Chris Connors: Alumni Coordinator at Transcend Recovery Community

On this episode of Recovery X...

Dan Sevigny interviews Chris Connors, Alumni Coordinator at Transcend Recovery Community in Los Angeles.

They talk about...

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    Chris' story of addiction recovery.
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    The importance of community in recovery.
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    How to get sober from drugs and alcohol.

...and much more! Watch the full video to find out.

Episode Transcription

Speakers:

Dan Sevigny (DS)

Chris Connors, Jr. (CC)

DS:

Hello.  I’m Dan Sevigny, and you are watching Recovery X.  Recovery X is where experts meet to talk about addiction, educate the public, and help solve the problem of addiction.  I’m here with Chris Connors who is a former client at Transcend Recovery Community and is currently their Alumni Coordinator.  What’s up, Chris? It’s great to have you here.

CC:

What’s up, Dan?  How are you?

DS:

Good, Man.

CC:

Thanks for having me.

DS:

Thanks for coming.  Tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do with Transcend.

CC:

I’m from New York from a town called Garden City, back in Long Island.  And, I’m the Alumni Coordinator at Transcend. What I’ve been doing the past few months is reaching out to all the clients that have come through our program, setting up events and meetings and workshops.  And, the point of it is to bring our alumni back together again. We want to connect them and continue the structure and accountability and just continue to let them know they’re part of the Transcend family.  And, we never forget that.

DS:

That’s an important thing to have that community.  Definitely. I want to talk to you about your story in recovery, kind of how you got from where you were, however long ago, to where you are today.  I’m sure there’s been a lot of changes in your life since then. So, could you talk to me a little bit about sort of what your life was like, what your childhood was like growing up, a little bit about what your family life and stuff like that.

CC:

You know, Dan, I come from a great family, very supportive and loving parents, two brothers, a sister, and my town’s big on sports.  So, I grew up playing lacrosse and football. I had a great childhood. Went out east to Long Island for the summers and always continued playing sports.  In high school, what would we do after a big football or lacrosse game on the weekends is we drank. We’d go out and party with friends at somebody’s house.  We’d go to the sump, drink outdoors. But, it was just some weekends, Friday, Saturday night. And that was kind of it. Garden City’s known as a big drinking town, but they do it after they win big games.  And then I went to college for lacrosse. A college in Newport, Rhode Island, called “Salve Regina University.” Went up there, and I started on lacrosse in my freshman year. I was a goalie. And, then, sophomore year, I was in a terrible car accident.  I had to take a semester off school, and I broke my hip, I lacerated my liver, I broke four ribs, and that’s when the pain killers got introduced to my life. It was bad. It was non-stop to try to find new doctors and trying to get prescriptions and, if I couldn’t, getting prescriptions from whoever it was.  It got pretty bad, Dan. You know, it got to a point where 0:03:11.0 (??) out of school, my parents didn’t know what was going on with me, they were all worried sick. I wasn’t going to class. I was a total disaster. And, I had gotten better from pain killers. I had seen my doctor, and we figured some stuff out.  So, I was like, “All right, I’m not going to do pain killers anymore. I’ll just 0:03:34.5 (??).” And next thing I know, fast forward four or five years later, I’m out in Colorado. I had gone out there, and I’m a full-blown alcoholic. So, whatever it was with me in my life, I took it to the extreme, I took it to the extent, whether it was girls or work or sports or partying, or whatever it was, I took it to that extreme.  My dad used to say to me, he’d say all the time, “Chris, you’re burning the candle at both ends, Bro.” He’s like, “You got to get this together. You got to figure this out.” And, I’d always tell him, I’d say, “Look, I’m partying. I’m having a good time just like everyone else.” Little did I realize I wasn’t having a good time just like everyone else. Because, when everyone else was going back to work, I was still drinking.  Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night, whatever it was, I treated it like a party every single night. And it was manageable at first until it really wasn’t. I was functional until I wasn’t.

DS:

So, this kind of slow progression from first taking the pain killers and casually drinking with your friends on the weekends and, then, how did that progress from there into the more serious drinking every day?  Did you notice it happening, or did it just happen and you woke up one day and there it was?

CC:

So, I noticed it happening.  I didn’t know what was going on.  I didn’t know why I was doing it. I won’t get too deep into it, Dan, but it was bad.  I was a full-blown alcoholic, and I had gone home in the summer of 2016 to visit my family to see them.  I was going home, it was my goddaughter’s christening. It was my brother’s wedding coming up. And, my family had seen where my drinking had gone, and they were worried sick.  They said, “Chris, what is going on with you? You need to figure this out. The wedding’s coming up in September. If you can’t get this together by the time the wedding’s done, you got to go somewhere.”  And, the wedding came, beautiful wedding, beautiful, beautiful wedding. And, after that, as everyone else was going back to work and doing their thing, I’m still partying. It was Monday, Tuesday, and then Wednesday, my parents had come to me, and they said, “You know, Chris, you need to go somewhere and you need to get some help.  You need to get your mind healthy, your body healthy, again.” So, that’s what I did. I went to a place called “Mountainside,” which is in Canaan, Connecticut. And, I went there for 30 days, Dan, and I was honest with everyone there. I said, “I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not an addict. I was just on a bender. I was on a binge. I’ll be drinking when I get out of here.  I’m not like you people.” And, I got out of there and, within three weeks, Dan, it had gotten just as bad, if not worse, than where I was before I went into treatment. And, my father kept trying to bring me to meetings, and I would go to meetings, and I would say, “I can’t relate with anyone here,” just because I wasn’t open about it. I didn’t think I needed it. “I can’t relate.  I’m not like that person. I’m not like this person,” whatever it was. And, I woke up after a really bad night one morning, and I said, “Oh, wow, I’m an addict. I’m an alcoholic. I need to go back into detox. I need to go back into treatment. I need to get the help I need.”

DS:

Can you talk to me about that night, that pivotal moment.  I don’t like to focus too much on the bad because I think the positive focus is really good, but really around those moments of self-discovery.  I think that’s really important to describe, so would you mind getting into that and elaborating?

CC:

Of course.  You know, nothing crazy had happened.  When I say “bad,” it was finally, my father said to me. “Chris, you can’t stay here anymore.  I don’t care what you do. Go to a homeless shelter.” They wanted nothing to do with me anymore.  And, that’s what it was for me. I’m very close with my family, and my family’s my biggest support system, emotionally and spiritually.  But, they’re always there for me. So, once that started happening, once I started seeing my family being done with me, because I had already lost my best friends, Dan.  They wanted nothing to do with me anymore because of my drinking. So, once I saw my family was slipping out of my hands, that’s when it hit me. I had nowhere to go. I didn’t know what to do.  I had a few run-ins with my town cops that night. And, finally, they brought me back to my parents’ place, and I woke up that morning in such disgust. I was so disgusted with myself, and I couldn’t believe what I was doing to my family, and my mother was crying.  And, I knew I needed to get help. I missed my niece’s birthday because I was too hungover, and my niece, my goddaughter, they’re huge in my life. So, just losing my family slowly and seeing that, I was like, “Wow. I’m an addict. I’m an alcoholic. I need to get help.”

DS:

That’s powerful.  That’s a big moment, for sure.  So, you went back to the same rehab?  What was it called again?

CC:

So, it was Mountainside.  I did not. So, I went and I detoxed at Mountainside, and then I went to a place called “CMC Berkshires”.  That stands for “A Center for Motivation and Change” which is up in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. And, I went there for 30 days.  I knew I wanted to go to California. My mom had said to me, “Why don’t you go to California after and do Sober Living there?” because I wanted to do Sober Living.  I didn’t know anything about Sober Living because I had never been to one. But, I had heard horror stories about them. I had heard different things, and I was so serious about my sobriety that I didn’t want to show up somewhere where people were using, and it was just like a total flop house, because that’s what I had heard about them.  At least, you hear about stuff, especially like in the Florida market, just like disaster stories. So, I didn’t want that. So, we researched several different places, you know, my treatment team. And, finally, a family friend said to me, “Chris,” and said to my mom, “You got to check out this place, Transcend. You need to speak with Asher Gottesman.  He’ll get you the help you need. He has a very legitimate Sober Living out there. So, speak to him.” So, that’s what we did. We called Asher, and Asher said, “Come out here once it’s done. We want to get you the help you need. This will be a great place to do it.” So, that’s what I did. Right from rehab, I got driven to the airport. Right from the airport, I got picked up by a driver of the Sober Living.  I went to the Seaside House of Transcend, which is in Santa Monica. It’s their beach house. Beautiful house. And, I got there, and right away there were a few things I wasn’t totally happy with, but I’d given Asher Gottesman a call. He was in Israel. He picked up my phone call. I told him what was going on. And, immediately, within a half a day, he fixed all those issues. And, I spent nine months at Transcend.

DS:

What were the issues?

CC:

Just a couple different things, and I won’t get totally into it.  I wasn’t totally happy with one of the staff members and something else, and immediately Asher fixed it.

DS:

But he was responsive to your needs.  That’s super important. I’ve definitely been to some Sober homes where the owners don’t, they don’t care at all and anything goes.  So, that’s good. Definitely.

CC:

Exactly.  Having the CEO pick up the phone while he’s in Israel to take care of a small, small little issue like this, to make the experience better for the client, was amazing.

DS:

I want to go back briefly to the beginning.  How did your parents figure out where to send you? Because, I know a lot of times people don’t really know where to send their kids, and you look online and there’s like these 800 numbers and they just want to know about your insurance.  And, Asher mentioned it on the interview I did with him last week. You don’t really know if they’re qualified. So, how did they find Mountainside, and how did you actually get hooked up with them?

CC:

My mom had talked to some people around town.  I come from a town where, it’s not like small, but if something’s going on with someone, everyone knows about it.  You know what I mean? So, my mom had a friend whose son went to Mountainside and spoke very highly of it, because they had no idea where to turn to, and go to, and whatever it was.  So, she spoke with someone that she trusted, a friend from town, and she told her about Mountainside.

DS:

I just want to go through the places that you’ve been to and just like tell me what you really liked about it and what you think could have been improved.  Just so people get an idea of what’s out there and what they can expect. So, the first one you went to, Mountainside, for rehab and for detox. How would you describe that process and what was good, what was challenging, what could be improved about it?

CC:

With Mountainside, it was good.  The detox was brand new. It was absolutely beautiful.  They had a ton of doctors and nurses in the detox. And, it was good.  But, it’s detox. So, you’re just cleaning out your body. You’re on a lot of different medications to keep everything good.  So, I spent like seven days at their detox, and then I went to the residential program which was right next door to it. And, I spent 30 days there.  I felt like the residential program, it was good. A lot of groups, a lot of different meetings. Beautiful property. A brand new gym with a basketball court in it.  Me and friends would play volleyball every day with like a whole thing. And, me and one of my bigger friends… When I got sober, Dan, I put on like 70, 80, pounds, so me and my other bigger friend used to tell people that we were at Fat Camp.  But, it was good. I felt like there could have been some more staff, the staff to client ratio. I don’t know exactly what it was, the ratio, but there could have been more staff for the amount of clients that were there.

DS:

Then, your next experience would have been at Transcend.

CC:No, my next experience was at CMC Berkshires.

DS:

Oh, apologies, CMC Berkshires.  So, what was that like? How did you guys find them, and what was the whole process like?

CC:

So, at Mountainside, I wanted to, originally, I needed to go to residential for 15 days because I was waiting for this one Sober Living to open up.  So, I needed to find a program that would do that. And, CMC, they had spoken very highly of… So, I had gone there, and I loved the program so much, Dan, that I was like, “I want to do 30 days here.”  It’s very individualized care. It’s a lot of one-on-one therapy. There was 13 clients, I believe, was the max. And, there’s so much staff to client, which is great. So, there’s always someone at every corner, wherever you are.  You have your main therapist you meet with every single day. You do groups every single day. You really bond with the people there. I still keep in touch with all my friends from CMC Berkshires. I was talking to a friend the other day, and we all keep in touch with each other because, in recovery, you’re all in the same boat, so you don’t judge people in recovery.  You know you’re almost 0:15:56.8 (??). You all need that help. So. I have friends from my rehabs and stuff that I never thought I’d be friends with before. But, they’re some of my best friends today.

DS:

That community aspect is definitely important to have other people with you on the road, for sure.  Next, you graduated there, and then you moved on to Transcend. So, what was that like? How did you…  What’s the house like? Walk me through kind of that whole process and getting accustomed to living there and anything like that.

CC:It was good.  I flew out from rehab to LAX.  One of the drivers picked me up at LAX and brought me to the house.  It’s a beautiful house. It’s right on the beach in Santa Monica. Literally, you have a 180-degree view of the ocean and the pier, and it’s absolutely beautiful.  There’s a jacuzzi on the roof.

DS:

Important things for recovery.

CC:

Exactly.  And, I got there and immediately got along with the staff members.  One of them was from the town right next door to me back on Long Island.  So, immediately, a connection with him. And, I was tired for that first week.  It was a lot of mentally draining stuff, because when you get into a rehab or Sober Living, you’re going through so much paperwork and signing so many different things.   I 0:17:28.0 (??) a lot for that first week. I got to sleep and kind of whatever it was. And, then, as I started getting more involved with the house and after that first week getting comfortable and meeting the guys.  And, like I said, you’re all in the same boat again. It can definitely be a little nerve wracking in the beginning because you’re in this new place. You don’t know anyone, and you don’t know what to do or how to act or kind of whatever it is.  But, you start to realize that everyone there is there for the same reason. So, it’s nice to kind of feel that energy with one another. And, then, you start bonding with these guys, and they start becoming your best friends because it’s like being back in college without the drugs and alcohol.  You’re having those fun, laughing moments, and you’re going to the gym together and watching movies together and working on yourself together. And, you walk down to the beach and toss a football around. The House Manager would get us a football. Got us a bunch of lacrosse sticks one day. All these different things that we could do.  We all 0:18:33.2 worked(??) out and did a Mammoth trip together. Transcend brings all the houses to Mammoth. All the guy’s houses to Mammoth, and they rent two beautiful lodges there. So, we went there for a weekend. And, you just continue to bond with these guys. These guys that I met in the house are my best friends. I moved out of the Seaside house with my roommate, Maurice.  We got a place out here in Los Angeles, and he’s one of my best friends. I keep in touch with all the guys. It’s just great. You really build your support system. That’s why I did this. I needed… I didn’t know how to act, Dan, without drugs and alcohol. I didn’t know how to socialize. I didn’t know how to talk to girls. I didn’t know how to do anything without having a few drinks before it.  When I was getting sober, I thought I’d never be able to go out to dinner again, because when I went out to a restaurant, the first thing I’d do is order a gin and tonic. And, I couldn’t do that anymore. So, a big thing for me was exposure therapy, was putting myself back in these situations slowly and becoming more comfortable with them and going out to dinner again with friends or whatever it was, and going out to social scenes with people and not having to worry about that anymore.  And, slowly over time, that’s what it becomes. It becomes normal. It becomes something that normal people can do. So, you start to see that slowly. But, it was great building that community for myself, those support systems, that network. I needed a Sober network, and that’s what I got going through Transcend. I got my Sober friends. I got my meetings. I got the places I like to go to. I needed that Sober network.

DS:

Absolutely.  That’s important.  You touched on some sort of treatment methods.  You mentioned exposure therapy which I think is super important.  Talk to me a little bit about that. Did you have any kind of structure to that, or was it just like going out and doing things with a Sober group?

CC:

Exposure therapy was big for the rehab I went to at CMC Berkshires.  In the rehab, they would actually take us out to dinner every Sunday night.  They would take the group out to dinner at a restaurant that had a bar in it because they wanted you to start to feel comfortable getting back out in the world again.  You needed to feel comfortable doing those things because you can’t hide from it. You can’t hide from it for the rest of your life. To live a normal life, you have to be able to go out to restaurants again.  You have to be socialized. So, slowly being brought back into those moments. There wasn’t much structure to my exposure therapy. It was just knowing I needed to go out, throw myself in these situations and slowly become okay with it.

DS:

So, what else do you do in terms of recovery methods?  You mentioned some meetings. Is there anything outside of that?

CC:

It’s meetings.  It’s meeting with my peer group.  Meeting with my mentors, you know, 0:21:45.0 (??) is one of my biggest mentors.  Somebody like himself, you see and you want what he has, that sense of peace in recovery.  And, it’s meetings. Like every Tuesday night, I have our recovery meeting that I set up. Every Thursday night, my friend has a meeting at his house, which is great.  It’s outdoors. He gets some food. And you start to become close with those people. So, it’s meetings as well as exercise. I’ve become huge with exercise getting sober.  A big thing I do is Soulcycle. I love it. It’s great for addicts because of that spirituality aspect of it, that motivational aspect of it. As well as, after the workout, it’s such a high intensity workout that you kind of feel, you feel the endorphins rushing.  So, it’s great. I need to work out. I need that mental and physical balance for myself.

DS:

What would you say is the most important aspects of your recovery, and how would you describe that?

CC:

The most important aspect of my recovery is, a big thing for me has been doing things, if somebody asks me to do something, like a friend, or whatever it is, to go to a meeting or go out to dinner and go meet with them, or whatever it is, and if I don’t really want to do it, I still say, “Yes.”  The reason I do that is because I know I always feel better afterwards, Dan. A big part of my recovery has been not saying “No” to people when they ask me to go do something, whether it be an activity or a hike, or a meeting, or whatever it is. I say “Yes” to that because I know I always feel so much better after I do it.  Even if, deep down, like, “I don’t want to go do this, I just want to relax,” I go and I do it, because I know I’ll always feel better afterwards.

DS:

And you never know what you’re going to get into either.  You might go into it expecting one thing and get something completely different.

CC:

Exactly.

DS:

So, you went from having a really hard time, almost losing your family, all the way to graduating Transcend, becoming a big part of their program.  What else would you say, what’s like been your biggest moment of personal victory and success? What’s really impacted you the most out of your whole recovery, so far?

CC:

What’s impacted me the most, Dan, it’s a couple different things.  A big part of my recovery was, I started coaching a lacrosse team when I was in the Sober Living house.  I met with one of the guys in one of the other Transcend houses. He was coaching a lacrosse team out in the Valley in Los Angeles.  And, he’s like, “Chris, have you coached one of our teams?” I got that into a sport that I love so much, but that was taken away from me from the car accident.  I broke my hip, so I couldn’t go back to playing lacrosse again. And, that destroyed me. So, coming back and giving back to the sport I loved and coaching kids, a sport that I played since I was four or five years old was absolutely amazing for me.  So, I coached the U-11 team which is 10, 11-year-olds, and my friend asked me to be the goalie coach of the high school team. So, that was like an amazing part of my recovery. I felt so happy and at peace coaching a lacrosse team early on in recovery.  It was just absolutely amazing for me, Dan.

DS:

And how about your family, your parents, and everything?  Have you guys sort of mended things? Are they happy and proud of you, and do you talk to them?

CC:Yes, I speak to my mom.  I’m a huge Mama’s boy. I talk to my mom like three to four times a day, and they’re back in my life.  They’ve always wanted the best for me. They didn’t care about other aspects, they just wanted me to be happy, mentally and physically.  Everyone’s back in my life – my father, and my sister, and my older brother, and my younger brother. Everyone lives back in Garden City.  My grandma lives there, my parents live there, my sister lives there with my brother-in-law and her two kids. So, it’s nice. Every time I go home, it’s filled with family fun.  When I go home, me and my sister and my mom and my brother, we go to the gym together. We go out to dinner together. We go over to my sister’s. I get to play with my nieces. They’re such a big part of my life, my family.  They’re a huge part of my life. Like I said, my mother’s one of my best friends. So, I don’t know where I would be without them. So, it’s nice. And, you know, I have my best friends back in my life that I was friends with for so many years, from when we were young to graduating college, that didn’t want to be a part of my life anymore because of where I was.  I don’t blame them. But now that I’ve gotten healthy and coming up on 16 months sober now, they’re back in my life, which is amazing.

DS:

That’s beautiful, Man.  Congratulations, by the way, for 16 months.  That’s a good thing. So, we’re kind of getting to the end here.  One last question I want to ask you is, “What do you wish you knew going into this, and what would you tell yourself at the very beginning of your recovery before you even started, that you wish you knew?

CC:

I would tell myself to be open to everything.  Like I said, I’ve gotten better with it, but at the beginning just be open to everything.  And, when I say everything, I mean not everything, but good things that can positively influence your life.  Be open to that, meet new people, go to meetings. You know, don’t be nervous at meetings. We all are as newcomers.  Newcomers are always nervous at meetings. They don’t want to share. Share at meetings. Listen to the speaker. Find one thing that you can relate to with that speaker because you can always find one thing.  If you’re open and willing to listen to the speaker, you’ll always find something you can relate to. So, do that. Find something you can relate to. Share it. Talk to other people, because we’re not in a competition.  Everyone in recovery is in the same boat. Everyone is in the same boat. We’re all just trying to better ourselves. We’re all trying to better ourselves so we can grow and move on with our lives and do things we’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t because the drink or the drug held us back.  I was trapped in my own body when I was using. I was a slave to the drug, alcohol. So, be open to things.

DS:

And the meetings are referencing our 12-Step AA CA sort of thing?

CC:

AA meetings, yes.

DS:

AA meetings.  Awesome. Thank you so much.  Let’s take some questions. I think we have a few viewers on right now.  Does anyone out there have questions for Chris or about recovery in general?  Feel free to comment and we’ll get them answered. We’ll just give people a couple seconds if they want to type something.  Okay, no questions. Well, everyone watching, please make sure to “like” and subscribe and share this with someone who needs it.  And, if you have any questions about Transcend, Chris, where can we send them to speak to you or anyone about Transcend?

CC:

They can go to TranscendRecoveryCommunity.com to find anything out about us.  They can find us on Facebook at Transcend Recovery Community. If any alumni are out there watching, email me at [email protected].  Check us out and give me a call.  You can always call me at 0:30:07.1 (??) Alumni.  I’ve available to them night and day, weekends. It doesn’t matter when it is.  I’m always available to our alumni and anyone else who wants to talk. If anyone’s struggling with a loved one, and they don’t know what to do, give me a call.  I’ll help you out as best as I can from my experience. And, I’ll help guide you to getting your loved one the help they need.

DS:

Excellent.  Thank you so much, Chris.  You have a great day. Thank you so much for talking.

CC:

Thank you, Dan.  You, too.

DS:

All right.  Later, Brother.  Peace.

CC:

Bye.  

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