For 9 out of 10 people addiction begins in adolescence.
At the end of this week I was in Orlando for work and had planned my trip around an event hosted by Advanced Recovery Systems. The event was the screening of a new film by Greg Williams called Generation Found. Just a little background, Greg Williams is the man behind the amazing film The Anonymous People, a film about the addiction epidemic that is currently plaguing the U.S. That film also encouraged everyone in recovery to openly tell their story. Williams also helped produce the historic Unite to Face Addiction rally that took place in Washington D.C. in October 2015 (and I attended). Just knowing all of this, I was super excited to see Generation Found. I watched the trailer and heard that it was about youth recovery and more specifically, recovery high schools.
Let me just say I wasn't prepared for the way this film made me feel. Following the red carpet, the filing in of the 100+ guests, and taking a slew of photos for my work, I sat down in one of the first rows ready to watch. The movie profiles Houston, Texas, a community overcome by addiction where locking up and burying young people has become a normal thing. The film touched on the unique history of APG's (Alternative Peer Groups) - a model of recovery that addresses the psychological, emotional, social, and spiritual needs of young people who are struggling with substance use issues. This type of treatment integrates peer connection with education, support groups, family, and intervention. They interviewed the founders of PDAP (Palmer Drug Abuse Program), which is considered to be the original APG, also based in Houston. The film then follows several students of Archway Academy, a sober high school on the grounds Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church (where PDAP began). One of only 39 recovery high schools out of some 56,000 high schools in the entire United States, Archway Academy is full of students who are in recovery from a substance use disorder. You get to see their unique culture of love, kindness, and acceptance that is truly unlike anything I've ever seen in an educational setting. You get to see the closeness these kids share from being in recovery, to sharing their problems, and taking exams together. You meet and fall in love with Sasha Mclean, the school's Executive Director who is in recovery herself and visibly pours her heart into her work every single day. The kids are lucky to have her and vice versa.
You learn about the inner city kids in Houston and their different struggles, how they are often forgotten about or assumed to be addicted as a right of passage. These kids are often written off solely based on where they come from and what their family looks like when they need just as much help as the next young person with a substance use disorder. Generation Found goes on to explain the desperate need for change in youth recovery across the board and one of two ways that are working to do just that are recovery high schools and collegiate recovery programs. "Just say no" doesn't work because we need to take care of the kids who are sick and suffering now, today, the ones who are dying. Another issue is that recovery and 12-step meetings are so often geared towards adults when youths are also at risk for substance use disorders and can't always relate. At the end of the film, you have the pleasure of seeing two different classes from Archway Academy graduate and it is profoundly moving to say the least.
As I sat there, sobbing, I couldn't help but think I could have easily been one of those kids. I was overcome with emotion at the dedication of the staff of these programs and schools and all they do to help teens with substance use disorders. It made me feel like I should do more for the recovery community. It made me feel like we've forgotten a huge group of people who need help in this epidemic. Mostly I wept with joy at the thought of these teens thriving in recovery and entering the next chapter of their lives ready and willing to take on life on life's terms. I got goosebumps knowing these kids were feeling the beauty and power of recovery because that's what I get to feel every day, and boy is it emotional!
After the film ended I dried my eyes and there was a panel discussion with Greg Williams and other industry experts including Dan Renaud BS, CAP, ICADC and founder of Florida Recovery Schools, Lena Wooton, Clinical Director at Next Generation Village, Dr. Berney Wilkinson, a licensed psychologist who specializes in pediatric psychology, and Lisa Brandy, founder of Brandi's Wish Foundation, a non-profit that brings awareness through education and prevention solutions to teens, young adults, and families about substance use disorders. The moderators posed questions like does someone have to hit rock bottom before they get help? What would you tell a teen who is worried about what life will be like after treatment? And what is the best way to facilitate success transitioning into adulthood, especially as many of these teens enter environments, like college or the workplace where alcohol, drugs, or heavy workloads may act as triggers?
The panel offered great advice and resources for teens who are seeking recovery, those who are in it and their families. They are some of the movers and shakers behind this youth recovery revolution. At the end of the panel Advanced Recovery Systems announced a new guide for collegiate recovery made by DrugRehab.com. It explains how anyone can become involved and get up a collegiate recovery program on their campus.
It was a whirlwind of a night, but I have to say I am so grateful Greg and his team made this movie and even more grateful to consider myself a small part of the youth recovery revolution. I look forward to becoming more involved as times goes on.
And keep talking about your own recovery, pass on the message, listen to the young people in your life, and offer hope wherever you can.