I am an addict in recovery. I am 9 months sober. My addiction destroyed my marriage and put me at risk for catastrophic and traumatic consequences. I’ve led men and women in combat and in garrison as a platoon leader, staff officer, detachment commander, and company commander. I saw Soldiers self-admit into the Army Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) and other Anonymous groups. I also referred Soldiers to ASAP, outpatient, and inpatient treatment when it involved drunk driving, failed drug screenings, or on recommendation of a professional.
My hope is that each leader will learn how to best serve their Soldiers through increased understanding into each unique situation. I do not represent a specific group nor will I speak for or against particular groups. I only speak for myself and my recovery experience.
Here are 8 things to know about addiction recovery.
-Your Soldier is not a bad-person. Addiction is cunning, baffling, and powerful. A traumatic experience such as injury could set a course for prescription pill addiction. Stressors of home life could be a slippery slope to alcoholism. Yes, I made poor decisions but those decisions do not define me. My addiction is a small part of the whole Throughout my struggle, I tried to stop to on my won, willed myself to stop, and put a gun to my head to stop my addictive behavior. Professional treatment and my 12-step program helped me realize I was powerless on my own. There was hope through admitting my powerlessness to my Higher Power, my sponsor, and the my group. I am a shattered and mended vessel.
-Read the 12-steps and the Serenity Prayer. Many 12-step groups base their specific steps on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA was the most common group Soldiers were referred to during my company command, while Narcotics Anonymous (NA) was prevalent when I was a Platoon Leader and Executive Officer. I wish I had spoken with the local ASAP coordinator or mental health professional to give me more insight on the 12-steps as a program of recovery.
-The 12-steps are not done on YOUR timeline. My recovery, under the watchful eyes of my sponsor and my therapist is already 9 months in and it is one day at a time. Some in-patient addiction recovery programs move faster through intensive daily work. Once I reach Step 12, my recovery begins anew through helping other addicts as a sponsor or repeating the 12-steps to maintain rigorous honesty with myself. A dutiful sponsor or recovery specialist shepherds the addict through the steps at a gentle and individualized pace. Some steps take longer than others. The journey to healthy living never ends.
-Provide support. Get your Soldier the help they need, whether it is an ASAP referral or a recommendation for inpatient treatment. The Soldier’s health is the primary concern. Two of my Soldiers took the opportunity to self-admit to ASAP. Other Soldiers were able to attend in-patient treatment. One is now a trusted friend, clean and sober from prescription pills. Speak candidly with mental health and ASAP counselors on how you can help. Support their treatment recommendations and educate your boss if necessary.
-Be gentle. If there was ever a time to act out of love for your fellow human being, this is it. There is no need to berate your Soldier, especially if they are willing to enter treatment. I placed enough shame and guilt on myself as an addict and I don’t need someone else to do that for me. Shame, guilt, and unworthiness are powerful feelings and can lead to other destructive behaviors, including self-harm. It is also inappropriate to ask your Soldier about the specifics of the recovery meetings or to disclose to others that your Soldier is an addict. Anonymity is the cornerstone of the 12-step program and it must be respected. Unit therapists and ASAP counselors can provide appropriate commander updates.
-Adjudicate UCMJ professionally. As a company commander the buck stopped with me, and sometimes it was the right rehabilitative measure to separate a Soldier from service. Other times, it was the right thing to give the Soldier a shot at salvaging their military career. In either case, Soldiers had resources to regain their health. Give them access to as much assistance as you can provide to see them through their UCMJ punishment or possible separation from service.
-Know the different recovery options available. If you don’t know the resources available, you can’t help your Soldiers. There are 12-step meetings, ASAP, outpatient, and inpatient treatment options. There are on-post and off-post services, including individual and group therapy sessions. As a commander it was my job to provide resources and support recommended treatment. During my struggle and recovery, I used on-post services as well as paid for private therapy. Knowing what is available will help your Soldiers and their families reach the right help. Your unit Chaplain is an excellent resource for this.
-The promises of recovery will always materialize when they are sought after. I saw it first hand: I will recover from my addiction back to health as long as I make the effort in recovery. As an addict, I gain strength through friends and family, in and outside of the military, who know that I am getting better one day at a time. They see me doing healthy and positive activities, regaining my emotional, spiritual, and physical foundation, and acting in a manner congruent with healthy values. I am human and therefore fallible so I won’t do everything right in my life. That’s ok. I am enough. I am worth it. Your Soldiers are worth it too.
I will never forget when a former Soldier of mine, a recovering alcoholic, called me to make amends as a part of his Step 9. It was a lesson in grace and forgiveness. He had been sober for nearly a year and I was 2 months into my own recovery. In that act of grace, I saw there was hope for me too.
God, grant me the Serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and Wisdom to know the difference.
The author, a Special Operations combat veteran, was granted anonymity due to the nature of the material. The Havok Journal encourages anyone struggling with addiction to seek professional help. You are not alone.