Careers in Recovery
By Kelly Burch
Think about everyone who has helped you become sober. There may have been prevention programs early on, a friendly face at the college counseling center or maybe even an interventionist who nudged you toward treatment. When you sought help, the counselors, doctors and staff at treatment centers were there to support you. Even the people you probably didn’t think about – like researchers or marketing staff – are all part of the machine that can set recovery in motion.
Unfortunately, the need for recovery services continues to skyrocket. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors is estimated to increase 31% from 2012 to 2022, a rate that is well above the average job growth. The demand for social workers is expected to grow 19% during that period. With more people seeking help for addiction and increasing insurance coverage for mental health services, the entire field of treatment for chemical dependency will grow throughout the next decade.
Many people who have been through recovery themselves feel that their lives have been changed so powerfully that they would like to pursue a career in the field that turned their lives around. There are many options for people who would like to work in recovery. Some choices, such as becoming a counselor, require schooling and certifications. Others, like working in administration, can build on skills you already have, as well as your personal experience with recovery and addiction.
There are obvious benefits to working in recovery; from being immersed in an area that you are passionate about to seeing people’s lives change for the better. However, working in recovery is also extremely challenging. The emotional ups and downs and the demands of being on call can be grueling. In addition, professionals who are in recovery themselves must find the delicate balance between their own recovery and their professional lives.
Here, we talk to professionals whose lives have been touched by addiction about why they pursued careers in recovery. They share the rewards and the challenges of making a personal passion a career choice.
Kimberly Radd has never been through recovery herself, but her life has certainly been touched by addiction. Her uncle battled with alcohol addiction, and passed away shortly after Radd graduated from high school.
“I saw his downward spiral,” she says. “He was always trying to get back up, but he always failed.”
Radd had been interested in psychology, but her uncle’s death solidified her career path.
“When my uncle passed away from alcoholism, I knew I wanted to get into that field,” she says. Radd pursued her Bachelor’s degree in psychology, with a focus on addiction and substance abuse. After graduation she began her career in recovery at Promises Treatment Center in Malibu, where she worked as a scheduling coordinator, a way to get her foot in the industry’s door. Shortly after, she began working at Malibu Beach Sober Living where she worked her way up to become a clinical case manager. The job finally gave Radd the chance to work directly with clients.
“My job was to meet with clients and establish their top goals for what they wanted to accomplish during recovery,” she says. “Then, I became the point person between them and all the things they wanted to achieve.”
Whether she was helping someone build healthy relationship skills or secure health insurance, Radd was able to see her work making a difference in clients’ lives.
“People come to us at their peak of willingness, when they are wanting to be at their healthiest,” she says.
Radd was able to draw on her experience with her uncle in order to help her clients.
“I saw his struggle, so I am able to see similar patterns [in clients]. Whenever maladaptive behavioral patterns present themselves, I provide clients with healthy coping skills and tools, empowering them.”
Her experience also helps her bond with clients and their families.
“I think it’s only natural for people who work in the recovery industry to bond with clients because we feel a kinship with them,” she says. “When they relapse it’s hard, but you go through the journey with them. The job can be emotionally pressing, but the rewards are so tremendous that I never feel burned out.”
Radd recently took on a new role, helping Cliffside Malibu develop an affordable treatment program.
“I believe this incredible Program should be accessible to everyone. I’m working hard with the Founder, Richard Taite, to accomplish the opening by summer.”
The new position allows her to integrate her knowledge of the clinical practices with her interest in the business side of recovery. She is also working toward her master’s degree, which will enable her to be a certified therapist. Her goal is to obtain her PhD in psychology, and eventually open her own private practice or treatment center.
Although her uncle wasn’t able to defeat his disease, Radd hopes that her work in recovery can help others with similar struggles.
“It’s amazing to watch someone come in completely broken and within a very short time see them change into a different person,” she says. “You can see people get well so quickly when they work the program. They change right before your eyes.”
Albert Samaras was a late bloomer, he says. He didn’t become addicted to opiates until he was 36-years-old, after he had already established a successful career in the healthcare sales field. However, his hard work quickly came undone as he spiraled further into addiction.
“I lost it all very quickly at the end,” he says. “It had me kicked in the head pretty hard.”
One thing he lost was his career – something that was cemented when he ruined a second chance with a relapse.
“That was behind me now. I looked around and thought ‘what am I going to do with my life?’”
However, a chance opportunity led Samaras, now 44, to an extremely successful second career in the recovery field.
“I began working for the sober house that I was in treatment at,” he says. “Four months into my treatment the guy who managed it left and owner asked me to run the place. I enjoyed being close to recovery, going to meetings, mentoring and case managing.”
He began by administering drug tests and keeping the house in order. After about a year of successful recovery, Samaras found himself in a position to open his own sober house. However, he realized that the existing model of transitional care was not working.
“No matter how tight of a ship I ran [clients] were still relapsing at astronomical rates,” he says. “The financial model didn’t support the structure, staff and services needed to support these guys.”
So, Samaras set out to redefine the system. With his business partner, he founded Turning Point, an extended care model that is quickly becoming the standard in transitional care. With Samaras as the Vice-President, Turning Points grew from 18 beds to 116 beds in nine locations.
Samaras was able to use his personal experience with recovery alongside skills from his past career.
“I developed some new skills, but I came from the healthcare industry and addiction is just a niche of healthcare,” he says. “I felt right at home and I knew exactly what to do. My previous experience translated very nicely, and it was easy for me.”
Early this year, Samaras left Turning Point to form HealthCore Group, a consulting firm with a focus on developing healthy living services and extended care.
Although he was successful almost immediately in the recovery fields, Samaras had to learn how to balance his own recovery journey with his new professional life.
“Early on in my career I assumed that because I was working in recovery and was around it all day long that was enough and I didn’t have to do anything else,” he says. “That is absolutely not the case. At the end of the day it’s just another job.”
Samaras discovered that he has to work his personal recovery program just as much as he would if he worked outside the field.
“Working in recovery isn’t enough to maintain sobriety,” he says.
Samaras has been able to decide when to draw on his own experience in his work. In the consulting fields he deals with business people, and his personal journey is not relevant, he says. However, when doing casework he is willing to share his stories.
“Those lines do get blurred. When I meet someone in the hallway we relate, communicate and help by sharing our experiences.”
For Samaras, his second career has been a silver lining to his addiction struggle. Watching clients mature over their year with Turning Point was extremely rewarding, he says.
“Because we had them so long we could watch them transform and see real change.”
He also knows that his program has revolutionized the industry and helped many other people maintain their sobriety.
“I was able to build a program that is changing the way the whole industry approaches transitional living and aftercare,” he says. “I’m very proud of that.”
Emily Orrick seemed to have the perfect life. She had graduated from a private high school and a prestigious college before finding herself at Columbia University pursuing her graduate degree in social work and working at an investment-banking firm during the summer. But behind facade, Orrick was struggling with addiction to drugs and alcohol.
“It relieved a lot of the pressure that I felt to have my outside look really good,” she says.
However, after her first year at Columbia, Orrick had a moment of clarity when she realized that she needed help. Although she initially thought that she “Just needed to go dry out,” Orrick spent six months in treatment facilities.
Through her treatment, Orrick ended up in California, where she now lives with two children (as of press time, she was expecting her third child). She never returned to get her social work degree, but instead ended up using her business skills within the recovery fields.
“I fell into working in the field,” she says. “It was an opportunity to use my development skills, my social work skill and my admin skills. I got to use everything.”
She began working in business development, but discovered that she was most interested in working with collegiate recovery programs.
“I’m passionate about assisting young adults to help in that college age,” she says. “You need to pursue your passion. Don’t just work in recovery because you’re in recovery.”
Today, as the Business Development Manager at Northbound Treatment Services, Orrick builds relationships with other treatment centers and therapists, and works on strategic planning for Northbound. She is also able to work with clients and families, and to help develop collegiate programs.
She says that her recovery journey helps her to relate to her clients.
“Because I have had a very similar experience to a lot of the clients that I work with, I can share that experience with them. My experience of being in a treatment center for six months definitely helps me to understand the treatment experience and be able to speak to it.”
She has also been able to use the tools that she learned during recovery to further her career.
“What I learned in my own personal recovery about maintaining relationships, having boundaries and treating others with respect can be applied to my job. The spiritual lessons of a 12-step program have absolutely been an asset in the field. Being a women in recovery translates to all aspects of my life, especially in my job.”
However, Orrick is also mindful of keeping her person recovery separate to her professional career.
“I’m able to separate my sacred personal recovery from my business life,” she says. “The people who are successful in this field are able to maintain that separation between their personal and professional lives.”
For example, Orrick goes to meetings outside of work, and makes sure that no matter how busy her professional life is she invests time in her recovery.
“A lot of people in recovery get jobs in recovery,” she says. “And they need to make sure they have boundaries. If you don’t you can get compassion fatigue and lose sight of what got you there.”
Maintaining a balance between work and personal growth is the most important thing that Orrick would advise someone looking to get into the recovery fields to do.
“This is definitely a field that has a ton of rewards,” she says. “But it is also a very challenging field because a lot of people don’t stay sober. Go in with the knowledge that your own recovery is the most important piece and hold that sacred and close to your heart. Go in with boundaries, knowing that this is a professional career and not your recovery. Keep your life as the most important. That’s always what I tell friends. Maintain that balance in your life and real separation from personal recovery and work life.”
When Kristen Smith went into treatment for alcoholism, she knew right away that she was at the right place.
“I was a rarity,” she says. “As soon as I came in I identified with what they were saying completely. I had finally found a place that understood who I was. I figured if they knew the problem, they would probably know the solution too.”
Smith spent 30 days at La Hacienda treatment center in Hunt, Texas. When she came out of treatment she knew that she wanted to use her marketing degree within the recovery fields.
“I never had the desire to become a councilor,” she says. “That’s where most people want to go, but I’m a marketer and that’s what I can do.”
Smith began chasing her new career goal ferociously. She volunteered with the Council on Alcohol and Drugs Houston, hoping to network.
“I started learning about field,” she says. “It was about being exposed to that, and meeting successful businesspeople.”
Smith also set up a meeting with a local marketer. Although he didn’t have any openings, he was impressed with her drive and gave her a list of all his contacts that did marketing for treatment centers and psychiatric hospitals.
“I called every single person on the list,” Smith says.
That led to a job with the Memorial Hermann Prevention and Recovery Center (PaRC) in Houston. The program was struggling and was looking to regain its reputation as a quality treatment center. Smith was able to start at PaRC when she was 11 months sober, sooner than most treatment centers will accept people in recovery.
“I was upfront and it wasn’t a problem because I was not doing direct patient care,” she says.
Smith was thrilled to finally be using her degree in the field that had changed her life.
“I loved that job,” she says. “I would walk around smiling all the time.”
After two years at PaRC, Smith took a similar job at La Hacienda, where she had gone through treatment herself.
“La Hacienda was where I got sober. That was where my life changed,” she says.
She took on more of a management role, helping other marketers and planning events.
“There was a lot of variety.”
Eventually, Smith’s job morphed into doing social media for the treatment center, in addition to marketing. She spoke at national conferences about how centers can better their social media presence. Eventually, however, she felt ready to move on, and began doing business management for MAP Health Management, a company that provided recovery outcome data and other support to patients and treatment centers. Now, Smith is planning a move from Houston to L.A. to pursue a career combining two of her passions – yoga and recovery.
“I’m redefining what working in the recovery field will look like in the future,” she says. “I’m taking what I’ve learned and what I’m passionate about and using all the new skills I have to see how I can create space for myself within the industry.”
Smith believes that yoga is a strong tool for people in recovery, helping to nurture the spiritual side of the journey. She isn’t sure exactly what her new career will entail, but she hopes to teach others about the benefits of yoga for people in recovery – whether that means lecturing to yoga teachers or speaking at national conferences.
“I still have a passion for people in recovery,” she says. “I want to be part of the movement and bring things that are naturally my strengths and passions to the table.”
Christian O’Donnell has been familiar with treatment centers his whole life. His dad ran one, and O’Donnell was often around the center growing up. When he faced his own addiction issues, O’Donnell was in and out of treatment centers four times between the ages of 16 and 21. When he entered a center again at 22-years-old, he was doing it for a different reason.
“My personal recovery really gave me a lot of passion for helping people who are in need,” he says. “I got into the field and did whatever people told me I had to do to learn.”
Today, O’Donnell is the National Business Manager for Caron Treatment Centers. He works to develop business relationships with other treatment centers and also helps families in crisis choose the right treatment center, whether that is through Caron or another organization. Being able to help families is something he particularly enjoys.
“I come from long lineage of alcoholics,” he says. “Many of my family members are sober and work in the recovery industry. Some of them need to be in treatment. Knowing dysfunctional family dynamics has allowed me to work and see where the families are coming from and to really identify with the families that I serve.”
He can also draw on his own experience in recovery to help clients.
“My experience allows me to do my job a lot easier,” he says. “I’ve been in that dark hell. When folks are in the same place I get it.”
Being around sick people all the time means that, like many addicts working in the recovery fields, O’Donnell needs to dedicate extra time to his personal recovery journey. However, he says that working in the field is absolutely worth the challenges.
“I am very blessed and grateful to have the job that I do. I feel like I’m on top on the world. I get to help people for a living and be in the field with all this support. I need to pinch myself every day.”
Lee Fitzgerald’s start in the recovery industry began with a friend’s suggestion. Fitzgerald, who was in recovery, was ready to sell her business and move to Australia to open a Bed and Breakfast.
“My friends decided that was a bad idea,” she recalled.
Instead of moving away from her support system, Fitzgerald’s friends thought that she would be better off if she became even more involved in the recovery community, so they submitted her resume for an opening at Promises. Like I good friend, Fitzgerald went to the interview to humor them.
“When I walked into Promises I saw Richard Rogg, who I had been sitting with every week for five years at my Saturday meeting,” she says. Fitzgerald had no idea that Rogg was the founder of Promises. She was so blown away by the incident – and by Promises overall – that she abandoned her travel plans and took the position.
Today, Fitzgerald has been with Promises for nine years. She began in marketing development, and is now oversees outreach programs, and aftercare.
“I help them get in and help them leave,” she says.
Fitzgerald’s 14 years in recovery help her to relate to her client’s needs.
“I understand people when they’re struggling and need help because I’ve been there. Their loved ones aren’t saying to me ‘you don’t know what they’re going through,’” she says.
Like others, Fitzgerald has had to learn to balance her own recovery with being around sick people all the time. One way she has done this is by joining Al-anon, which supports the family and friends of people in recovery.
“Al-anon has brought me patience,” she said. “When I don’t go I’m impatient.”
Fitzgerald also uses other wellness practices to keep herself centered.
“I go to mediation on Monday nights. The people in my office tend to think I should keep that up,” she says, laughing.
With the tools she needs to succeed, Fitzgerald is glad she didn’t get on the plane to Australia all those years ago.
“I’m pretty happy exactly where I am,” she says. “ I have the best job in the world.”
After hitting a “very hard bottom” in the 1980s, Patty Baret committed to sobriety when she was 21. She worked her program hard and was able to achieve her goals.
“I developed amazing, incredible life,” she says. “I worked for a Hollywood director and was living in Beverley Hills. I had a very colorful life, but the reality was that I wasn’t fulfilled. I didn’t feel like I had a purpose. Any time I helped any addict from early on I just connected to that.”
Although Baret wasn’t working in recovery she constantly found herself helping other people on their road to recovery. In AA, she tended to sponsor the most complex cases. Eventually she became know as the person who could reach out to help people in dire situations.
“I loved producing recovery,” she says. “I always got a lot of fulfillment when I helped someone. Seeing the light on when I introduced another addict to the possibility of having a life, being trustworthy, repairing family relationships and feeling good and confident again, to the possibility of staying sober, was amazing.”
Three years ago Baret was on a beautiful property overlooking L.A. when the property’s beekeeper asked her a question: ‘Do you have a purpose?’
“My heart dropped,” she says. “Professionally, no, I didn’t have a purpose.
Something resonated with me. I had been sober all these years and have the deep faith and the courage to walk away from the safety [of my career].”
With her partner Lauren Arborio, Baret started Connections in Recovery, a consulting firm supporting people suffering from addiction and their families.
“Everyone said ‘what took so long?’ but until I met Lauren it never felt right. Her integrity spoke to me. We’ve created a company that really holds true to our vision, integrity and passion.”
Through Connections in Recovery, Baret works with professionals to help provide support and sober companions to help people navigate their fears and realities about reintegrating into sober life.
“For me this isn’t just work, it’s something that I’m really passionate about,” she says. “I know I’m onto something because of all the people who are willing to support me.”
Robyn Cruze knows about recovery. She’s been through it herself, not once but twice. When she had recovered from her eating disorder she found herself picking up alcohol to self-medicate and went through recovery for substance abuse. Too often, she sees others repeating that pattern or its inverse – putting down drugs and alcohol and then turning to disordered eating.
“I’ve notice that a lot of people in recovery have unhealthy relationships with food,” she says. “People will put down alcohol and then all of a sudden have issues with food. I became very curious about why was that.”
Cruze had adopted an approach to eating called Nutritional Healing: A three-teir approach developed with her co author Espra Andrus LCSW that provides structured freedom to restore a trusting relationship with food and body.
“We cannot go straight from disordered eating to being able to listen to our body when we have taken so many years to learn how to ignore it,” she says.
Cruze believes that structure is key, and she wrote the book – literally – on how to develop a healthy relationship with food. In “Making Peace with Your Plate” Cruze lays out three steps toward healthy eating: the structured approach, the mindful approach and the self-care approach. Through these steps, people with disordered eating habits can rebuild their entire perspective on food.
“The idea is to build a safe, structured freedom where we can explore and rebuild the relationships with our bodies and listen to their signals,” she says.
Cruze hopes that other people in recovery – from eating disorders or substance abuse – can learn from her experiences.
“I’m a huge proponent of the yin and yang of recovery – inspiration and identification,” she says. “That’s what I do. There is something to be said for somebody who has been through it and come out the other side. People don’t believe they can have a healthy relationship again, so there is something powerful when you can say, ‘that’s possible and here’s why.’ I wanted to be part of that.”
In addition to writing her book, Cruze became a certified coach through Coach U, Inc.
“It’s a wonderful thing to be recovered and want to share that,” she says. “But you must follow that up with education. Align with your 3 P’s – purpose, passion and power — and if you want to be in the recovery world make the effort.”
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