Recovery coaching provides hope after addiction
▪ by Michael Walsh
Sarah* remembers the exact moment she wanted her life to change. It was a Saturday, and she woke up groggy after another “heavy session” of drinking the night before.
As she peeled open her eyes and brought the clock into focus, she realized she had, once again, missed her son’s medical appointment that morning. It was the seventh time this had happened.
Later, as she lay in bed checking her phone, she stumbled across Recovery Coach Michael Walsh in Victoria. She saw it as a sign. After one conversation, she booked him on the spot.
Today, Sarah is approaching six months sober.
Recovery Coaching is becoming an increasingly popular trend in the world of substance use and addictions support, yet it remains an underutilized resource in Canada. While traditional acute treatment options focus on the immediate and sometimes urgent need of addictive behavioural change, Recovery Coaching is designed for people who want to stop drinking or using drugs, but need help to create and follow through with a long-term recovery plan.
Like others in her position, Sarah had been flirting with the idea that she had a problem, but didn’t think she showed the typical traits. Her life was “together,” she kept demanding work hours, and she managed her family. Yet, from the time she was 18, she would often drink until she fell asleep in front of the TV each night. Alcohol was her escape from reality and her social lubricant. Sometimes, she would go out on a bender with friends. Often, booze was part of her work-related duties, from client dinners to conventions out of town.
“I needed alcohol — every single night,” Sarah says. “I wanted it to change, but I would never sit in a support group with others and talk about my problems. I’m a private person and I didn’t want formal treatment.”
This was a theme Walsh kept hearing in his work in the addictions field.
“It takes so much courage to get yourself in a position to seek assistance, that additional barriers make this decision even harder. I saw a need, and I wanted that to be addressed.”
Walsh moved into Recovery Coaching to offer one-on-one support and a safe route for executives and other clientele uncomfortable with public group recovery networks and who required absolute discretion.
Another theme Walsh noticed in the recovery process was clients leaving treatment facilities with a continuing care plan — or sometimes without one — only to lack the accountability of working alongside someone to ensure success. This is where Recovery Coaching is most effective.
“The field is certainly shifting its emphasis to long-term recovery maintenance efforts,” says Walsh.
Approximately 80 per cent of people relapse within their first year of discharge from an addiction treatment centre, and 9 out of 10 relapse within the first 90 days. Working with a Recovery Coach can significantly reduce the risk of relapse and can promote long-term recovery.
Using the core principals of a collaborative strength-based approach, Walsh has dedicated his practice to building personalized, private and accountable plans that keep the transition into a life without substances manageable and moving forward. Recovery Coaching is an all-levels resource. Whether someone is coming directly out of an in-patient treatment facility or exploring recovery for the first time, Walsh engages clients at any stage of addictive behavioural change and supports them all the way through their journey. Each session is conducted by phone or Skype.
“Coaches don’t tell you the answer; they can only ask you questions and help you figure out your own answers,” says Melanie Jordan, CEO of Sunshine Coast Health Center rehab in Powell River. “We have this idea that becoming sober means everything will be great, but it’s hard. That’s where Michael comes in. He’s there to work through all the things that will come up now that you don’t have your coping mechanism.”
Walsh is no stranger to the struggles with substance use and addiction, nor to the double life it can create while trying to build a successful career. He began experimenting at a young age, then developed an addiction that cost him jobs, friendships and even his self worth. Now over a decade free of substances, his lived experience, successful recovery and his work in acute-care addiction treatment is important to those who choose to work with him — he’s been in their shoes.
“There is no one-size-fits-all recovery,” says Walsh. “Addictions and problematic substance use is as individual as the solution.”
Because Walsh knows the time between coaching sessions can pose some of the hardest and most vulnerable moments, he does more than just tailor a plan that’s focused on long-term recovery and relapse prevention. Walsh provides text messaging, email and telephone support between sessions. These services have dramatically improved his clients’ success rates — clients, like Sarah, who continue to see their lives change.
“It’s relatively easy to quit using substances,” Walsh says. “The challenging part is learning how to live without them — and that is my specialty.”
* Name has been changed to protect client’s identity.