Can Exercise Help Your Recovery?

Why Exercise?

Substance addiction takes its toll on every part of a person: physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual. The impact of addiction on the human body is extensive and devastating in many ways: sleeplessness and insomnia, loss of appetite and in coordination, and ultimately, a physical dependency that presents itself through cravings, flu-like symptoms, and changes in appearance that include weight loss and digestive issues. Repairing the physical damage that addiction delivers takes time, just as overcoming its mental and emotional toll does.

Studies have shown the regular aerobic exercise – physical activity that increases heart rate and the flow of oxygen through the bloodstream – can help individuals to recover from substance abuse when combined with a comprehensive program that includes therapy, improved diet, and social interaction. Research has indicated that exercise can provide relief and/or assistance with many of the aspects of addiction, from regular and escalating use to binging and relapse. Its impact on the emotional outlook of addicts has also been studied, and studies have shown that it can decrease the depression and anxiety that can often lead to increased use or relapse, and prompt positive feelings – self-esteem, self-confidence – that prompt continued abstinence.

Rehabilitation facilities like California’s Tarzana Recovery Center offer aerobic exercise as part of their treatment and recovery programs, including gym access, yoga, and numerous sober activities that involve elements of exercise. Individuals in recovery can also pursue exercise options as part of their post-treatment lives, and as part of the daily maintenance of sobriety and abstinence.

What’s So Good About Exercise in Recovery?

Here are just a few of the health benefits provided by exercise during recovery:

Stress Reduction. Stress can be a major hurdle during all stages of recovery. Like addiction itself, it produces both physical and mental responses in the body: a person under stress may experience an accelerated heart rate and blood pressure levels, increased body temperature, shallow or rapid breathing. Physical activity, and especially aerobic exercise of any kind, boosts circulation and sends endorphins – neurotransmitters which increase feelings of pleasure and well-being – to the brain, lowering blood pressure, improving mood, and reducing feelings of stress.

Mood, Sleep, and Cravings. By reducing stress, exercise can also ease the cravings for substances that come with spikes in anxiety and stress. Positive connections to physical activity and the sense of personal achievement that come with a good workout also boosts the senses of self-esteem and self-control that are sorely damaged by addiction. In some cases, just 30 minutes of exercise a day can have a positive impact on mood. Additionally, many individuals in recovering may find that their sleep schedules, which were severely hindered by substance use, return to a normal and regular pattern with increased exercise.

Overall Health. Addiction takes its toll on the body’s immune system and makes it more vulnerable to health concerns, including serious conditions like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Exercise improves the circulation of white blood cells, which fight illnesses and diseases, throughout the body; studies also suggest that exercise may even increase the number of white blood cells and specifically T-cells, which protect you from infection and certain diseases. Regular exercise also reduces inflammation in the body, which boosts your immune response to illness.

Which Exercises Are Best During Recovery?

While studies haven’t conclusively determined which exercises are the best to pursue during recovery, the two modalities that delivery the most benefits for physical, mental, and emotional well-being are cardio-related exercises and resistance training. Cardio exercises are any activities that elevate heart rate and the flow of oxygen in circulation their benefits include decreased blood pressure and blood sugar levels, increased HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind), and improve lung capacity and function.

They can range in intensity from boxing and aerobics to swimming and even dancing. Hiking has the added benefit of taking you outdoors and providing you with Vitamin D from sunshine, as will relatively low-impact pursuits like gardening or walking. All of these exercises can be modified according to an individual’s level of experience, endurance, and ability.

Resistance training builds muscle strength and endurance through exercises using weights that are pulled or lifted. Weight training using bodyweights or weight machines, like the kind seen at a gym, is the most common form of resistance training, but can also involve water bottles or any other object with enough weight to create muscle contraction through resistance.

The benefits of resistance training are numerous: it lowers the chance of heart disease, blood pressure, and body fat, boosts good cholesterol levels, and reduces the changes of age-related issues such as muscle deterioration and osteoporosis.

Things to Note

The American Heart Association recommends that cardio exercise should be done for at least 30 minutes five to seven days a week. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that resistance training should be performed for a minimum of two days (non-consecutive) per week, and should consist of eight to 10 different exercises that engage various muscle groups.

However, it’s important to get guidance before starting any exercise program. Ask your doctor about which exercises might be right for you in your particular demographic (age, weight, exercise and health history). They can determine if a particular course of exercise is right for you.

Tarzana Recovery Center is a luxury residential addiction treatment center in Tarzana, California. For more information, call 866-514-1748 or visit their website.

By: The Fix staff
Title: Can Exercise Help Your Recovery?
Sourced From:
Published Date: Wed, 29 Dec 2021 08:13:40 +0000

At New Horizon Drug Rehab, we understand addiction. If you or a family member are afflicted with addiction or substance abuse we can help. We work with the top centers throughout the US to provide the best detox and addiction treatments available.

Call Now: (877) 747-9974

Ben Affleck Needs No Research for Uncle Charlie in "The Tender Bar"

The Tender Bar screenplay, by Academy Award winner William Monahan, is brilliant. It’s a huge challenge to capture the spirit of a beloved 400-page bestseller by masterfully whittling the story down to a mere 150 pages. Monahan met this goal with a sparkle.

The film is adapted from the 2005 memoir by Pulitzer Prize-winning author J. R. Moehringer. It’s his coming-of-age story during the 1970s and 1980s. He grew up with a single mom, longing for his revered deejay father (The Voice), a drunkard who abandoned them. Despite having a successful radio career, The Voice moves constantly to avoid arrest for never paying child support.

Fatherless J.R. searches for his dad via the radio dials. When he hears the silky tones of The Voice, he talks to the radio to have a connection to his fantasy father. Mom (Lily Rabe) is fiercely protective and shuts the radio off whenever she’s available to do so. She is a single mom struggling to make enough money to raise her son. She’s also determined to get him into Yale or Harvard without any idea how.

The movie’s music, cars, and clothes effectively transport viewers to another place and time. Being swept away from reality is just what we need now. We are all so stressed about COVID-19 and its variants. Isolation, fear of a deadly disease, and a nation split with political unrest are contributing to anxiety levels so high, many of us who struggle with substance abuse disorder are barely holding on.

Gallows humor is what drives this story, making its engine purr. Many call it ‘a drama, but not.’ The Tender Bar is a dark comedy. Yes, there are Kleenex-worthy scenes, but those are moments of joy, not sadness. This is an uplifting story throughout. Sweet, yes, but served without saccharine.

In addition to Ben Affleck’s Oscar-worthy “Best Supporting Actor” performance, Clooney put together an all-star cast, including a previously unknown kid from Brooklyn named Daniel Ranieri. In early 2020, Ranieri became a viral sensation overnight when he lost his shit and gave a Joe Pesci-style expletive-laden rant. His mom caught it on video, then posted it. Ranieri became known as the “F**in Lockdown Kid.”

Lucky for Daniel, Jimmy Kimmel found the clip on Twitter and shared it on his show. After seeing the episode, George Clooney cast this kid – with zero training as an actor – to costar with Ben Affleck.

Heart-throb Tye Sheridan does a great job as college-age J.R. and Christopher Lloyd is hilarious as J.R.’s curmudgeonly Grandpa. Lily Rabe is perfect as J.R.’s determined mom. Newcomer Briana Middleton plays Sidney, a sexy temptress from a wealthy family whose parents have much higher hopes for their daughter than scruffy J.R. Actor Max Martini (oh, the irony) plays J.R.’s alcoholic, deadbeat father who serves up the bitter lemon twist in his son’s life.

While Clooney does not struggle with addiction, he cares deeply for his long-term buddy, Affleck. Clooney told The Times of London that he was worried about filming Affleck in a bar. Affleck has such a similar history to J.R. and a long history of relapse. It makes sense his friend Clooney was concerned.

Affleck grew up with an alcoholic father and other relatives who destroyed themselves with liquor. Maybe that connection is why he gives the best performance of his entire career. J.R.’s surrogate dad, Uncle Charlie, is the brightest light in this film. The chemistry with young J.R. provides some of the best moments in the film.

The ending shines. Much like Dorothy’s search for the Wizard, J.R. realizes that everything he thinks he needs, he already has.

The Tender Bar is now playing nationwide in theaters. It will be available for streaming on Amazon Prime on January 7, 2022. 106 minutes. Rated R.

By: Dorri Olds
Title: Ben Affleck Needs No Research for Uncle Charlie in "The Tender Bar"
Sourced From:
Published Date: Fri, 24 Dec 2021 08:00:55 +0000

At New Horizon Drug Rehab, we understand addiction. If you or a family member are afflicted with addiction or substance abuse we can help. We work with the top centers throughout the US to provide the best detox and addiction treatments available.

Call Now: (877) 747-9974

Experience, Strength and Hope Awards Honor Leigh Steinberg and Courtney Friel

After a year trapped like the rest of us in the worried doldrums of quarantines and isolation, the Experience, Strength and Hope (ESH) Awards returned with a double slam dunk on December 15, 2021. Held at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, the recovery community’s number one annual rewards gathering and celebration played catch-up. In a single ceremony, Leonard Buschel and Ahbra Kaye honored two prime examples of celebrities who wrote memoirs that capture their fraught journeys into recovery and long-term sobriety.

The Gratitude Dinner paid tribute to two brave and inspirational sober human beings. First, legendary sports agent Leigh Steinberg was celebrated as the 2020 Honoree for his revealing memoir, The Agent: My 40-Year Career Making Deals and Changing the Game. A powerful tale of tremendous success followed by a precipitous downfall, Steinberg’s redemption through the lens of sobriety happens within and without.

Second, effervescent KTLA news anchor Courtney Friel was celebrated as the 2021 Honoree for her unflinching memoir, Tonight at 10: Kicking Booze and Breaking News. Friel’s story is told with humor and love that overcomes the downward spiral of desperation and fear. Together, both ESH Honorees are prime examples of surviving an addictive downfall and thriving well beyond. Wanting to use the darkest of their experiences to help others recover, they both walk a path of courage in telling their harrowing stories without blinking in the spirit of self-esteem.

Once again, Leonard Buschel and Ahbra Kaye of Writers in Treatment came together to create an entertaining Gratitude Dinner of laughter and love. As the founder of the Reel Recovery Film Festival and Chasing the News, Leonard Buschel made a smart choice when he appointed Ahbra Kaye as Director of Operations and Outreach for the ESH Awards. Even amid fears of the Omicron variant and the rise of public gatherings, the entire evening went swimmingly well. Overall, both the Networking Reception and the Gratitude Dinner flowed with a positive attitude as attendees from the recovery community came together to celebrate these two luminaries.

While speaking with Leigh Steinberg before the meeting, I was struck by his dedication to the path of recovery. When asked what the reward meant to him, Steinberg said, “For anyone out there still struggling with addiction, I hope that reading my book shows them that help is available. It is possible in one’s darkest hours to be resilient. We all truly have a chance to live a happier life.”

Reflecting on his life, Steinberg explained the similarities between excellence in sports and goodness in life: “The key to sports and life is performance in adversity and our response to adversity. Adversity is a part of being alive. Indeed, life will knock us back at times. Life will have reverses. I have learned that having optimism and having faith in the light at the end of a dark tunnel is essential. I had an epiphany about how lucky I was in life…Thus, I had to come through and realize the best in recovery. I had to live up to my core values of loving my family and friends while doing my best to help others in need.”

The 2021 Honoree was just as inspired. As she explained from the podium, “For fifteen years of my life, all I cared about was partying, drinking, cocaine, and pills. It’s a very boring life to keep doing that over and over again. The essence of recovery is a shift into the experience of freedom from that cycle.”

Commenting on why she wrote the book, Friel smiled and said, “I wasn’t writing the book to be famous, make money, or be a bestseller. I wrote it to help people. The reward is when I get people who unexpectedly get in touch with me. More people than I ever imagined have told me how my message was instrumental in saving their lives. Not that I saved their lives, but they told me I helped open their eyes to the choice of being sober. Such a loving response is a gift that goes well beyond what I ever expected. It is what giving back is all about.”

The ESH Awards also showcased a diverse and talented roster of performers, starting with singer and spoken word performer Blu Nyle, who performed two poems at the podium that reflected the creative legacy of her ancestors. After Leigh and Friel received their awards, eight-time Grammy Award winner Philip Lawrence sang a fun tribute song that paid amusing homage to the two honorees. Written just for this occasion, it showed how inspiration and recovery, music and sobriety mix so well.

Finally, the night came to a resounding end with an inspired comedy set by Alonzo Bodden. Taking down everyone from anti-vaxxers to political extremists, Bodden set fire to the stage with his combustible words. In truth, I have not heard a room laughing so hard and having so much fun together for a very long time. It was a perfect way to end a wonderful night.

Photographs by Kathy Hutchins

By: John Lavitt
Title: Experience, Strength and Hope Awards Honor Leigh Steinberg and Courtney Friel
Sourced From:
Published Date: Tue, 21 Dec 2021 07:26:19 +0000

At New Horizon Drug Rehab, we understand addiction. If you or a family member are afflicted with addiction or substance abuse we can help. We work with the top centers throughout the US to provide the best detox and addiction treatments available.

Call Now: (877) 747-9974

5 Reasons the Holidays Are the Perfect Time to Get Treatment

The holiday season is officially here in the United States. Although the holidays are meant to be full of joy and celebration, there’s a darker side to the holidays as well. They can bring up repressed feelings of disconnection, disappointment or angst. Constant social engagements — usually fueled by an open bar — can highlight problematic drinking or substance abuse patterns. For people who are struggling, this can be a recipe for disaster. However, it can also present an opportunity to get substance abuse treatment.

Considering rehab during the holidays might seem grim, but the truth is that the holiday season can be the perfect time to step away and focus on getting yourself the care and support you need. Here’s why:

1. You can start the new year right.

This time of year it’s tempting to postpone all self-improvement until January 1. It’s true that the new year provides a tantalizing starting point for healthier habits. But if you start treatment now, you’ll be through the more difficult parts — like withdrawal — before 2022 rolls around. You’ll feel invigorated, starting the new year with a clear head, healthy body and clean slate. Hit the ground running in 2022 by being in a positive place, rather than in the tough spot of early recovery.

2. It’s the best gift you can give.

Many people have hang-ups about leaving their friends and family, or missing important events during the holiday season. And yet, getting sober and healthy is the most important gift that you can give. Those closest to you, like your children and partner, will benefit the most from having you at your best. Sure, they might miss you in the moment during holiday celebrations, but the tradeoff is that they will have you home, healthy and present for the rest of the year. That’s a gift anyone will appreciate.

3. It allows you to focus on the real meaning of the holidays.

For all their perks, the holidays are also an unhealthy time for many people. Many of us slip into patterns of excess: eating too much, partying too much and spending too much. That takes away from the true meaning of the holidays. Many of the celebrations that take place in December focus on light after darkness, rebirth, and rejuvenation. Getting treatment for yourself is the perfect way to lean into the true meaning of the holiday season, by getting through the dark time and into the light.

4. Schedules are more flexible during the holidays.

For many people, the month of December is far from routine. Most of us already have days off or travel planned. If you’re not comfortable being open about an absence from work or school for treatment, you can simply blame it on the holidays. People are less likely to notice or inquire about your absence during such a busy time of year.

For parents this might be especially complicated, since kids are home from school for half the month. However, that also gives you a chance to send them to stay with a favorite friend or family member, giving them a holiday treat and getting you some space.

5. It can keep things from getting worse.

It might seem easy to last until January if you need help. However, substance use disorder is a progressive disease. During the holidays, symptoms can get worse, especially if you’re navigating family triggers, work related holiday parties or even the stressors of having an Instagram-perfect holiday at home.

Rather than desperately trying to keep it together long enough to get through the holidays, opt to step back and get ahead of your substance use disorder. This year, many people will be reimagining holiday traditions as the country continues to live in the pandemic. That gives you an opening to make your own tradition, focused on self-care and wellness. This year, start to give yourself what you need during the holiday season: your self, your friends, and your family will all thank you for it.

Learn more about Oceanside Malibu at Reach Oceanside Malibu by phone at (866) 738-6550. Find Oceanside Malibu on Facebook.

By: The Fix staff
Title: 5 Reasons the Holidays Are the Perfect Time to Get Treatment
Sourced From:
Published Date: Tue, 14 Dec 2021 06:10:25 +0000

At New Horizon Drug Rehab, we understand addiction. If you or a family member are afflicted with addiction or substance abuse we can help. We work with the top centers throughout the US to provide the best detox and addiction treatments available.

Call Now: (877) 747-9974

What I Wish My Parents Had Asked Me

Dear Mami and Papi,

Remember when you used to go out to dinner or to the movies when I was a kid and I’d write you long, multipage letters, which I’d leave taped to the garage door so you’d find them hanging, undeniably waiting to be read as soon as you arrived home? Now I am writing you this letter as a full-on grownup from my own computer in my own home. I am writing you this letter as the person who is still that sensitive, insecure child. I am writing you this letter as an anorexic, bulimic, compulsive overeater in recovery. I am writing you this letter as a daughter. I am writing you this letter as a mother.

I was eleven years old when I began cutting out pictures from magazines of beautiful people I desperately wanted to be like because I firmly believed that if I was like them, my life would be perfect, that I’d be perfect, that I’d be inarguably lovable. I was eleven years old when I began standing on the edge of the forest green bathtub, naked, so I could look at my full body in the mirror, and tug and pull. I was eleven when I threw my lunches away, furiously wrote down diets in a spiral notebook, when I started to lie, cheat and steal. But I was twelve years old and dozens of pounds lighter before you asked me what was going on, and I was twenty-one years old with my hair falling out and my nails breaking before you really got involved. I was thirty before I was able to admit that eating disorders are family disorders, and that the dynamic in our home, in your home, played a part in my hurt. That it wasn’t all because of some messed up inner wiring in my head. I was thirty-three the last time I relapsed.

I was thirty-five years old when I first became a mom.

And now as a mama to two amazing daughters, tiny humans who are full of fire and emotions and adventures and, yes, also full of too many requests, I fiercely want to parent them another way, especially when it comes to food. But how do you do things a different way when you have limited experience, little practice, and no modeling? The only thing I can think to do is ask questions, the very questions I wish you’d asked me.

Here are the three biggest questions I wish you’d asked me, that I now ask my own children, that I hope parents who’ve had strained relationships with food or who have kids who struggle with their bodies might chew on:

  • What does your body need right now?

I ask my kids to feel their own bodies, with their physical senses, and also with their inside scanner. What a powerful question this would have been for me to hear, encouraging me to get to know my own mind, instead of be afraid of my own thoughts, to take stock of my body as if it were a friend, instead of look it like an enemy I had keep a vigilant eye on.

  • Close your eyes and check in with your stomach – is it hungry? Is it full? Is it feeling something?

I realize right about now in this piece that I may sound like a whiny middle-aged middle child, still blaming her parents for her pain. I want to push back on this and declare the truth: I don’t blame my parents. They did the best they could. They love me. But that doesn’t mean I got what I needed, and that also doesn’t mean I have to blame myself. It means I had to learn later in life that there are tools, that I could draw, write, punch a pillow, go to a meeting, I could deal with any feelings that came up without turning to food or obsessing over my jean size.

Mom and Dad, I wish you knew that those tools are at your disposal too, but your decisions are not my business. As for my girls, I insist that they have access to healthy coping skills earlier than I did, and for them to feel certain that I will stay in the room with them when they break down, in case they want to share with me and it’ll be totally okay if they don’t.

  • What can we do, what can this whole family do, to support you?

This is the million dollar question. This is the one I say to my own inner child every day as well as to my kids. To me, it means I understand that we are a team, and that each member of the team is equally important and worth listening to and has input to offer. It means we shape this family we’re a part of, together.

If you need me to define love, Mami and Papi, I’d define it as a willingness to change for somebody else. I’m not insinuating one throw out one’s own needs and opinions and dreams to be somebody’s Frankenstein doll. I am insinuating, however, that when someone you care about lets you know, this bothers me or I need you to hear me/see me, then I think loving them is receiving the information, mixing the feedback into the recipe of your life, and adding a moment to pause and consider it before you act.

You have both told me, since as far back as I can remember you telling me things, that you are too old to change, that you can’t change. And what it made me feel like constantly – which is my own doing, is my side of the street, is how I decided to make sense of things – was that what I needed, what bothered me, was a colossal inconvenience. That I had to change for wanting anyone else to change. That I was the problem.

In your thirties when I was a kid, now in your seventies when I am a grown-ass adult still writing letters to her parents, you have consistently pleaded the fifth. And although I obviously have many rounds of fourth steps to write, I forgive you. I forgive you, and yet, let me tell you something about bulimia: it’s a very active disease where you make an hours-long entire event out of the very simple activity of eating a meal. So suffice to say I cannot stand inertia. There are many things I don’t like about myself but one thing I do like is that I change constantly, with my eyes open, with honest intentions and even enthusiasm.

Doesn’t mean I’m right. I get that change is scary, that it feels like you have an entire life built on the foundation of beliefs you’d have to let go of to shift, and then what? Would everything come crashing down? Would you fall into the earthquake of your collapse? How lucky for you both that you did not have an addiction that made change imperative, forced you to accept it, and challenged you to figure out in real time despite the fear, that change will not kill you. No, it will free you. Maybe I am the fortunate one because I did.

But you still comment on my body. You still talk about lunch and dinner over breakfast, describe the last six meals you’ve eaten in such detail I wonder if we’re talking about art. You still judge other peoples’ bodies in front of me, and discuss my dog’s weight, and joke about the days where all I would eat is mango. That wasn’t a phase in which I was trying to be difficult, that was me trying to disappear so that you could miss me. And so the best I can do is draw boundaries, not rant about you behind your back, not work myself into a tizzy, but draw real lines in the sand about what you can and cannot say to me, to my kids.

Because for my daughters, my precious daughters, I will continue to change. I won’t be able to control what happens to them, and I hate that. I won’t be able to control if they have addiction, if they love or hate their bodies, if they go on dates and enjoy a meal or if they spend the whole time counting fat grams in their head. What a pill to swallow, that I don’t have guarantees. But at the very least I am secure in who I am and what I can survive, in my resilience, which I’ve acquired on my own. The biggest gift I can give my girls then will be to be silent as they hold whatever they hold or ask questions if they’re in the mood to hear my voice and to change as they change, in tandem, witnessing them proving to themselves that they are secure and resilient too.

And because resentment only hurts me, I will continue to hope that you can grow with me, Mami and Papi, not for my sake anymore, but for your own. Say yes, yes to evolving, yes to feeling, yes to me, yes to your grandkids, yes to yourselves, yes to love. Because it’s not a static force, love is motion, morphing always morphing, beautiful and slippery like a whale, and my children are swimming ahead and I’m going to go after them, I’m going to float with them, I’m going to glide through the big blue ocean. And I don’t want to leave you behind. But if I have to, I will, because I won’t leave them, because I won’t leave me.

No matter what, there will always be this note hanging on a garage door by somebody who hopelessly cares about you. Somebody who wakes up every day remembering, as I nudge my own children to get dressed, what it was to wake up to your curls tickling my face, Mami, or your harsh cologne, Papi, as you kissed my forehead before you’d leave for work. And every morning, it still makes me smile.

Con Cariño,


By: Katya Lidsky
Title: What I Wish My Parents Had Asked Me
Sourced From:
Published Date: Thu, 09 Dec 2021 07:00:49 +0000

At New Horizon Drug Rehab, we understand addiction. If you or a family member are afflicted with addiction or substance abuse we can help. We work with the top centers throughout the US to provide the best detox and addiction treatments available.

Call Now: (877) 747-9974

Gloria Harrison: True Recovery Is the Healing of the Human Spirit

True recovery is the healing of the human spirit.
It is a profound recognition that we not only have the right to live
but the right to be happy, to experience the joy of life.
Recovery is possible if only you believe in your own self-worth.

-Gloria Harrison

Although the dream of achieving recovery from substance use disorders is difficult today for people outside of the Caucasian, straight, male normative bubble, there is no question that progress has been made. If you want to know how difficult it was to get help and compassionate support in the past, you just have to ask Gloria Harrison. Her story is a stark reminder of how far we have come and how far we still must go.

As a young gay African American girl growing up in a Queens household overrun with drug abuse and childhood trauma, it is not surprising that she ended up becoming an addict who spent years homeless on the streets of New York. However, when you hear Gloria’s story, what is shocking is the brutality of the reactions she received when she reached out for help. At every turn, as a girl and a young woman, she was knocked down, put behind bars in prisons, and sent to terribly oppressive institutions.

Gloria’s story is heartbreaking while also being an inspiration. Although she spent so much time downtrodden and beaten, she never gave up hope; her dream of recovery allowed her to transcend the bars of historical oppression.

Today, as an active member of Voices of Community Activists & Leaders (VOCAL-NY), she fights to help people who experience what she suffered in the past. She is also a Certified Recovery Specialist in New York, and despite four of her twenty clients dying from drug overdoses during the COVID-19 pandemic, she continues to show up and give back, working with the Harlem United Harm Reduction Coalition and, as a Hepatitis C survivor, with Frosted (the Foundation for Research on Sexually Transmitted Diseases).

Before delving into Gloria’s powerful and heartbreaking story, I must admit that it was not easy for me to decide to write this article. As a white Jewish male in long-term recovery, I was not sure that I was the proper person to recount her story for The Fix. Gloria’s passion and driving desire to have her story told, however, shifted my perspective.

From my years in recovery, where I have worked a spiritual program, I know that sometimes when doors open for you, it is your role to walk through them with courage and faith.

A Cold Childhood of Rejection and Confusion

Like any child, Gloria dreamed of being born into the loving arms of a healthy family. However, in the 1950s in Queens, when you were born into a broken family where heavy responsibilities and constant loss embittered her mother, the arms were more than a little overwhelmed. The landscape of Gloria’s birth was cold and bleak.

She does not believe that her family was self-destructive by nature. As she tells me, “We didn’t come into this world with intentions of trying to kill ourselves.” However, addiction and alcoholism plagued so many people living in the projects. It was the dark secret of their lives that was kept hidden and never discussed. Over many decades, more family members succumbed to the disease than survived. Although some managed to struggle onward, addiction became the tenor of the shadows that were their lives.

Gloria’s mother had a temper and a judgmental streak. However, she was not an alcoholic or an addict. Gloria does remember the stories her mother told her of a difficult childhood. Here was a woman who overcame a terrifying case of polio as a teenager to become a singer. Despite these victories, her life became shrouded in the darkness of disappointment and despair.

In 1963, as a pre-teen, Gloria dreamed of going to the March on Washington with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Her mother even bought her a red beanie like the militant tam worn by the Black Panthers. Proudly wearing this sign of her awakening, Gloria went from house to house in Astoria, Queens, asking for donations to help her get to Washington, D.C. for the march. She raised $25 in change and proudly brought it home to show her mother.

Excited, she did not realize it was the beginning of a long line of slaps in the face. Her mother refused to let her little girl go on her own to such an event. She was protective of her child. However, Gloria’s mom promised to open a bank account for her and deposit the money. Gloria could use it when she got older for the next march or a future demonstration. Gloria never got to turn this dream into a reality because her life quickly went from bad to worse.

At thirteen, Gloria found herself in a mish-mash of confusing feelings and responsibilities. She knew she liked girls more than boys from a very early age, not just as friends. Awakening to her true self, Gloria felt worried and overwhelmed. If she was gay, how would anyone in her life ever love her or accept her?

The pressure of this realization demanded an escape, mainly after her mother started to suspect that something was off with her daughter. At one point, she accused her daughter of being a “dirty lesbo” and threw a kitchen knife at her. Gloria didn’t know what to do. She tried to run away but realized she had nowhere to go. The only easy escape she could find was the common escape in her family: Drugs seemed the only option left on the table.

The High Price of Addiction = The Shattering of Family Life

In the mid-sixties, Gloria had nowhere to turn as a young gay African American teen. There were no counselors in her rundown public high school, and the usual suspects overwhelmed the teachers. Although the hippies were fighting the war in Vietnam on television, they did not reach out to troubled kids in the projects. Heck, most of them never left Manhattan, except for a day at the Brooklyn Zoo or Prospect Park. The Stonewall Riots of 1969 were far away, and Gay Rights was not part of almost anyone’s lexicon. Gloria had no options.

What she did have was an aunt that shot heroin in her house with her drug-dealing boyfriend. She remembers when she first saw a bag of heroin, and she believed her cousin who told her the white powder was sugar. Sugar was expensive, and her mom seldom gave it to her brothers and sisters. Why was it in the living room in a little baggie?

Later, she saw the white powder surrounded by used needles and cotton balls, and bloody rags. She quickly learned the truth, and she loved what the drug did to her aunt and the others. It was like it took all their cares away and made them super happy. Given such a recognition, Gloria’s initial interest sunk into a deeper fascination.

At 14, she started shooting heroin with her aunt, and that first hit was like utter magic. It enveloped her in a warm bubble where nothing mattered, and everything was fine. Within weeks, Gloria was hanging out in shooting galleries with a devil may care attitude. As she told me, “I have always been a loner even when I was using drugs, and I always walked alone. I never associated with people who used drugs, except to get more for myself.”

Consequences of the Escape = Institutions, Jails, and Homelessness

Realizing that her daughter was doing drugs, Gloria’s mother decided to send her away. Gloria believes the drugs were a secondary cause. At her core, her mother could not understand Gloria’s sexuality. She hoped to find a program that would get her clean and turn her straight.

It is essential to understand that nobody else in Gloria’s family was sent away to an institution for doing drugs. Nobody else’s addiction became a reason for institutionalization. Still, Gloria knows her mother loved her. After all, she has become her mother’s number one contact with life outside of her nursing home today.

Also, Gloria sometimes wonders if the choice to send her away saved her life. Later, she still spent years homeless on the streets of Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. Of the five boroughs of New York City, only Staten Island was spared her presence in the later depths of her addiction. However, being an addict as a teenager, the dangers are even more deadly.

When her mother sent her away at fourteen, Gloria ended up in a string of the most hardcore institutions in the state of New York. She spent the first two years in the draconian cells of the Rockefeller Program. Referred to in a study in The Journal of Social History as “The Attila The Hun Law,” these ultra-punitive measures took freedom away from and punished even the youngest offenders. Gloria barely remembers the details of what happened.

After two years in the Rockefeller Program, she was released and immediately relapsed. Quickly arrested, she was sent to Rikers Island long before her eighteenth birthday and put on Methadone. Although the year and a half at Rikers Island was bad, it was nothing compared to Albany, where they placed her in isolation for two months. The only time she saw another human face was when she was given her Methadone in the morning. During mealtimes, she was fed through a slot in her cell.

Gloria says she went close to going insane. She cannot recall all the details of what happened next, but she does know that she spent an additional two in Raybrook. A state hospital built to house tuberculosis patients; it closed its doors in the early 1960s. In 1971, the state opened this dank facility as a “drug addiction treatment facility” for female inmates. Gloria does remember getting lots of Methadone, but she does not recall even a day of treatment.

Losing Hope and Sinking into Homeless Drug Addiction in the Big Apple

After Raybrook, she ended up in the Bedford Hills prison for a couple of years. By now, she was in her twenties, and her addiction kept her separate from her family. Gloria had lost hope of a reconciliation that would only came many years later.

When she was released from Bedford Hills in 1982, nobody paid attention to her anymore. She became one more invisible homeless drug addict on the streets of the Big Apple. Being gay did not matter; being black did not matter, even being a woman did not matter; what mattered was that she was strung out with no money and no help and nothing to spare.

Although she found a woman to love, and they protected each other when not scrambling to get high, she felt she had nothing. She bounced around from park bench to homeless shelter to street corners for ten years. There was trauma and violence, and extreme abuse. Although Gloria acknowledges that it happened, she will not talk about it.

Later, after they found the path of recovery, her partner relapsed after being together for fifteen years. She went back to using, and Gloria stayed sober. It happens all the time. The question is, how did Gloria get sober in the first place?

Embracing Education Led to Freedom from Addiction and Homelessness

In the early 1990s, after a decade addicted on the streets, Gloria had had enough. Through the NEW (Non-traditional Employment for Women) Program in NYC, she discovered a way out. For the first time, it felt like people believed in her. Supported by the program, she took on a joint apprenticeship at the New York District College for Carpenters. Ever since she was a child, Gloria had been good with her hands.

In the program, Gloria thrived, learning welding, sheet rocking, floor tiling, carpentry, and window installation. Later, she is proud to say that she helped repair some historical churches in Manhattan while also being part of a crew that built a skyscraper on Roosevelt Island and revamped La Guardia Airport. For a long time, work was the heart of this woman’s salvation.

With a smile, Gloria says, “I loved that work. Those days were very exciting, and I realized that I could succeed in life at a higher level despite having a drug problem and once being a drug addict. Oh, how I wish I was out there now, working hard. There’s nothing better than tearing down old buildings and putting up something new.”

Beyond dedicating herself to work, Gloria also focused on her recovery. She also managed to reconnect with her mother. Addiction was still commonplace in the projects, and too many family members had succumbed to the disease. She could not return to that world. Instead, Gloria chose to focus on her recovery, finding meaning in 12-Step meetings and a new family.

Talking about her recovery without violating the traditions of the program, Gloria explains, “I didn’t want to take any chances, so I made sure I had two sponsors. Before making a choice, I studied each one. I saw how they carried themselves in the meetings and the people they chose to spend time with. I made sure they were walking the walk so that I could learn from them. Since I was very particular, I didn’t take chances. I knew the stakes were high. Thus, I often stayed to myself, keeping the focus on my recovery.”

From Forging a Life to Embracing a Path of Recovery 24/7

As she got older and the decades passed, Gloria embraced a 24/7 path of recovery. No longer able to do hard physical labor, she became a drug counselor. In that role, she advocates for harm reduction, needle exchange, prison reform, and decriminalization. Given her experience, she knew people would listen to her voice. Gloria did more than just get treatment after learning that she had caught Hepatitis C in the 1980s when she was sharing needles. She got certified in HCV and HIV counseling, helping others to learn how to help themselves.

Today, Gloria Harrison is very active with VOCAL-NY. As highlighted on the organization’s website, “Since 1999, VOCAL-NY has been building power to end AIDS, the drug war, mass incarceration & homelessness.” Working hard for causes she believes in, Gloria constantly sends out petitions and pamphlets, educating people about how to vote against the stigma against addicts, injustices in the homeless population, and the horror of mass incarceration. One day at a time, she hopes to help change the country for the better.

However, Gloria also knows that the path to recovery is easier today for facing all the “absurd barriers” that she faced as a young girl. Back in the day, being a woman and being gay, and being black were all barriers to recovery. Today, the tenor of the recovery industry has changed as the tenor of the country slowly changes as well. Every night, Gloria Harrison pictures young girls in trouble today like herself way back when. She prays for these troubled souls, hoping their path to recovery and healing will be easier than she experienced.

A Final Word from Gloria

(When Gloria communicates via text, she wants to make sure she is heard.)




Postscript: A big thank from both Gloria and John to Ahbra Schiff for making this happen.

By: John Lavitt
Title: Gloria Harrison: True Recovery Is the Healing of the Human Spirit
Sourced From:
Published Date: Mon, 06 Dec 2021 07:13:07 +0000

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