By Jackie Daniels
Recovery Established 12.15.2000

Note from Phil Valentine: I recently met Jackie Daniels in Indiana. She is a passionate recovery advocate with a winning name! During my keynote, I spoke about The Casserole Measure. It obviously had an impact on Jackie. She wrote a Facebook post and I was impressed. I contacted her to see if we could repurpose it for the Coaching Recovery 923 blog. Here it is.

I recently learned about something called “the casserole effect.” Thank you, Phil Valentine. It stuck with me.

I find out I have a cancer diagnosis, and I’m going to fight it. My family and friends gather around me in love and support, and they don’t shame me or use “tough love” for the illness. Nobody even speaks about “enabling.” They research the specific type of cancer I have, investigate trials and holistic treatments. They promise to take time off work to drive me and sit by my side during chemotherapy. I have great insurance and I’ve met my deductible, but I still expect to be billed exorbitant amounts, and a friend or colleague starts a GoFundMe campaign. No questions about the bills, because it’s life or death.

My school, community, and place of employment make great accommodations so I don’t fall behind. Someone drops off a casserole, calls to see how my loved ones are coping, and celebrates or mourns with my family accordingly. I ring a bell, surrounded by medical staff, if I enter remission. I have a validated, understood medical condition. I didn’t “cause” it. People are sympathetic and compassionate. They bring CASSEROLES to me and my family. I’m never arrested for being sick, and I never have to be alone if I don’t want to be. I participate in walks and am surrounded by other survivors of the same type of cancer, and we’re celebrated for surviving. (Disclaimer: broad generalizations, I know. But….)

OR

I am diagnosed with substance use disorder. In elementary school, I’m taught…

“Drugs are bad, mmm ‘kay?”

I figure out that people who do drugs are bad people who do bad things. I’m told to stay away from bad people. As I enter middle school, I start smoking pot and cigarettes because my friends do, and I know they’re not bad people who do bad things. I even drink beer with my dad. When I’m 18 or so, I get in a car accident/fall at work/sustain a brain injury and am prescribed Norco, Percocet, or Opana for pain or some Xanax for the anxiety and depression that make my family uncomfortable. I don’t sleep/eat/talk/move a lot and become irritable at times. The meds ease the pain and tension, but they don’t remove the memory of the trauma from the injury/the summer fun I missed out on during my recovery/the relationship I lost.

I start to feel worthless and discouraged. My hopes and dreams are replaced by nightmares. I can’t tell anyone because I think I’m crazy and crazy is “bad,” and they wouldn’t understand. My friends change, I’m less honest with my family because I’m ashamed. I visit doctors for chronic pain because legal prescriptions are acceptable. I develop a tolerance to the medications, and nobody explains hyperalgesia to me. I’m prescribed stronger painkillers, and might even get a methadone pump if I’m lucky. The doctor eventually takes me off pain meds, cold turkey, because he’s concerned I’m becoming dependent.

No recommendations for how to cope without them. I begin to seek the drugs elsewhere. The physical pain subsides because heroin works faster. I become aware of an even darker pain – the psychic emptiness I can’t explain. I don’t know where it came from, but I can explain that I was raped or victimized, and maybe I use because it medicates the loneliness and worthlessness I feel. Ultimately, I use involuntarily. I’m a robotic slave avoidant of withdrawal pain. I can feel it in my bones. I just know “more” makes it go away. I become more isolated. I don’t have insurance, and can’t afford a cell phone on my social security income. I can’t apply for state insurance without a phone, and there’s no public transportation in my rural part of the county to visit a healthcare navigator. The only people that visit regularly are the friends that accept my use unconditionally. They stop coming around as they die from the same disease, or go to prison for 3 to 10 years because they can’t stop using on probation or parole, because they’re avoiding withdrawals.

I’m arrested for possession of a syringe. I’m evicted from my home while I’m in jail. I don’t have drugs on me at the time of my arrest, and it’s a clean, unused syringe I started getting from the community harm reduction outfit after I find out I have Hep C, and HIV. I’m so sick when they release me from jail that I use. I get an abscess that leads to an infection that requires open-heart surgery. I move into a nursing home to recover, and then I’m sent home to take care of myself.

My family doesn’t speak to me. I have no one to talk to. I consider suicide. I return to the only comfort I’ve ever known.

Nobody ever brings me a casserole. Nobody asks my family how I’m doing, or offers them a casserole.

See the distinction?

WE DO RECOVER

It’s National Recovery Month. 23+ million people live in addiction recovery in the United States. People recover when we TALK about addiction, and speak out about the hope recovery offers. Don’t ignore, abandon, or shame. Love people struggling like you would someone diagnosed with cancer. After all, they’re both recognized as medical DISEASES, backed by years of scientific study. Why the double standard? Compassion, folks. It goes a long way.

So do casseroles.

4 Comments

  • james says:

    I agree 100%. I am in recovery 3yrs 7mons 25days. I am also on MAT, so the sigma for me is crazy. It’s not that I am sober, its I use the pathway of MAT. So I just don’t bring up MAT unless I am asked. Seems to work better for me. I have done my recovery coach with your CCAR in Ann Arbor Mi. I find that very helpful in my journey of recovery. 3 meeting a week plus, volunteer at a community substance abuse program. I love that. I am 63 & be using drugs since I was 13,14. Opioids were my drug of choce but,I have done others a lot. Just thought I would share a bit about myself. Thank You!!!!

  • Reiki Girl says:

    Hi, Right Click!
    Awesome story, thank you. I am a coach and I am struggling with this very issue. I’ve been separated from my husband (of 24 yrs.) over 7 years now because of his drinking. He is now in the hospital, in Georgetown, receiving procedures and waiting on a liver (due to alcohol cirrhosis). Even though I’m a coach, I can’t seem to bring myself to have very much compassion for him because I lived thru his drinking and I saw what it was doing to our family. I tried getting him help, but he refused. I begged for him to get help, but he wouldn’t because he said he didn’t see a problem. Heck, I started drinking myself for a minute, or two. In my experience, it is very hard to have compassion for someone who is not only ruining themselves, but his/her disorder is taking the whole family down. In my opinion, if someone is reaching out for help or is willing to accept help when help us offered, definitely help him/her, however if we reach out to help him/her because we see he or she is falling and he/she refuses, what then? I, as a coach and future social worker (hopefully!), struggle with this topic immensely. As always, awesome topic, Right Clinck!
    Sincerely, Reiki Girl

  • Sossi Derian says:

    Phil,
    Can’t read it. I recently had a 3 inch brain tumor removed. They could not get it all. I had radiation done on the one they could not remove. I have intense chronic pain on my left side of my face. But, both my brothers my only two siblings and boyfriend for 4 years, bowed out. So, it’s too hard. I received my Recovery Coaching certificate from you Phil years ago! Your a great guy! Be well…

  • Anonymous says:

    At my brothers funeral, one of his best friends spoke, and it was during this “speech” that he shared another casserole story, if I may share it?? Not to take away from this amazing “casserole ” story, but thought I would share it anyways.
    Oh, and by the way I am a Recovery Coach as well thru CCAR with Kevin McLaughlin. Thank you for this program and training.
    So back to the “casserole”
    So, after the funeral service we usually go somewhere for fellowship and get together and of course there is food…and lots of it. So it is during this time that we are eating and enjoying telling stories about our loved ones that we continue to pass the many casseroles around and continue celebrating his/her life, but what happens after the last casserole is passed and we go home? It seems like there is no more talk or if so very little. What about the mother or father or wife or husband even a sibling or friend? We must always continue to pass the casserole and be there for the ones left behind. Now do we need a funeral or something to that effect to make a casserole? Or can we just in our minds and hearts know that there is always one there.
    As a person in long time recovery I am grateful for the awareness that is needed in these particular instances. Being a Recovery Coach gives us that extra ounce of empathy for the sick and dieing as well as the loved ones that may need us as well.
    Thank you for all that you are and all that you continue to give. It helps with the growth in our communities to educate and to advocate. (And to through a casserole or two in).

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