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Partnering With Youth and Young Adults in Behavioral Health To Live Happy Healthy and Productive Lives

Justin Luke Riley

05 Partnering With Youth in Behavioral Health To Live Happy Healthy and Productive Lives

Ask the Expert:  Justin Luke Riley managed his first adult rehabilitation center for drugs and alcohol that housed ninety-six men when he was 20 years old.  From there he started consulting with both men and women's adult rehabilitation centers. Currently, he is the Director of Development and Public Relations for a national nonprofit consulting firm, The C4 Group, and also has his own consulting company. Mr. Riley is also an at-large board member of Faces and Voices of Recovery, sat on the board for Advocates of Recovery in Colorado, is on the Advisory Committee for the Association of Recovery Schools, and is part of the Project Management Team and Steering Committee of the Young People in Recovery movement.

1) Question: I’m in my early stages of recovery; will volunteer work help support and be therapeutic to me in my recovery?

Answer: I started mentoring other individuals in recovery at approximately three months after entering my seventh treatment. I attribute altruism (volunteer like in nature – selflessly serving others) to what made a difference in sustaining recovery. It is never too early to contribute and to help others. Whether it is through leadership development, recovery coaching, sponsoring, listening, or being willing to have a conversation with someone who is having a tough day. I can say with confidence that if it were not for learning that I had value and could contribute I would not be where I am today. Through the leadership and mentorship of those who had gone before me, I acquired the tools necessary to pass it on and be a contributing member to society. Everyone has something to offer - everyone can give.

2) Question: How does one maintain self-respect and improve self- image while in the early stages of recovery, knowing that one's addiction has caused dependence and limited what our culture traditionally views as personal growth?

Answer: No one is perfect, as one enters recovery they typically learn how to be more compassionate and understating of those around them. Give yourself the same grace and level of understanding you are giving to other people. As long as you continually do the best you can, you cannot be consumed with what our society thinks or does not think about what you are doing in your recovery or even how you are going about it. Patience, tolerance, and love, those three tools will be paramount in one’s recovery from day one to one million and one!

3) Question: What are the pros and cons of the virtual support groups vs. in person support groups?

Answer: For me, support is support. Whether it is through traditional written literature, eBooks, social media platforms, video conferencing, conference calls, or having the classic face-to-face time individually or collectively  – each offer different advantages and obstacles. For one who travels or has relocated for a season, one of the pros of utilizing technology to stay connected to one’s support network can be the difference of life and death. However, if one doesn’t have the technology or ability to access technology it can be detrimental to an individual that only has virtual relationships and support. In my experience, I would say that having both sets someone up for the best advantage. Develop relationships with individuals and groups that meet in person, even if you are new to an area, do some research, see what is in the community. Additionally, don’t forget to maintain your connections through virtual resources.

4) Question: What non-university resources are available to parents to help them provide support or to help influence their children who are away in college. Additionally, are there specific recovery resources for students at colleges? I don’t know of many colleges that have prevention or recovery-related resources for students and parents.’

Answer: You are in luck on both fronts; there are a slew of resources for both. Some of which are, but certainly are not limited to, the following: - they have a list as follows:

Augsburg College-StepUP Program, Minneapolis, MN
Case Western Reserve University, Prevention and Recovery Services (PRS), Cleveland, OH
The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN
Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT
Jiang-Ping Hsu College of Public Health, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GA
Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI
Kennesaw State University, Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery, Kennesaw, GA
Northern State University, Aberdeen, SD
Ohio University, Athens, OH
Rutgers University: New Brunswick Campus, New Brunswick, NJ
Texas Tech University, Center for the Study of Addiction, Lubbock, TX
Tulsa Community College, Tulsa, OK
University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
University of Vermont, Burlington, VT
University of Virginia, Hoos in Recovery Program, Center for Alcohol and Substance Education, Charlottesville, VA
William Paterson University, Wayne, NJ

Having more resources for students and parents is something that I see many organizations focusing on! Keep an eye on what the organizations above are doing in this specific field!

5) Question: Is there a website where young people can find local recovery mentors?

Answer: Yes, including, but not limited to:

As sated before, this is becoming a huge trend and recognized need, I look forward to seeing the impact of organizations mentioned above and more!

6) Question: I don’t like 12-step groups, therapy, or peer support groups. As a teenager who is trying to maintain recovery, what other real options do I have in a small town? It’s really hard to find others in recovery to connect with to actually do things, like play sports, games, activities, etc. Any advice?

Answer: Two suggestions, one, which may feel overwhelming at first, but I am certain you can do it! First off, if you find that you are struggling to get connected in your community, you are most likely not alone. Start your own meeting, group, club, chapter, or league. Remember, anything worth having requires a certain level of work to it, do not give up or be discouraged. And if you’re really having a tough go of it, contact one of the organizations above and depending on where you are, there may be something already in existence they can connect you with, or support you in developing a local movement of sorts. Lastly, especially for people in rural communities, social media and virtual communities can be life saving! Many groups (some seen above) have an online presence and communicate to their communities regularly.

7) Question: Can I as a young person have fun in recovery?

Answer: Absolutely! My life is absolutely extraordinary. I have an amazing wife who has never seen me drink or use drugs, she has never had to visit me in a treatment center or have to wonder if I am going to make it through the night to see another day. She has never seen me have to wait to have the chains taken off my feet so I can walk to her, or in a hospital getting the drugs and alcohol out of my system. We get to help other people, have friends over, go hiking, travel together, and have an amazing life. Even before my wife, or being given opportunities like this to share nationally, I had a great time in early recovery. To be present for family events, go to sports games, have meaningful conversations, etc. is something that I never got to fully enjoy. And today, having the opportunity to travel the nation, work with spectacular organizations, be interviewed for USA TODAY, inspire people in prisons I have yet to meet, have some amazing peers all over the country, yes, I would say one can certainly have fun as a young person in recovery. Furthermore, my family is restored, my dad was the best man in my wedding, and my mother and sister actually look forward to seeing me. Recovery has not just saved my life but given me an entire new and fun filled life with limitless opportunities.

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