MY Recovery Story . . .


Jamelia Hand, MHS, CADC, MISA 1

Editor's Note: The first blog post of 2018 is the story of a daughters love for her father before and during her Fathers active addiction and the daughter finding her life purpose in the midst of her fathers addiction.

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So, I show up to work one day and EVERYTHING was falling apart...

It was 32 below zero (wind chill factor) in Chicago, IL and I was the ONLY person who came to my office to work on this day. When I checked the voicemail there were 3 messages (my entire staff) stating that trouble with car, trouble at home, sickness, prevented them from coming to work. I also received a voicemail from my boss which stated "We're going to go in a different direction with the new project". So, the project that i'd been researching and developing for 2 weeks had to be redone. And did I mention that the project proposal was due by the close of business on the next day? I started the coffee maker and headed over to the hospital to make my daily rounds. I'm an addictions counselor by trade but was working as a supervisor at a detoxification program for patients who wanted to begin their addiction recovery journey. I walked from my office to the hospital a few feet away and greeted everyone in the emergency department (all 4 of them).. I then went upstairs to the unit where I find out that there was only 1 physician, 1 nurse who was divided between 2 floors, and 34 patients. I gauged the "climate" on the unit and gave the doctor a little bit of a pep talk before what could be assumed to be a stress-filled day...(click here to continue reading this post).


Recovered Or Recovering?

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The big book of Alcoholics Anonymous uses the word Recovered 28 times. There has been a debate the past half century as to whether or not persons in recovery are recovered or recovering. I have posed this question in seminars and participants never  unanimously agree. All agree that if a person dies while in recovery, they are recovered!  

This blog post is dedicated to 5 African American Addictions counselors who spent years in service to others both professionally and personally prior to their death. I knew each of them personally. This is my tribute to them.

Richard Black---Died last week. In the August 2017 story of the month in this museum I introduced him as my brother in law. The last 3 decades of his life were dedicated to helping facilitate recovery in his role as an addictions counselor and volunteer service work.

"Brother" Earl Cannamore---An elder in the addictions field and mentor to many. Earl use to say, "I'm the greatest substance abuse counselor in the world!" He took pride in his work. The word enthusiasm comes from a Greek word which means, "the God within." Brother Earl was the most enthusiastic person I ever met. His clients were fortunate. Earl's legacy includes the multiple recovery videos he created which have outlived him. Earl died in 1995.

Rasheed Akbar---I owe my families recovery to Rasheed Akbar! He was my uncle Isaac's counselor whom was first in our family to recover. He was also my brother's counselor. Just as addiction runs in families, so does recovery! Numerous family members are now in recovery. We no longer have "drunk parties" as a family. We have sober parties. Thank you Rasheed! Rest in peace.

Reverend Elliott Lyons--I met Elliot when I was a young addictions counselor. He was in the winter of his career. I remember hearing scores of persons in recovery credit Elliott with helping to facilitate their recovery. I remember him responding to this feedback with such humility. 32 years ago my wife and I married. We were in different religions and wanted to select a minister to officiate our wedding ceremony who would be non-judgmental of religious differences. We selected Reverend Elliott Lyons, a man who demonstrated an awareness of Gods "bigness" by helping people from all walks of life, secular and religious with their recovery.

Greg Yarborough-- Greg counseled with a rhythm! James Brumley and I as newer counselors marveled at how Greg charismatically  counseled 4 or 5 clients at the same time in the milieu. The magic of how he worked is difficult to explain. I am sorry that counselors today never witnessed this. It was something to see!

Education As Substance Abuse Prevention and a Recovery Tool for African Americans

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In the 1960's activist, religious and civil rights leader Malcolm X stated, “When you live in a poor neighborhood, you are living in an area where you have poor schools. When you have poor schools you have poor teachers. When you have poor teachers, you get a poor education, you can only work in a poor- paying job. And that poor-paying job enables you to again live in a poor neighborhood. It’s a very vicious cycle."

Malcolm echoed the sentiment of African American Elders who made the migration from the Southern States to the Northern states In search of occupational opportunities and to escape Jim Crow Laws and lynchings in the south. It is estimated that between 1916 to 1970, 6 million African Americans migrated north and secured work in the steel mills, railroads, meat packing and auto industries. The message that these elders/pioneers delivered to young African American children and adolescents who were born in the North is that education is the key to freedom. Many of these elders had parents and grandparents who during slavery were not allowed to attend school or learn to read. A slave owner’s wife was teaching Frederick Douglass to read when Douglass was enslaved. The slave owner told his wife, “If you teach him to read, it will be impossible to keep him a slave.” It was common for Black parents of the Great Migration to tell their children, “No matter how sick you are, you have to go to school.”

At the time of this writing most of the jobs African Americans secured during the Great Migration have either disappeared or have been shipped abroad. Studies indicate that African Americans have twice the unemployment rate as Whites and are still lagging behind on standardized test scores, which can determine the quality of your education. Many are also miseducated in elementary schools increasing the risks of dropping out of high school, drug use, drug selling (for income) drug related arrests felony arrests which makes it even more difficult to qualify for financial Aid for college and secure employment. Thus for many, a feeling of hopelessness can set in leading to a return to drug use  and in some instances drug selling (for income) and a return to prison. To quote Malcolm X, “A very vicious cycle.” Education is also important for African Americans seeking addictions recovery. According to Dr. William Cloud, as educational recovery capital increases, recovery rates also increase.

There is good news. Urban Prep High School, located on the South Side of Chicago has a 100% African American Male Graduation rate and 100% of these young men have gone on to college, over the course of the past decade. Nearly 90% of African Americans who attend North Lawndale Prep High school on the West Side of Chicago go on to College. The average income in the communities where these two schools are located are beneath the poverty line. These schools prove that when a school has a great mission, (Urban Prep expects every student to go to college and the students recite a daily pledge that they plan to go to college) and dedicated faculty who are able to motivate students, all things are possible!

During the Great Migration the manufacturing industry was the largest employer of African Americans. Today, the future of employment in America is STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). These jobs require a good education. The elders were right. Education is a key to success. In spite of the struggles described in this blog post, the great majority of African Americans are high school graduates. Many have also graduated from the finest colleges in the nation and the majority are middle class economically.


Dance and Movement as Stress and Trauma Relief and Substance Abuse Prevention Tools for African Americans

Tag Words: Dance, Blacks/African Americans, Substance abuse protective factors, Substance use disorders

In the last two blog posts, we discussed humor and music as substance abuse protective factors for African Americans. In this post, we highlight dance and movement as protective factors. In the book, The Body Keeps The Score, renowned trauma specialist Bessel Van der Kolk states that trauma is lodged in the body and that the body has a longer memory than the brain. A person may forget the specifics of the traumatic events they experienced; the body has a way of remembering. This is one reason why the body of some people tighten when they are touched or hugged. The body keeps the score. According to Van der Kolk, when September 11th trauma survivors in New York City were asked what helped them most in coping with the terror of September 11, their response was acupuncture, yoga, and movement. All physical stuff! The body keeps the score.

At a recent seminar, a adolescent Native American girls dance troupe performed a sacred hoop dance. The leader of the dance troop told me, "I am a recovering alcoholic. I returned to cultural dances when I was 36 years old. I got sober at 37. Dance got me sober. I am now using dance to help these girls heal trauma and as substance abuse prevention." Like Native Americans, African American have experienced hundreds of years of historical trauma. The link between historical trauma and addictions is well chronicled. African Americans have used dance for centuries to cope with stress and trauma, two precursors for the development of substance use disorders.

Dances created by African Americans are emulated throughout the world and go by many names: The Lindy Hop; The Worm; The Bus Stop; The stroll; The Twist; The Robot; The Electric Slide; Moon Walking; Break Dance; the Cabbage Patch; Hammer Time; Running Man; the Harlem Shake; the Dougie and the Dab. While other communities enjoy these dances for African Americans, they have provided stress relief or a form of medicine for trauma for decades.

During The Harlem Renaissance of the early 20th Century, African Americans would frequent dance clubs such as the Cotton Club and the Savoy and dance until 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. It is written that a common food dish today, chicken and waffles was created because blacks leaving those clubs were hungry and because of the hour (3 am), they could not decide if they wanted breakfast or dinner. When the clubs were closed during the recession of the 1980's, they would turn an outdoor sidewalk into a club and break dance. The church is perhaps the place where three protective factors converge for African Americans. Spirituality, music, and dance. On any given Sunday it is common to see and hear singing, shouting, prayer and dance.

Music as a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Protective Factor for African Americans

TAG WORDS: Music as a substance abuse protective factor for blacks/African Americans

 Mahalia Jackson

Mahalia Jackson

At seminars, I ask participants, “When you are thinking about hurting someone, what type of music calms you down?” Audience members, smile, laugh, then shout out; gospel, love songs, classical, jazz etc.

In the last blog post we discussed, humor as a substance abuse protective factor for African Americans. This post focuses on music as a protective factor. Poet Langston Hughes tells the story of how blacks in slavery invented blues music. Per Hughes, the signature of every blues song is repeating the first line of the song twice. He went on to state, “The slaves were picking cotton in the field, and one of them said, it sure is hot out here. Another said, what did you say? Then the first repeated the lyric, it sure is hot out here.” And that, per Langston Hughes, was the birth of the blues. For years, African Americans used blues music to deal with their pain followed by jazz music which had a calming effect. We can't forget gospel music, the anti-drug. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr traveled from city to city, he often feared for his life. One of his most important companions of the journey was gospel singer Mahalia Jackson who would often sing him gospel songs when he was either afraid or tired. He would frequently call her from the road and ask her to sing gospel songs over the phone.

While there are many critics of rap music today, many youths find rap to be therapeutic, feeling the rapper is telling their story. The vast majority of young men I counsel are raised without their fathers present in their life. This produces rage in many, which is often medicated with alcohol and other drugs. Then they listen to rappers who were also raised without their fathers and know they are not alone, including Jay-Z, Tupac Shakur, Notorious Big, etc.

As addiction progresses, people find themselves isolated from loved ones, homeless and rarely having the opportunity to listen to music. Sometimes when I am traveling in my car, and I see older, homeless African American men with substance use disorders, I roll down my window and play music for them. If you were with me at those times you would witness these men come to life, some start dancing others sing. They often say, “Thank you! I needed to hear that.” Below are two of those songs. They instill hope. Enjoy!

Sam Cooke- A Change Is Gonna Come

Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions- Peolpe Get Ready



Humor as a Substance Abuse Protective Factor for African Americans

TAGS: Humor, Laughter, African Americans and Substance Abuse Prevention

SAMHSA produces an annual report on drug use by race. Consistently African Americans rank third or fourth on the list which is contrary to stereotypes. This may also be shocking given the amount of trauma African Americans have endured ranging from slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow Laws, police brutality, community shootings, and gang violence. Dr. Gabor Mate has demonstrated a clear link between trauma and heavy substance use. To explain substance use prevalence among individuals researchers examine risk and protective factors. One substance abuse protective factor for African Americans is Humor.

Groups with histories of oppression often produce lots of stand up comics. The comedians use humor to help the group cope with oppression and trauma and as an alternative to drug use. One example is the Jewish Community which has produced scores of stand-up comics ranging from Groucho Marx, Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen, Joan Rivers, Jerry Seinfeld and Sara Silverman.

 Comedian Dick Gregory

Comedian Dick Gregory

Comedians have been a part of the African American Community for Centuries. During slavery, they were used to entertain slave owners and their guests. They soon began to entertain themselves, sometimes making fun on those who enslaved them (when they were not watching of course). During the Vaudeville Era (1880's to 1930's) African American Stand-up comics were common. In 1960;'s, 70's and 80's stand-up comics such as Dick Gregory and Richard Pryor used comedy successfully to take away some of the strings of oppression. Comedy becomes even more prevalent inAfrican American Communities during times of economic recessions and crisis. In the midst of the recession and cocaine epidemic which impacted the African American Community in the Mid 1980' and 90's, a group emerged called The Original Kings of Comedy (Steve Harvey, Bernie Mac, Cedric the Entertainer and D.L. Hughley). They performed all over the country to sold out audiences (mostly African Americans). They were the highest-grossing comedy tour in US History.

 Comedian Whoopi Goldberg

Comedian Whoopi Goldberg

In the book, The Anatomy of an Illness, author Norman Cousins describes the therapeutic benefits of humor. Cousin points out that laughter decreases physical and emotional pain, helps our immune system, reduces stress and helps reduce depression. For Cancer patients, laughter kills cancerous cells in the body. When my God Mother was in the 4th stage of cancer her number one request was to watch Tyler Perry Comedy films.

When people use drugs dopamine is released. This is a neurotransmitter in the brain which when released allows the user to experience the pleasure of the drug. Like cocaine, Laughter also releases dopamine. African Americans Have used laughter for centuries, to survive and thrive. I end this blog post with a joke told by Dick Gregory. Born in 1932 he is perhaps the oldest living stand up comic. Gregory marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the height of the turbulent civil rights era of the 1960's.

 Comedian Richard Pryor

Comedian Richard Pryor

Dick Gregory: (entering a segregated restaurant in Mississippi where Blacks were not allowed) " Give me a hamburger "

Restaurant Owner: " We don't serve Coloreds! "

Dick Gregory: " I don't eat them! Give me a whole fried Chicken! "

When the Chicken arrived, the Klu Klux Klan walked into the restaurant and said to Dick Gregory, "     Whatever you do to that chicken we're gonna do to you." Dick Gregory picked the chicken up, and he kissed it.