Life Since Recovery

Friday, April 30th, 2010

In this week’s Science Times, I was heartened to see the spread “Second Life: Moving Beyond Cancer.” The story features a photo collage of children and adults, parents and grandparents, couples and families. Some people are pictured snorkeling, dancing, and mountain climbing, while others are in wedding dresses, holding hands, and blowing out birthday candles. While they come from different walks of life, they have all survived a devastating disease—and have gone on to meet challenges and achieve goals. Their lives have been forever changed, but their expressions are of renewal and hope.

Seeing these photos and reading the accompanying stories online, I was inspired by the celebration of cancer survival. And it made me look forward to a time when we might a see a similar article, celebrating people in recovery from substance abuse.

Today, there’s a stigma associated with addiction that makes articles featuring those in recovery few and far between. But if the history of cancer is any indication, I am optimistic that this may change. With all the pink ribbons and walks for the cause, we often forget that not too long ago, cancer was heavily stigmatized. In the early 70s, when my grandfather was diagnosed, I remember my relatives discussing his condition in whispers. The word “cancer” was something you could only say in a hushed tone. This changed when doctors developed effective cancer treatments and a greater percentage of people survived. Consequently, the public perception of cancer changed from a death sentence to an illness that could be controlled and—in many cases—conquered.

Similarly, while it has not disappeared, the stigma of AIDS is nowhere near what it was in the 1980s. This is, in large part, due to the development of anti-retroviral treatments, which slow the progress of HIV and allow those with HIV to lead productive and satisfying lives.

As with cancer, AIDS, and other chronic illnesses, I believe we’ll see the stigma of substance abuse decrease when the public recognizes that we have effective treatment. Scientists have suggested that public opinion shifts when thirty percent of those who need treatment receive it. We have a long way to go on that front, given that 25 million Americans meet criteria for substance abuse, but only 2.3 million receive treatment. However, with healthcare reform making it possible for many more people to get the help they need, I am confident that we’ll see that gap shrink in the next three to five years.

As more men, women, and young people receive successful substance abuse treatment, I foresee greater understanding that addiction is a chronic illness—but the future for those struggling with this disease is far from hopeless. Like cancer survivors, people in recovery can go on to lead productive, rewarding lives. As a treatment professional—and especially, as someone in long-term recovery—I know that this true. Since entering treatment 27 years ago, I have accomplished goals that I never imagined possible.

My story is not unique. I invite you to share your own journey in the comments section below. How has recovery changed your life?

Deni Carise, Ph.D.
Chief Clinical Officer, Phoenix House
Adjunct Clinical Professor, University of Pennsylvania
Senior Scientist, Treatment Research Institute

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3 Comments

  • Just over twenty years ago while I rode the NYC subway system from end to end because I did not have a home to call my own I engaged in some soul searching (which I now call introspection). I remembered that I had such a sense of accomplishment when in September of 1980 I was sworn in as a NYC Police Officer.

    Shortly thereafter I was transferred to the departments Organized Crime Control Bureau as a Narcotics Undercover, which was an elite unit to belong to, there were 31,000 Police Officers, but only 110 undercovers.

    Though I soon found myself using the very drugs that I was sworn to remove from the streets of NYC.

    My behaviors and actions resulted in my arrest and subsequent conviction of a number of charges.

    I soon found myself homeless and unable to support myself because of my addiction to drugs. I entered into treatment on three separate occasions to three different programs. The last program being Phoenix House.

    It was at Phoenix House where I was mentored and guided by some very competent and committed professionals.

    Today I count my success as a licensed clinical social worker and certified addiction professional to those that took the time to help see me through my periods of self doubt and uncertainty.

    It was in part to those individuals that I chose to enter the treatment field to assist those in need. It was also because of these committed people that I went on to college to earn both my undergraduate degree and then graduate degree.

    Oh my God has twenty years really rolled by, how fast twenty years rolls by when you’re having fun with your family and making a difference in the community…

    Helping people to change one day at a time…


  • My name is Camilla Wright. I came to admissions at LIC on November 5, 1999. On December 12, 1999, I moved to Jay Street. When I had 12 months on the pop, I was hired in the Client Benefits Department on November 20, 2000. In February of 2001, I moved out. I completed my aftercare groups and participated in the graduation ceremonies.

    I am proud to say that I have over 9 years clean and sober and I am still working in the Client Benefits Department. I was not mandated to Phoenix House; I admitted myself. I found out about Phoenix House while I was in detox. I found out that Phoenix House was a self-help, residential drug treatment program. I knew I needed intense and in-your-face so I decided to give Phoenix House a try. It turned out to be the best decision I ever made.

    While working for Phoenix House, I achieved certification in Electronic Medical Billing, and on June 12, 2010 I will formally graduate from Metropolitan College of New York with Bachelors Degree in Human Services with a GPA of 3.6 as of April 16, 2010. Thanks to Phoenix House and the support and encouragement of my family and my co-workers, I am a success and not a statistic.


  • JUST LIKE MY PEER GILBERT ACEVEDO I TOO WOUND UP SLEEPING ON THE TRAINS OF THE MTA IN NYC.I AM SO GRATEFUL FOR SOBRIETY BECAUSE I HAVE REGAINED THE POWER TO BE STRONG ENOUGH TO DEAL WITH EVERYTHING THAT COMES MY WAY.LIFE IS A STRUGGLE BUT WITH SOBRIETY IT IS A GOOD STRUGGLE.TODAY I AM A TRAIN DISPATCHER WITH THE MTA,AND I FEEL GREAT TO KNOW THAT I HAVE GONE FROM SLEEPING ON THE TRAINS TO RUNNING THEM AND TAKING MY RIGHTFUL PLACE IN SOCIETY.I AM VERY GRATEFUL TO PHOENIX HOUSE AND CHERISH MY SOBRIETY AND I NEVER FORGET WHERE I CAME FROM,THAT IS WHY I HAVE GIVEN MONTHLY SEMINARS AT PHOENIX HOUSE FOR THE LAST 11 YEARS SINCE GOING TO WORK AT MTA.SINCE INDUCTION CLOSED IVE BEEN DOING EVERY OTHER MONTH AND TRULY ENJOY GIVING BACK AND GETTING BACK AT SAME TIME.I HAVE ASSOCIATES DEGREE IN ACCOUNTING,WORKED IN WALL STREET 11 YEARS,LOST EVERYTHING TO DRUGS[JOB,MONEY,FAMILY,DIGNITY,SELF RESPECT]ENTERED PHOENIX HOUSE,GRADUATED AND TODAY CAN SAY THAT I AM LIVING THE BEST LIFE ANYONE CAN ASK FOR AND I HAVE TO ADMIT THAT SOBRIETY PLAYS A BIG PART.I AM SO HAPPY TO BE ABLE TO ENJOY SHARING THIS ALL WITH MY DAUGHTER,GRANDCHILDREN,MOTHER,WIFE,FAMILY AND ALL MY PEERS FROM DAY ONE TO TODAY..WOW 21 YEARS OCT 6.REMARKABLE



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