Back in 1988 (or maybe it was 1987), Smokey “The Cab Driver” Orcutt handed me a beeper, also known as a pager. Some of you might remember beepers.
I was brand spanking new in recovery and Smokey ran the alcohol and drug program at Rockville General Hospital in Connecticut. He was a powerful influence in the recovery community. He served as my first sponsor. His version of coaching recovery was interesting and memorable. He believed strongly in letting people figure it out for themselves.
The tactic he used on me was to recruit me to volunteer at Rockville General Hospital. After I went through the badging process, he handed me a beeper. His intense training regimen consisted of giving me one instruction, just one.
“When the beeper goes off, call the number on it.”
That was it. I had heard from some of the other volunteers about their Emergency Room work (it was known as a room back then, not a department) to introduce others to AA. But I didn’t put the two together – the beeper and being on call. I’m not too bright.
Sure enough, the beeper beeps at 2:00 am. I groggily tried to figure out what the noise was. I saw the light on my nightstand. I stumbled to our touch-tone phone, and called the number. A woman answers.
“Rockville General Hospital Emergency Room, how can I help you?”
“Um, My name is Phil. Um, the beeper just went off.”
“Oh great. We have a live one here. Think you could come down and talk with him?”
“What? Now? Um… okay.”
I drove a short way to the Emergency Room where a nurse directed me to an intoxicated man. He was slightly irritated, slightly belligerent. Unsure and anxious, somehow I managed to calm him down. That’s what I was there for.
Looking back, I’m also not sure where Smokey got the idea. It might have been his; but there was a guy in Manchester who was doing it too. There was also a guy, last name Bailey I believe, who may have been doing it even earlier in Yale New Haven hospital. There were probably others that I am not aware of.
The emergency room volunteers amazed me. They had many more years of recovery than I and were clearly very skilled and comfortable working with people under the influence. They were gifted. The hospital staff loved them. They eased the workload and de-escalated potentially volatile situations. Smokey had a knack to find these people. He obviously saw something in me that I did not see in myself. I served as a volunteer with Rockville General Hospital for a couple more years. I helped out in the program, but didn’t ask for the beeper too often. Some part of me knew I wasn’t as skilled and equipped as others. I only had a couple of tools in my belt – some limited knowledge of 28-day treatment programs and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Plus, being new in recovery and not as seasoned as the other volunteers, I found serving in the emergency room frightening and intimidating.
Yet, it was also clear that by serving in this particular capacity, the volunteer’s personal recovery solidified. I wanted to be as confident as them. I wanted to be of service like them. All those volunteer coaches I personally knew then are either still living in recovery or died sober. They are testament to the power of service, especially to sustain recovery.
The program was incredibly effective. Decades later, many people attribute their recovery to a visit from these volunteers. However, the Rockville General Hospital program was gradually phased out once Smokey retired and new administrators came along who were unwilling to manage the risk. The program had a permanent impact on me.
I have not forgotten.
I started with CCAR in January 1999 and for nearly 18 years I persistently told the story about Smokey and his Rockville General Hospital emergency room volunteers. A couple of years ago, I told the story again at the Connecticut Alcohol and Drug Policy Council meeting. People of influence heard and to their credit took a risk and asked CCAR to implement an Emergency Department Recovery Coaching (EDRC) program. We started in 3 hospitals and less than 2 years later we have signed Memorandums Of Understanding (MOU) with 14 Emergency Departments. CCAR has a team of incredibly dedicated, inspirational, and skilled Recovery Coach Professionals leading this healing movement. Bill White helped us write a piece about the EDRC program that he posted here.
In the first 18 months, CCAR coaches fielded 1,845 calls generated by 1,573 individuals. That’s a lot of people. 93% of the time, the coaches are able to connect people to ongoing care for their addiction. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) has been so inspired and motivated by the CCAR EDRC program that he introduced recovery coach provisions in a federal opioid bill.
I’ve learned a lot as the EDRC program evolves.
- We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.
- Give back what we have been so freely given. Lives are redeemed when we do.
- If you trust your coaches and equip them with appropriate tools, they become a legendary healing force.
- Perseverance pays off. 18 years telling the same story now bears additional fruit.
- It is my profound joy to support and lift others to do the work they were created and gifted to complete.
I encourage our recovery coaches, in all times and in all places, to… Continue.
In 2015, I finished a thruhike of the entire Appalachian Trail, a trek of 2,189.2 miles. It took 189 days and 6 pairs of boots. During all that time alone with my Creator, my purpose in life became more precisely defined. I am, simply, to coach recovery. Recovery saved me from an early demise and brought purpose to my tattered life. I have learned that I’m a coach to my very core. I am blessed to put the two together. I started work at the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR) in 1999. I became the Executive Director of this recovery community organization in 2004. I have trained the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy© dozens of times and have a hand in modifying, improving and adapting various recovery coach curricula. I’m old enough now to start considering my legacy. This is a way for me to share things I have learned in my recovery, in my role as Executive Director and a trainer. I find that when I speak I present the same messages over and over. It’s time to write them down.
Phil “Right Click” Valentine
Recovery established 12.28.87