovery plan that works uniquely for them. And look, if you have to come back to treatment, then you have to come back. There’s no shame in that. A lot of the time clients will leave treatment only to realize that there are things they didn’t address while they were there. Leaving the door open is super important- and we’re much better at that now than we used to be