Florida

Terry Brent -Music Therapy

Everyone's journey of recovery is different but finding the strength, courage and hope to share your feelings is integral to living life to the fullest without drugs and alcohol.  In South Florida, musician Terry Brent leads clients through a song-writing, recording and performing process that boosts them on their personal journey.  Featuring the song, Piece of My Heart, by S.

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I think you have no idea where expression can take you. And I think approaching music from an expressive standpoint rather than just impressive will take you a lot further because people can sense that you’re trying to impress them rather than just you have something to share or a message.

I’ve kind of taken that forward into my interactions with humans, hearing their story, and seeing their hidden talents, either they knew or didn’t know they had, or maybe drugs and alcohol took away from them.

I work at a treatment facility in South Florida. I came from a recording and touring background. I was in a couple of different bands, going all over the country doing festivals, show cases for different labels. We recorded a full-length record, a couple of EP’s, had a management team.

So that, I think, prepped me for where I’m at today. I had the privilege of being able to start a program within Transformations called Soundpath Recovery. We’ve been able to see great outcomes with clients that are either in the music industry and haven’t been able to find success remaining in the music industry and staying sober or clients that aren’t musicians but they want to try something different in their recovery and they were able to go from, “There’s no way I could perform or do karaoke or share clean and sober, I’ve always been messed up,” and then by the end of their experience here they look back and are like, “Wow! I actually did it a few times.”

The way we wrote the program was to speak and cater to a client that is coming off of drugs and alcohol usage and dependence to where their mind is racing. You know, they are starting to get a little bit of clean time and they are now thinking about like, “Oh my gosh, I have so many things I have to do. I ruined this relationship. I got into this trouble. I have court, I have work, I have money – like all these issues.”

One thing that we offer first is a Quieting the Mind group to where clients can go and learn breathing techniques and grounding methods. From there they are able to slow it down just enough to be able to give their brain a little bit of a rest.

And then the next group we encourage them to go to is a writing group, it’s a creative writing group. Everyone can write. So in a creative writing group we say, “Just write the first thing that comes to your brain. If you think it, it’s the right thing to write down.” It could be “I hate writing.” “This is the dumbest exercise ever.” “My brain is out of control again.” “Why am I here?” Whatever comes to their mind. And by the end of the stream of consciousness writing, they’ll have some very succinct, trackable writing where they will be “Oh my gosh, where did that come from?” And they’ll be able to pull certain things out of it that they want to develop or work on.

We offer a songwriting group that structures whatever comes out of their racing thoughts or whatever comes out of their stream of conscious, and then after well go through and allow them to work together as a team and collaborate and say, “Hey, I have an idea. I’m a little bit foggy but I kind of hear like you know a trumpet in the background and like a shaker, and I can sing but maybe you can sing what I wrote, and then I need a guitar player.” And the next thing you know, they’re all connecting and they’re on the same wavelength and they’re like “Wow, I didn’t know you felt the same way I did about the same experience or a similar experience.”

Clients get an opportunity to go into the recording studio -- we have a professional recording studio – and they’re able to kind of sit under their own weight of anxiety and they sweat, and they’re like nervous. “How am I going to do this? I’m not Christina Aguilera. I’m not like David Bowie.”

You know we say like “Look, your whole goal here is to be in this studio clean and sober for two hours. Can you do that? Everything else is on top of that. But can you be here?” And they’re like. “Yeah, I think I can.” “All right cool, then what’s going on? Let’s do this!”

And we coach them, and get them to relax and drop their shoulders, and teach them how to breathe. And at the end they walk out, and most of them, if not all of them, say, “Wow! I feel – can I say high? I don’t know if I can say that.” And I’m like, “Absolutely! You’re experiencing life. You just enjoyed life.”

And then the last part of the curriculum is to give them an opportunity to share their expression in front of people and then receive feedback. And it is one of the coolest experiences to have someone freaking out, sweating, feeling like they’re going to throw up, thinking about man, this would be so much easier if I were drunk or high. Getting up there, sharing and then having a standing ovation of 50 to 75 people just like losing their stuff because they saw how difficult it was but how strong that person was to share in front of all these people.

I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve been on lots of stages, played for thousands of people and the feeling that I get from watching that compared to being on stage myself is – it’s un--describable. You can’t buy it. You just can’t buy it.

I never get emails of clients saying, “Man, thank you so much for letting me skate by and not forcing me to perform.” Like it’s always the emails like, “Thank you so much for, like, encouraging me to do something I didn’t want to do. That changed my life. I listen to my song and I’ll never be the same again.” And those are the emails that I always get.

I’m might even start to cry thinking about it but there is, there is this hope that comes from having new perspectives and new experiences. And at least saying, “I’m afraid,” but doing it anyway.

My name is Terry Brent and this is my story.

Karen McGinnis -What God Gave Me

Photo courtesy Karen McGinnis

At age 37, after 20 years of battling the disease of addiction, Karen McGinnis found a reason to make a change and make it work: the birth of her son.

 "I’m a single, independent, fully self-supporting woman today. And it’s the most liberating thing I’ve ever experienced because there was a time in my life where I took advantage of the system. And I have overcome all of that."

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You know they say that the disease of addiction is greater than the love that a mother has for her child. I intellectually understood that, but I didn’t feel it until it was happening to me.

But at the age of 35, God said to me, “I have carried you through some storms. I’ve put angels around you to protect you all those nights that you were driving in a blackout and you were walking the streets homeless. You’ve had one DUI, you’ve had two DUI’s, you’ve had three DUI’s. You’ve lost great jobs, you’ve lost your soul, you’ve lost your family. You’ve -- you are going to kill yourself. Or you’ve going to end up in prison. So I’m about to do something for you. It’s going to be very tangible. And it’s going to give you a reason to want to live.”

So I had my first child when I was 36 years old. By the time Owen was a couple months old, DCF stepped in – the Department of Children and Families. I was an unfit mother. So he was removed from my care. And I was left with an opportunity to go into the drug courts and work on Karen so I could get my son back.

I was headed down that spiral for 20 years. I started drinking alcohol at the age of 14. The alcohol led to street drugs. The street drugs led to opioids and doctor shopping and -- I had for 10 years already been in and out of treatment centers, and halfway houses, and structured living, and jail and .. you know, so what was so different this time? Because I was still addicted to drugs and alcohol and I still loved my alcohol and drugs more than I loved this beautiful little child that God had blessed me with.

I kicked and screamed and finally went into treatment for a good solid 6 months of inpatient and a couple months of outpatient. And I did everything I could to get Owen back. I fixed the outside. I went and got a great job. I got insurance. I got a nice, fancy Camaro. And it looked real pretty on the outside because I wanted my son back.

And I got him back. But what I failed to do is, I failed to work on Karen. I failed to take a look at what was really going on. What is causing me to continually and insanely – knowing that there is going to be significant consequences, whether it’s loss of marriage, loss of child, loss of job, arrest – still continue to pick up that substance and start the cycle all over again?

I did not do a lick of work on Karen. I did not work a 12-step program. I didn’t reach out to my higher power. I didn’t build a network. I -- I just fixed everything real pretty on the outside, got my son back, went back to work, and before you know it, life started showing up. I started getting stressed out at work. I was stressed out being a single mother, a lot of resentment still towards Owen’s father, a lot of anger. Before I knew it, I found myself at the liquor store.

One is too many, a thousand is never enough. When I put that substance of whatever it is in my system, it sets off a chemical reaction within me and I start the obsession and the compulsion and I want more. Trying to fill that void, trying to find that high.

You know within a couple of days I was a no-call no-show at work. My parents ended up coming to my apartment and found me, naked on the couch with empty bottles of Crown Royal. And my father called DCF again. And Owen was removed from me.

So now we are at Owen is not quite even two years old yet and DCF has already removed him from my care twice. That wasn’t enough to stop me. How did this happen? I was so guilty and shameful, I was off on a mission to really kill myself for the next three months, drinking and overdosing and driving drunk and…

Finally, my parents stepped in and here in the state of Florida we have what’s called a Marchman Act. If you have a loved one that is using substances and you know that they are a threat to themselves or the community, you can take it down to the courthouse and get the law involved. And the law did get involved.

Judge Espinoza who is our drug court judge here in Tampa, he ordered me to go back into treatment. I knew that was my saving grace. That, hey you know what? My parents do still care about me. They care enough about me that they were willing to go down to the courthouse to save my life. They might not be talking to me right now, and I might think that they hate me but they love me. And they saved my life by doing that.

This works if you work it. Recovery is possible. There is hope.

I wanted to start from a fresh clean slate at 37 years old because Owen was the only thing I’ve ever done perfect in my life. And I refuse to let the disease of addiction take that from me too.

And I went back into treatment and I started following suggestions. You know we learn from behaviors over, over time on how to get what we want as addicts. And someone had told me, “Karen, if you could just use those skill sets in a positive way, you will be amazing.”

A large part of recovering is being surrounded by people who are like-minded; people that have gone through what you’ve gone through. Yes, we come from all very diverse backgrounds, and some of us are tall and short and fat and skinny. And some of us are Hispanic and Caucasian and African-American and Chinese but we all have one common thread: the disease of addiction. You know, I think it’s so important for us to come together and, and build those relationships with other people that know what we’re going through so we can feel like hey, you’re not alone, you’re not different, you’re not unique.

And that is one of the reasons that I work in the field that I work in. Because I can empathize with what you, ma’am, are going through, sitting on my couch in my admissions office. I know what you’re going through. I’ve been there 15 times, sitting on that couch with my mom and dad or my husband sitting over there so I understand what you, husband and mother and father are going through.

I do this because life is rich. And life is a gift. And we have to stay in the present. This is a wonderful life.

I’m a single, independent, fully self-supporting woman today. And it’s the most liberating thing I’ve ever experienced because there was a time in my life where I took advantage of the system. I took advantage of Medicaid. I took advantage of food stamps. I took advantage of my mother and father. I took advantage of men. I took advantage of people to get what Karen wanted. And I have overcome all of that.

Never did I ever think at 12 years old, that I was going to be 40 years old, a single mom, and have lived the life that I live. And I’m so grateful, so grateful I’ve gone through what I’ve gone through to find what I found.

And I believe that God will allow us to go through that, to get to a point in our lives to where we have no other choice but to cry out for Him to help us.

And, and, I’ve – I’ve made a mess of my life and I believe that there is something greater than myself that can restore me back to sanity and give me the life that You always intended me to have.

And that is something to be grateful for.

My name is Karen McGinnis and this is my story.

Mariel Hafnagel -Grace & Luck in Recovery

Mariel Hafnagel is the Executive Director of the Ammon Foundation. In longterm recovery since 2007, she knows the disease of addiction well. Grace and luck and a lot of compassionate support changed her life.

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I didn’t wake up when I was 17 and decide that I wanted to be a drug addict.

The trajectory of my life and how I began to manifest addiction was not a conscious decision. Was picking up alcohol and drugs a conscious decision? Absolutely – because I was in tremendous pain and I wanted to take that away.

My addiction progressed rapidly, leaving limited if not zero time for intervention, education, primary level care.

My name is Mariel Hufnagel. I’m a woman in long-term recovery which for me means that I’ve been alcohol and drug free since May 7, 2007, after an alcohol, heroin and crack cocaine addiction from the ages of 17 to 21.

There was nothing extraordinarily dysfunctional or out of order or catastrophic that happened in my childhood. From a very young age however, I always felt less than, different, and was constantly looking for a way to diminish those feelings.

I acted out. I stole. I was promiscuous. I threw temper tantrums. Anything I could do to get outside of me and to get some attention from you.

I do remember at a very young age experimenting with alcohol, alone, and I just think that is important because the reason why I used alcohol and drugs, the reason I acted out was because I was trying to self-medicate.

It’s very clear to me there was something off in my brain, and that there were mental health issues, underlying and untreated.

I didn’t start using anything regularly until I was about 17. And in literally a matter of months, if not weeks, I went from having a seemingly pretty normal life, you know, a beautiful house, a loving family, a decent GPA in school, friends, a boyfriend, etc. – to being homeless, a prostitute, living on the streets of Norwalk, Connecticut. I had a $1500 a day drug habit.

And what comes along with that lifestyle, as a 17, 18, 19 year old female, is a lot of trauma, a lot of sexual abuse, a lot of dangerous situations. All that does is it perpetuates the need and the desire to continue getting high. There was nothing I needed to do more than numb out so I could escape from all of that.

May 7, 2007, I was arrested and I was brought to jail. That was the beginning of my recovery story.

So often we talk about someone needing to have a willingness or a honest desire to enter and maintain their recovery. I was not willing or voluntarily brought to Volusia County Correctional Facility. But what that allowed is it allowed just enough time for me to get physically separated from alcohol and drugs that I could begin to have some clarity about my life. And it was through that clarity that I became willing to be an active participant in changing and addressing some things, so that I could be sober and live a life that was worth living.

Detoxing in jail, potentially in physical danger, unlike any other chronic disorder that would be medically addressed, addiction is not ,and was not, for me. And so I’m terrified and just kind of just left to fend for myself. Which is not loving and not medically appropriate for anybody.

So I ended up being in jail for about two months. And when I was released I needed to make a lot of changes and I needed to address a lot of things that I had been shoving down and unwilling to address for years at this point.

I got accepted into a halfway house and I was there for almost 9 months. It allowed me to have a safe place to live, get involved with peer-to-peer support. It allowed me time to look for employment, apply for Medicaid and food stamps, and social services. All of this was vital for that first year.

I also needed to get honest about how I was feeling, what I was thinking. And one of the most important things that I have found in my personal recovery is having people around me who hold me accountable and who I can be transparent with about what’s really going on. Recognizing that part of just the human condition is that we are broken and imperfect and that’s okay. It’s okay to be uncomfortable. It’s okay to be who I am, in all its glory or in all its ugliness, and finding people who embrace me and love me and hold me up during those times. And had I not be able to kind of find that support, I don’t know if I would have been able to maintain my recovery.

I think it’s really important when we talk about recovery to talk about people being able to build meaningful, purposeful lives. Because without being crass – although I am crass -- if I can’t have a life worth living, why would I not want to be getting high?

Not saying that life needs to be perfect al of time. No one’s life is all of the time. However, when the bad times come, if there is purpose and meaning and love and connection in their life, it’s easier to weather those storms.

What happened when I was about five years in recovery is I realized there is a lot of discrimination against people like myself, and I became motivated to try to make a macro difference.

Oftentimes people ask me, what do I attribute my recovery to? And I say grace and luck.

Grace is defined as an unwarranted gift from God. And whatever you believe is your beliefs, but I believe that the universe is conspiring for our greatest good, all the time.

I believe that I’ve been put in the right place at the right time with the right people enough times to maintain my recovery and to become who I am today.

That’s also combined with luck. Luck for me is connected to privilege. It’s connected to the fact that I’m an upper middle class white female. Between the ages of 14 and 21, I was a repeat offender. I am now a convicted felon. I’m a sex-trafficking survivor, and I’m formerly homeless. Time after time, I was given second, third, fifth, a hundredth chances, by everybody – police, judges, by people who I just crossed paths with. I also experienced tremendous generosity because I was seemingly non-threatening. And, due to the socio-economic status of my family, I was able to access treatment, go back to school.

I was able to do all of these different things that are off-limits or much harder to attain than say my African-American female counterpart, my trans counterpart, my lower socio-economic counterpart.

My recovery should not be based on grace and luck. It should be based on the fact that I was given access to services, that barriers were removed, and that I was treated with compassion because I suffer from a brain disorder – and that’s why I should be able to have entered and maintained my recovery.

So since 2012 I have had the incredible ability to join what many people call the recovery advocacy movement. I have been able to work and live in a space where people are demanding what I like to consider the civil rights of people who suffer from a substance use disorder. And, you know, it started as a volunteer intern in 2012 and just six years later I have the distinct privilege of being the executive director of a foundation.

And that really is what recovery looks like, right. It looks like the fact that I got married. It looks like the fact that we rescued two dogs. We bought a house. I’m a daughter. I’m a sister. I’m an aunt. I’m a taxpayer. I’m an employer and an employee.

My story is not extraordinary. I just have been empowered to share it. There are thousands if not millions of others, just like me, living in recovery, a part of society who have overcome their own struggles with addiction. They have just not yet been empowered to share their story.

My name is Mariel Hufnagel and this is my story.