“Recovery in a Turbulent Time”

Russ Wilson was a close, personal friend of CCAR and Executive Director Phil Valentine. He was a father, a son, a brother, a friend, a proud man in recovery,
and a true inspiration to so many.
Unfortunately, Russ passed away suddenly and unexpectedy June 28th, 2014 at the age of 55 years old.
To commemorate the loss of such a valued member of the recovery community, and to celebrate Russ’s passion for writing, CCAR sponsors an annual writing contest and rewards authors with a cash prize in his honor.


To Enter:
Compose an original 1500 (max) word essay that supports this year’s theme. Submit your essay to essaycontest@ccar.us or mail it to 75 Charter Oak Avenue 1-305 Hartford CT, 06106 (Attn: Essay Contest) by the submission deadline 12/28/20.
See complete contest rules for official submission guidelines, eligibility and judging criteria.

Contest Theme:
Between a global pandemic, divisive political arena, social and civil unrest, and more 2020 has proven to be a challenging year. This years contest theme is “Recovery in a turbulent time”.

Winners will be announced on January 15 at 10am via CCAR’s Facebook Page and awarded the following prizes:

  • 1st Place: $500
  • 2nd Place: $250
  • 3rd Place: $100


Submission Guidelines:
Contest begins at 12:01 am EST on November 17, 2020 (Russ Wilson’s sober anniversary) and runs through 11:59 pm EST on December 28, 2020 (Phil Valentines sober anniversary). Submissions must be typed, double-spaced, and must not exceed 1,500 words. Essays exceeding this length or handwritten may not be considered.   Microsoft Documents are preferred, however, we will also consider essays that are pasted into the body of the email submission. Be sure to include your name, address, and phone number in the body of the e-mail and on the attached essay itself.

Submissions can be emailed to essaycontest@ccar.us or mailed to 75 Charter Oak Avenue Hartford, CT 06106 Attn: Essay Contest Submission.  Each e-mail submission will receive a return message verifying that the essay was received. Please be aware that due to the volume of submissions, we cannot send verification that we have received your specific submission by mail.. All submitted essays must be original works of nonfiction.  Void where prohibited by law.  Entries will not be returned

Anyone can submit an essay.  You do not have to be in personal recovery. CCAR staff, Board and their family members are NOT eligible. . Russ’ family members, CCAR staff and selected individuals from the recovery community will select the winners.  Winning essays, and parts of essays, will be used by CCAR to promote recovery through social media, featured on our podcast, website and printed material.

Judging criteria:
Originality (25% percent), creativity (25% percent), use of language (25% percent) and appropriateness to contest theme (25% percent). No supporting materials will be considered, and they cannot be returned to you if you choose to send. Here are a few pointers from the people who will judge the contest:

Stick to the contest theme, double check your spelling, avoid cliché’s, don’t submit your first draft- it takes a lot of work to craft an award- winning essay.


“"That moment, late (…) Friday afternoon with sunlight still coming in the west windows and another hour of daylight left; when, at the end of the soul-numbing, relentless winter, you understand, with the light, airy half of the year just begun and the trudged-out, slogging half just behind; you know on this first whole day of spring, that green trees, birdsongs, warm bright mornings, cool quiet evenings, are all not only possible, but imminent. Here's to THAT moment."”

Russ WilsonFacebook Post March 21, 2014

2020 Winning Essays

1st Place Winner- 2020 Russ Wilson Essay Contest:

Name: Meghann Perry of Bridgewater, MA
Title:The Sand Shifts Under My Feet”

The ocean sings her song to me and the sand shifts under my feet, the water stealing little threads from between each toe, pulling and tugging this way and that, drawing the ground almost imperceptibly away from under me. I know this familiar pull, this incremental theft of footing, this call of darker water that thrums just beyond my reach. It curls around my heels and over the tops of my feet, caressing me, seducing me, a shrouded muse that seeks to draw me in and lure me from solid ground.

It seems I’ve always stood here, in some way, tethered to the push/pull of the ocean as if a vast sandbar of shifting ground and the constant motion of the water and tides could ever be claimed as a home. This shifting, this changing, this call, is as much a part of me as my heart, or the people that I’ve loved, or the things that I’ve lost (or the music of an entire life held close in my body).

It’s as much a part of me as sandy sandwiches and cuts on tender feet from hidden razor clams. A part of me like wind-burnt skin and salty hair. Like long days at the beach broken by dark afternoon thunderstorms sweeping in quickly that send us screeching and racing home to watch from the porch, fascinated by the dark power of the storm, our grilled cheese sandwiches slimy in our chubby, clutching hands. It’s a part of me like the middle school angst and faltering attempts at love played out on the sand against the distant pattern of the lighthouse signal offshore: “1 – 4 – 3,” flashing out across the ocean over and over as our exaggerated dramas endlessly repeat on the beach. As much a part of me as angry teenage drives to the winter sea wall to lean silhouetted into the wind as it lashes and stings me and thrashes my clothes tight against my body, threatening to steal me and me, trying desperately to feel something bigger than my emotions trying to swallow me whole, ever tempted to answer the call.

I left the ocean at seventeen and moved to the mountains, drifting through college on a magic carpet of beer bottles and ash, Ecstasy and sorrow, and broken promises I made to myself. I crashed into the mountain trees again and again, flopping and floundering, unable to break free from the gripping branches. My legs kicked and dangled, a thousand kite strings tied around my ankles, their threads tying me a thousand ways to an old and tired heart that I wanted so badly to be rid of but instead dragged around behind me, trapped in a hopeless tangle of knots.

I spent years away from the ocean, tangled in trees then tripping on concrete, always catching a sneakered toe in sidewalk cracks and chain-link fences, my ripped-knee jeans exposing the pebbles embedded in raw red flesh, thrashing through a haze of needles and bent spoons that felt like drowning. I made occasional attempts to return to the shifting changing sand of home with painful and infrequent appearances at family gatherings to assuage my mother’s constant pleas to return to her. Showing up days late to family vacation, emaciated and covered with sores, telling the daughter that wasn’t mine anymore that I’d catch up with her on the beach in a bit, so I could scrape my empty crack pipe just one more time. She’d come back for lunch, her little brown eyes and tiny voice asking me once again to play with her.

I couldn’t (reach the sand).

Years of concrete and mountains passed by and seismic shifts tore the ground out from under my feet each time I thought I found a foothold, sending me careening and only half-heartedly searching for something to grab onto to stop the downward trajectory towards what might be death, or might be something better. It might be the kind of darkness that would envelop me completely, shutting out all the light and warmth and leaving me in a perfect void.

“But wouldn’t that be lovely?” the ocean sings to me softly.

I take the ocean’s hand each time and step into darker water.

When the light finally came, I almost didn’t see it. It was just the usual endless darkness. But then suddenly this tiny thread of light shows up, like when you’re in the deep dark water just a moment too long and you look up, reaching for the sky and air, for breath (life), and they seem so far away, an impossible distance. But there’s just this hint of light above, and you know it’s there, the light, the breath, the beach. And you know you must reach for it.

I finally reached.

The light grew.

And the kite strings started to uncoil and fall away. I brushed the pebbles off my knees, I rotated my ankles, flexed my toes, felt the beauty of my own two bare feet in the earth that would carry me home.

The ocean sings, and the sand shifts. I feel every grain individually now, in the space between my toes, in the creases of the pads, in the way each one washes ever so gently across the sensitive skin on top. I feel calm in the water again, at peace in a way I’d never thought to long for. The deeper water still gives its familiar call, the current sweeping the sand softly, subtly out from under me, and I feel it’s temptation to let go, to allow the tide to take me from shore and pull me under.

I remain in place.

For years I’ve remained in the sand, feeling it ebbing and flowing, the water often caressing me calmly, peacefully. Sometimes it’s desperate, angry, thrashing against my legs, threatening to knock me off balance and sweep all of the sand away from under me, the waves reaching up for my heart, my throat, hungry to take hold of me once again. Sometimes it feels like I have no grip on the ground beneath me, like the sand doesn’t exist anymore, like I’m not standing on anything at all, just being swept on a current to unknown waters. I’ve grown more calloused to its selfish desires over the years but recently, it’s called me more urgently, its song louder, a serenade in a minor key, crescendos of crashing waves trying to deafen me. A murmuring riptide under my feet, waiting for a chance to steal me away.

But still, I stand. I breathe in the softness of the breeze. I feel the sun heat my face, the salt sting my scars, and the grains of sand cling together in the creases under my feet. I watch the slow pulse of the lighthouse over the water, “1 –—- 4 –—- 3.” It anchors me. I remember where I am. I’m home, as much as anyone ever is. The wind blows, the sand shifts, the tide changes and the ocean calls my name into the darkness, but I remain. Home.



2nd Place (1 of 3) Winner- Russ Wilson Essay Contest 2020

Name: Lyndsey Cox of Okanogan County, Washington State

Throughout my years in active addiction I spent many years behind bars. On the early morning of June 6, 2016 I was released from prison with 40 bucks an outfit and was full of fear, guilt, shame and resentments. Upon my release I had no drivers license, 6 warrants over my head that had to be taken care of to prevent going to jail and was off to a new start at life. My self esteem had been demolished and feared I would never be able to get a job considering I had 2 charges of 1st degree armed robbery, 1st degree assault with a deadly weapon and a firearm enhancement on my record. I’d gone from running the streets of Western Washington to running the streets in the penitentiary.

At this time in my life I made the choice to take my past addiction to a whole different level. Five days after release and settled in on the other side of the state where I didnt know a single person besides my family I attended my first 12 step meeting. At this time I knew I had the strength to use my story to help another addict who is lost to the disease of addiction but I wasnt exactly sure how to do so. I’d never talked in front of big groups and was always so ashamed of my past that I kept it all disclosed for years.  When coming from a past of being close minded, unwilling and full of lies I knew this was going to be a battle. Within months I had found a sponsor, hit 90 meetings in 90 days, and started working the steps. After attending many meetings I began to reach out to other recovery programs including the Central Washington Recovery Coalition. My story was powerful and at this time I knew there were people out there who could relate.

After working a minimum wage job for 2 years my higher power spoke to me one day and told me I needed to be out in the community helping “Make Recovery The Epidemic.” Within weeks I applied at a medical clinic to work in the billing department and got hired on the spot. After 2 months I was promoted to be a part of the Opioid Treatment Network that was a new program up and running. Not only was I helping others who suffer from my drug of choice but I also get the opportunity now to help break the stigma of addiction and be involved with all the resources throughout the community. During my experience working in the Behavioral Health field I went and got my Certified Peer Counselor license and became a CCAR Recovery Coach. Today I have been elected as the director of Okanogan County branch of Central Washington Recovery Coalition and also the lead of our district for the Washington Recovery Alliance.

During my prison sentence I lost both of my girls and had no contact with them and today they are a huge part of my life. After never thinking I needed a sponsor or to work the steps I have become very open minded, willing and honest and today have the fabulous opportunity to sponsor some amazing women. Throughout the last year I attended the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy as well as becoming a trainer and now have some amazing coaches throughout our county. I’ve had the opportunity to film my testimony as well as be on life TV to share some experience, strength and hope following my testimony to show people how I got to where I am today. Today I will say that anything is possible in life if you really want it and never give up! There is always hope and I’m beyond blessed today to spread the hope of recovery and to Make Recovery The Epidemic. Becoming a Recovery Coach has been one of the biggest assets to my recovery as well as many others that I have coached throughout the process… It has helped me look at recovery much different today and has helped me throughout my journey time and time again. “Making the impossible possible”


2nd Place (2 of 3) Winner- Russ Wilson Essay Contest 2020

Name: Maura Nessan of Lansing, MI 48933

Hi, my name is Maura and I am an addict. It took me almost twenty years to finally admit that to myself and to others but it was during the chaos of 2020—this year, that for me can only be described as a blessing and a curse, I was also able to begin my journey of recovery. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to share my story with you.

Looking back at the first half of 2020 almost feels unreal. A horrible nightmare that at times I still wish I could wake up from. In fact, I would give anything for it to just be a nightmare—but unfortunately, I am wide awake. To say that January 2020 was the worst month of my life is an understatement. Even though I have experienced many other traumatic events in my lifetime, nothing could have prepared me for the loss of my son, Jordan.

On January 21, 2020 my twenty-eight-year-old son committed suicide. He hung himself in the apartment that he and I shared. I am the one who found him. He was my first born. We were extremely close. I never saw it coming. He was an addict. He is who introduced me to heroin. We used together. I will never be the same. It’s as if a piece of my soul died right along with him. The expression, “losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare” couldn’t be truer. I just never imagined it would be me having to experience it. I continue to cycle through the stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, as if I’m on a merry-go-round that I can’t get off from. It really depends on the day. I have found losing a child to suicide can break a person in a way that is not fixable or solvable. Being a heroin addict, in active addiction makes it impossible.

Recovery has saved my life. Through recovery I have learned to pick up the pieces and move forward. As I write this, I am just a little over six months sober. I honestly cannot put into words how grateful I am to be able to say that. When I first began this journey, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to quit using heroin. At the time, I felt it was the only way I could escape the pain of losing my son. I loved the way it numbed the pain and made me oblivious to the rest of the world—as I selfishly spiraled out of control. Not caring how my drug abuse was affecting my life or my family’s life. My daughters had lost a brother. My ex-husband had lost a son. My grandchildren had lost an uncle. People who I adore, and love were in pain too. I was unwilling to see it. I wasn’t there for any of them during their time of grief and loss. My career in health care was in jeopardy. I had nodded out at my desk at work and almost lost my job. For the first time in my adult life I did not have a vehicle, rather than save for a new one, I spent my money fueling my $100 to $200 a day heroin habit. Addiction truly is cunning, baffling and powerful.

In March 2020, right after what would have been my son’s twenty-ninth birthday, my youngest daughter found me nodded off at my make-up table, lying face down in Revlon and Loreal. A cigarette burning on the counter, it had rolled out of the ashtray in my half ass attempt of putting it out. She took me to the ER, and I was admitted into the hospital’s behavioral health unit. This was when we were first learning of COVID and everyone’s anxiety was on the rise—including mine. I felt shut off from family. The hospital was not allowing any visitors. I felt like the entire world was dying from this unknown disease and I was locked up in the psych ward. I made it through the torture of detox, was placed on an antidepressant and discharged on suboxone. I thought I had it beat. Thanks to COVID I was furloughed at work, so it gave me the opportunity and time to recover. I believed that replacing one drug with another, less harmful drug, was the answer. Obviously, this proved itself to be another, short-term solution and another way to avoid my feelings. I relapsed a month later and was off the to races again.

The pandemic also provided the extra income I needed to continue my addiction. I had received my income tax refund, my stimulus check and was also receiving my regular unemployment in addition to the PUI surplus. I no longer had to beg, borrow and steal to get my fix. Unfortunately, when you are an addict and you have money, you tend to buy more, spend more and use more. I can barely remember the month of May 2020. I know I stayed at an upscale area hotel for close to two weeks. This way I could use as much as I wanted and not have to worry about my family knowing. My dealer would conveniently meet me every day right outside in the parking lot. I have memory loss of this time period. Even six months later some of my memory has not returned.

It was at the end of May 2020 that my twenty-one-year-old daughter finally got through to me. With tears and hurt in her beautiful brown eyes, she looked at me empathically and said, “mom you are as worse as it gets.” It may not seem like much, but to have my daughter feel that way about me was the last thing I would ever want her to feel. No daughter should have to deal with what she has had to. She didn’t deserve to be hurt like this. None of my family deserved to be. My addiction had made me become someone that I didn’t even recognize. It was time to get help.

On May 27, 2020 I check in to Brighton Recovery Center. I was serious this time. I did the work and wanted to turn my life around. After I was discharged, I went to sober living. Even though I wanted to go home, I stayed. I decided to listen to other people’s advice, instead of doing things my way. I had terrible post-acute withdrawal symptoms. I wanted to use, I wanted to leave but I listened, and I stayed. I owe that part of my recovery to an amazing group of people I have met and grown to love at Rise Recovery Center. I got honest. I got humble. I did 90 meetings in 90 days. I work the steps. I got involved in my recovery community. I helped plan our Saturday BBQs and speaker meetings. I chair an AA meeting every week. I helped organize a suicide awareness walk. I started making the right choices and doing the right things. I bought a car. I’m back to work. I work from home in my sober living house. I am a house leader. I support others and lead by example. I am planning to become a peer recovery coach.

I lost my son, battled addiction and found sobriety during the 2020 COVID pandemic. There were numerous losses I had to face and many challenges along the way. As I write this, our entire sober living community is under lock down. The numbers in our state are continuing to climb.  As I mentioned earlier, it has been a blessing and a curse. Honestly, I feel that I am stronger because of it. I have defied the hardest trial of my entire life. I have regained my self-worth again. I can now make amends to the people I have hurt along the way. I can make my daughters proud of me again. I’ve been to the belly of the whale and back. My son’s death may have led me here, but it also makes me stay. This way I can continue to share my story of hope, strength and recovery. Thank you for the opportunity.


2nd Place (3 of 3) Winner- Russ Wilson Essay Contest 2020

Name: Danielle Levesque of West Haven, CT 06515
Title:In Solidarity We Trust”

“In these uncertain times,” and “during this incredibly challenging year” are expressions which have found their way into every single email I’ve received since March. These and a slew of other dismal phrases have become commonplace and expected during this pandemic. But what hasn’t become commonplace or expected are the constant challenges we are facing as a society because of it. Loss of jobs. Separation from loved ones. Anxiety induced by the fear of becoming ill. An invisible enemy. Throw in a tumultuous presidential election and social unrest and you’ve got a recipe for “the most unprecedented of times.”

Now imagine, that during all this, you’re a person in recovery. If you’re a person in stable, long term recovery, you may actually be faring better than the average joe. The obstacles you’ve overcome have mentally and emotionally prepared you for dealing with life’s curveballs in a healthy, adaptable way. But if you’re a person in the fragile, early stages of recovery, this year has most likely been one of the scariest and darkest times you’ve experienced in active addiction.

Picture this: you’re new to recovery. You’ve finally mustered the courage to say more than just your name in a meeting. You even took some phone numbers with the intention of using them.  You’ve got someone in mind for a sponsor but need more time to figure out if this whole thing is going to work for you. Maybe you used the night before but regret it and are looking forward to a meeting today. And then BAM- just like that, all meetings are closed. You don’t have a smart phone and have no idea how to navigate online meetings. The medication-assisted clinic you go to has suspended in-person sessions with counselors and groups have altogether stopped. In a matter of days, you go from leading the charge to a complete ambush.

You might utilize some tried and true methods that have worked for you before. Meditation. Fresh air. Reading. A good old-fashioned phone call to a supportive family member or friend might be an option. You even contemplate going inpatient, but rehabs aren’t taking anyone new for the foreseeable future due to the virus. Everyone retreats into their own worlds, concerned about the wellbeing of their families and protecting their bubbles. So slowly, isolation creeps in; the fuel that feeds addiction. The accelerant that sets the house ablaze. Hope turns into fear, fear turns into doubt. And your disease pounces, like a lion on a wounded gazelle. This unfortunately common pandemic scenario has driven many deep into the depths of uncertainty, loneliness, and relapse.

As someone who works in the recovery field, I’ve seen the toll this year has taken on many clients. Those who once popped into my office frequently for a recovery coaching session are declining phone calls and keeping texts short. Others are scrambling to stay afloat now that they’ve lost their jobs or can’t get into packed housing programs and off the streets. Their addiction is winning, and the pandemic is it’s cunning and formidable teammate. Like most traumatic experiences, we did not see it coming. We could not plan. We couldn’t even pretend to plan.

I’ve never really liked the saying “tough times don’t last, tough people do.” The word tough has that traditionally masculine connotation of “just suck it up.” And yes, while turbulent times may not linger on forever, the trauma from them can, and although the definition of resiliency would beg to differ, it has nothing to do with being “tough” and everything to do with being connected. As Johann Hari has now famously concluded, “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection.” So how do we keep our sobriety intact when every single odd is against us? By reaching out, by talking and sharing, by staying connected as much as possible. By not giving in to the inviting darkness, the familiar feeling of being numb, and all of the lies addiction tells us.


I’ve been involved in my clinic’s intensive outpatient program for quite some time now. I’ll pop in occasionally to do some SMART Recovery work with the participants or simply join the conversation as a peer recovery coach. When this format switched to telehealth, it was a challenge for everyone. One client went into alcohol withdrawal and had a seizure right on his couch. Some had technology issues and couldn’t sign on as much as they’d like. Distractions in their households prevented others from giving their full attention. But the amazing thing to witness was the connections still forming between group members. When a client shared “I’m terrified now that I’m home and can’t do anything because the liquor store is literally down the street from me and I know I’m going to drink,” the group immediately gave out their phone numbers, encouraging him to call whenever he felt the urge to take that walk.

Another client whose son suffers from an incredibly rare disease was determined to stay connected no matter how impossible things got. Her home aids would call out last minute or quit for fear of contracting the virus. She was constantly juggling her two older boys at-home schooling with the hospital visits and demands of her youngest’s twenty-four-hour care. Yet despite all of her seemingly insurmountable challenges as a single mom in recovery, she listened, empathized, and supported her fellow group members because connection to other people is what helps her stay sober and sane.

For some people, recovery is almost always taking place under duress. Some mix of turmoil and instability are invariably brewing. Severe health issues, an abusive partner or toxic home environment, mental health challenges, financial hardships, and chronic homelessness are just some of these ever-present conflicts, especially for vulnerable populations. In my nine years of sobriety, I have experienced or witnessed a combination of these. In fact, this entire year alone has felt like one long, scary, turbulent flight. Will the atmosphere even out? Will the storm subside? Are we going to crash? Will we make it out of this alive? What I’ve learned is all we can do, no matter the obstacle or strenuous circumstance, is lean on the lessons we’ve learned about accepting the things we cannot change or control and focus on the things we can.

The late Fred Rogers shared one of the most simple and inspiring pieces of advice passed on to him as a child by his mother. The famous quote from everyone’s favorite neighbor reads:

“When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” And each and every time I have struggled, there have been helpers standing by, ready to lend their support and resources. It all comes back to that core concept of connection and reaching out in times of crisis. If you ask, you’ll be amazed by what you will receive.

I am about to enter the next chapter of my life, marked by one of the most uncertain, overwhelming, and complex challenges I have yet to face: motherhood. I will undoubtedly need help in this endeavor. I will need to recognize changes in my mood and behaviors. I will need my coping skills to be front and center. My last two vices in this world, nicotine, and caffeine (essentials for maintaining sanity in my recovery thus far) are hibernating. I have been tempted to take a few drags or chug a huge cup of freshly brewed goodness first thing in the morning. I’ve felt those familiar feelings of cravings and urges, but just like with my alcoholism, I must keep reminding myself of the bigger picture, of the end goal: a healthy, happy, stable life, and now, a healthy, happy, stable child.

It has been scary at times to be pregnant during this pandemic. I’ve had to be even more vigilant about the interactions I have with others and the choices I make. But I am steadfast in my efforts to stay in communication with my loved ones because I know how crucial it is to my wellbeing, and theirs. It’s also imperative to stay hopeful about the future. To believe that things can and will get better. That we are not defined by our experiences, but rather empowered through them.

Famed airline pilot Captain ‘Sully” Sullenberger who performed the “miracle on the Hudson” landing, bringing his comprised flight and all its passengers to safety, wisely stated:

“Realistic optimism is a sense of self-confidence based on experience, knowledge, and proven skills. It is not cockiness. It is the secure belief that there is always an opportunity to move ahead, even in the worst crisis.”

These words are a perfect sentiment heading into this new year. Remembering, we must always learn from the trials and tribulations we endure. In recovery, or not, in crisis, or not- if we trust ourselves and work together, we can make it through.

Check out the Zoom winner announcement featuring Russ’s brothers Mike and Dan, his sister Cheryl Parrish and CCAR Executive Director, Phil Valentine.