Island of Sanity

Last week was the longest year of my CCAR tenure.

The Coronavirus tested my leadership, drew upon 21 years of experience and employed all my recovery coaching skills. I vigorously practiced listening actively, asking good questions and treating people as resources. Jury is still out on how well I did.

The toughest part was/is the uncertainty. Conditions change rapidly; focusing in on a strategy similar to hitting a fast-moving target. The situation revealed two primary fronts; the virus itself and the fear associated with it. Personal perspectives on one front influence perceptions on the other.

I spent a lot of time probing my self-awareness. In the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy©, we call this “discovering and managing our stuff”. How I handled this situation would influence people around me. Long discussions with my treasured team focused on three themes,

  1. #RecoveryFirst – CCAR’s service to the recovery community.
  2. Our concern for the health of our recoverees, volunteers and staff.
  3. Our obligation to governmental requests (meeting size restrictions, etc.)

Many options surfaced. The one that bubbled to the top?  Stay calm, become an island of sanity (thanks Margaret Wheatley) smack dab in the middle of chaos.

On Monday and Tuesday of last week, we checked in with most of our 48 staff who are our greatest resource.  Responses fluctuated through a wide range. Some neared the panic/fear end; others resided on the no big deal/just a flu end. Most rested near the center of the continuum.  Some of the comments included…

  • “Are we being unnecessarily exposed?”
  • “I have small children at home.”
  • “I’m not afraid of getting it; but I don’t want to be responsible for infecting someone.”
  • “I’m so over the hysteria.”
  • “Our volunteers have really stepped up; our center has never been so clean!”
  • “We don’t abandon our post until we are called to retreat.”

Some people thought we should close our 5 recovery community centers. Some wanted to keep them open. They cited the people coming in found sanctuary; the need for connection real, the desperation and gratitude palpable. Some wanted the Emergency Department Recovery Coach program to implement phone coaching. Others wanted to continue to go in to the hospital. We processed a lot of information.

As last week progressed, emotions escalated; yet we remained calm. We thought critically.  Acquired cynicism built up over the years helped us filter through a variety of news reports.  We asked many, many questions, some quite delectable.

  • How lethal is the Coronavirus? Why do they send people home to recover?
  • Why does the media use the term “safe” when referring to people and social distancing? Is there a more accurate word?
  • When did the world become concerned about our elderly and the “vulnerable”?
  • 2020 is a Presidential election year; a coincidence?
  • If we keep recovery first, what does that look like?

You’ve probably pondered many of these same questions. They certainly serve as a conversation stimulant, don’t they? Leaders discuss options, then we decide. Last week, we chose to remain steadfast. Let’s take proper precautions, let’s keep our recovery community centers open, let’s keep our coaches going into emergency departments. Until we could not any longer.

We did for a few days, then on Friday, all that changed. We shut down. Increased cases of COVID and limiting governmental restrictions forced our hand. Asked to retreat, retreat we did.

Today, we work from home. Personally, I’m very busy. Multiple email messages, texts, social media communications and phone calls interrupt this writing.  And very grateful. I’m not laid off.  And of course, I have questions…

Is recovery contagious through screens? Will people sense our fires? Can we truly connect? I tend to think not, but I’m open to the experiment. The best we can do… is the best we can do.  So we take full advantage of the technology available and make ourselves available.

Can  a recovery community organization be led through a “work at home” model? In these times, we most definitely can. However, this must not become the preferred method. Leaders of RCO’s can become “chained” to their screens (speaking from experience).

How best do we serve the recovery community? Time to be creative. I love what I’m seeing so far…

As a recovery coach and leader of CCAR, I pledge to remain calm, to keep my emotions in check, to be of service to others and to do the next right thing. As an organization, CCAR strives to remain an island of sanity and a beacon of hope in the midst of a tumultuous sea.

Recovery first.

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 that sacred time, 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 January 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 one way for me to share lessons learned in my recovery, in my role as Executive Director and a trainer. When I engage with others, I present the same messages repeatedly.  It’s time to write them down. 

Phil “Right Click” Valentine
Recovery established 12.28.87


8 thoughts on “Island of Sanity”

  1. Thank you Phil for sharing your thoughts with us. I know you truly searched all that you know and believe and have ultimately made the right decisions based on what is best for you, the CCAR Staff, Volunteers, Recoverees and Recovery Community as a whole. Thank you for weighing all the facts and .You are doing an amazing job Phil and keep up the great work! You are such an incredible inspiration and motivator to be my best authentic self! Keep being you Phil!

  2. Thank you Phil. When I was 11 years sober I found myself working full time with 3 small kids and not alot of support for attending meetings. My extended family was of the mindset that after a decade of sobriety I didn’t need to go to meetings anymore and I couldn’t afford to hire babysitters. That was the start of a 3 year period of time where I relied exclusively on online meetings, recovery literature and connecting with my sober network through the phone and text. I stayed sober! I also learned to rely on God in a way I never had before. It was a difficult time, I missed the hugs and the face to face contact of in person meetings but the relationship I developed with God has transformed and grounded me and strengthened my recovery.
    The recovery community is resilient and strong, we are survivors. I am excited to see all the ways we flourish and grow through this time!

  3. richard pacukonas

    Interesting that the word “sanity” comes from the Latin word “sanitas” which means health (i.e. sanitation). Without physical health mental health (calm) is near impossible. Also without sanity there can be no serenity (deep peace regardless of life’s terrors). Life is holistic, the health of one part effects and affects all. CCAR is wise in community.

  4. Phil, this was wonderful to read, I really resonated with the questions that came up….gave me a chuckle as well as head nods….and also I connected to not knowing how well I’m doing in leading, reacting, preventing, and developing. It’s not easy to gauge. Sometimes it feels great and others, a shoulder shrug! It’s all an adjustment for sure and I couldn’t be prouder of how our recovery community has been coming together to connect and support. It’s amazing to see and it doesn’t happen without the minds who create structure in the chaos and the support we have for each other. It’s going to be amazing to look back and see what we’ve been able to do and maybe most importantly….what we’ve learned : )

  5. Jennifer Robertson-Hill

    What a wonderful message you’ve conveyed. I believe leadership may have always been a part of your destiny. Keep up the gracious work!

    Jennifer Robertson-Hill (a.k.a. 8675309)

  6. Thank you Phil for always challenging us to stretch our current beliefs and for helping me to see that we can navigate our way through whatever the journey of life throws our way. I admire your leadership, and imagine how difficult the decisions made last week must have been. I appreciate CCAR’s thoughtful deliberation and for allowing staff to have an opportunity to weigh in on the decisions made. The recovery community is full of strong, resilient folks and I am blessed to be among them . Thank you for sharing.

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