Leadership is the opposite of Ego!

“Leadership is not about the next election; it’s about the next generation,” Simon Sinex.

Growing up, I believed the best leaders ruled with an iron fist. I genuinely believed that leadership was about unapologetically dictating behavior. Furthermore, challenging the viewpoints or constructively criticizing a leader was utterly forbidden. Now that I am in multiple leadership roles, I realize those standards are rooted in destructive ego. I developed this theory based on the results in each of my mentee’s lives. They taught me empathy, pushing with love, and showing my flaws is the best way to lead. Through the application of these principles, my mentees have become inspirations for the change needed in this world. 

Michael Jordan and Bill Belichick both share in common a fist full of championship rings and regarded as the best in their careers. They are both also known to be tyrannical leaders with little to no empathy for failure. Many would suggest the ends justify the means considering the success. I use these two historical behemoths and accolades because their way is what I honestly believed was the absolute pinnacle of leadership. I thought leadership was about the results regardless of the scars left during the journey. I was not only wrong, but I learned we all respond to different styles of leadership. Every time I let my ego get in the way of what is best for my mentee, they suffered tremendously. Empathy was something I only saw through one prism of feeling sad for another person. Leadership has taught me that empathy is understanding and showing my sadness by uplifting through action. Treat others as I would like to be treated is the golden rule that is the foundational root of empathy. I noticed how my mentees felt considerably more comfortable opening up to me when my empathy was displayed through character. Instead of ridiculing them for mistakes or bad decisions, I empathized with a mindset focusing on learning from the action. I realized they never fail; they only learn a valuable lesson. 

The late Kobe Bryant said it best with, “No one’s expectations should ever be higher than my own!” Thank you, Kobe, because I use that ideology when explaining to my mentees never to worry about my expectations of them. I watched myself get caught up in thinking they were not doing enough and frustrated with their progress. I learned that leadership is not the throne of judgment but rather a guide for progress. I can push them with love by asking reflective questions that can point them in directions of inspiration. This process begins a dialogue that often requires me to do research and keeps my goal setting in a proper place. We are simultaneously lifting one another because I took the ego out of the equation. In years past, if a mentee did not listen to my advice, they were shunned because of destructive leadership. My spiritual immaturity was dysfunctional leadership that was detrimental to their growth. Instead of leading my flock, I was enhancing my ego that leads us both astray. I used to believe I was the blind leading the blind. However, I realized I was blinded and needed their vision. Developing a leadership style rooted in empathy, I have gotten more bees with honey. 

There was a time in my life where challenging my leadership was equivalent to blasphemy. How dare someone who has not reached my sobriety or accolades question my position on a subject. I would say, “If you knew so much, why are you asking my help?” What has been revealed is that I am to give the message and not control how it’s received. I lead the horse to the water, and then it’s choice is not my rule. Leadership is not about dictating their actions for my beliefs; instead, I am to deliver information to my best ability. I am also to show my flaws as a human, so they understand I too need help. They are to feel equal and that this is a learning relationship for us both. If they are unable to critique my behaviors, then the hierarchical ego rears its toxic head. Leadership is a privilege and not a right. I set myself back years having “yes” men around me for the sake of my ego. Hurt people truly hurt people, and I was a classic example of that in my previous leadership roles. 

Currently, I am blessed with a village of mentees from all different walks of life and blessed perspectives. By examining my deficiencies as a leader, I have grown in unimaginable ways. I learned the difference between love and ego. My mentees have blessed my life way more than I can ever bless theirs. I am more abundantly rich in my soul because of empathy, pushing with love, and showing my human flaws. Leadership taught me that love always wins, and ego is a deadly sin that can hold back generations of progress. Thank you to all my mentees because you taught me the real value of leadership. 

It’s Time to Change the Treatment System!

America is currently facing a devastating drug epidemic and mental health crises, unlike we have ever seen before.

Before and during this epidemic, I have been institutionalized in over twenty-plus drug treatment centers and mental health facilities combined. Being blessed to have a motivational speaking company, I am required to attend conferences with other people who work in the treatment field. I also have spoken with countless others in recovery who went through the treatment system, along with speaking with students receiving outpatient services. Each of these conversations contains despair and frustration concerning the lack of progress in defeating this epidemic. A person once said, “You cannot recover if you die!” The judgmental emphasis on how a person recovers has exasperated many recovery advocates fighting this debilitating epidemic. Viewpoints, as such, have infiltrated the 12 step rooms of fellowship, which has increasingly caused unnecessary harm. Logic would state while losing a war, a change of attitude and treatment would make complete sense. The mission statement of treatment centers and literature of 12 step fellowship is too often being overridden by one-way thinking ideology that is statistically doing more harm than good. The question remains, how many caskets will it take to overhaul the system?

The question remains, how many caskets will it take to overhaul the system?

“Only one out of ten will make it! Maybe three out of ten will make it in this room!” That is the statistical verbiage and use of fear I heard in all my treatment facility stays. I was always told, “Your best thinking got you a seat in a treatment center.” I would now ask the system, “When will you change your thinking so that we can stop losing this epidemic?” I look back and realize those sayings and ways of treating are a foundational problem that has kept the funeral homes busier than ever. I am not placing all the blame on treatment centers and 12 step fellowships, however, as the late former United States Representative Elijah Cummings stated, “We are better than this!” 

My Mother attended one treatment center for five days and has remained sober for over 25 years. She also completed the outpatient program and went on to have a successful career in the field of addiction. In recent conversations with her, she spoke about how people are entering treatment younger, which means the epidemic is only getting worse. “Freddy, it was unheard of when I first began working in this field to see a 13-year old patient with a daily intravenous heroin habit.” I, too, was amazed during my inpatient stays at how many youths needed that level of care. The clientele is coming in younger and considerably at a higher rate, but the programming remains the same. The methodology is a one sizes fits all approach that is yielding more death than positive results. 

My main attraction to Workit Health was their holistic approach to defeating this illness and having a prosperous life. They understand that every human has a different brain and life that requires multiple avenues of treatment. For years the treatment system has relied tremendously on the 12 Step approach cemented through the hiring process along with volunteers from such fellowship groups. The theory is, who better to serve and help save lives than those already in recovery? The psychological atmosphere of the building is that of a 12 step fellowship in hopes to change each person’s mind to the beautiful life of recovery. I believe this approach makes complete sense; however, the statistical relapse rate and deaths from this epidemic are begging for a change.

I want to be clear that the treatment facilities saved my family’s life. My Mother gaining sobriety when I was in third grade, gave me wisdom beyond my years. Not to mention my last treatment facility indeed altered the course of my life in unfathomable ways. We both garnered positive results but had completely different experiences. These experiences are the solution to the current problem. 

I wholeheartedly believe the institutions need to change and are currently flawed. However, some special people work in this system and understand what must be done. When I entered this last inpatient stay, I had only the clothes on my back. I was very fortunate that the facility had a clothing donation bin that afforded me everything I needed. I was left with only a few outfits that needed washing multiple times a week considering the scorching weather that summer. The rules of the house stated you could only wash your clothes on certain days. I was very embarrassed only to have a few outfits, so I waited until the wee hours to wash my clothes regularly. I got away with this for about two days until a wonderful woman named Sue politely confronted me about my behaviors. Instead of simply telling me the rule and giving me a consequence, she asked me to sit down next to her. During these next few days and weeks, she would sit and talk with me at night. In my darkest hour, when I wanted to give up and thought I had no purpose, she spoke life into me. She would even share candy and snacks she brought in from home. For a person in my shoes, that is the ultimate display of leadership, care, and love. These conversations would get in-depth, and I found it easy to open up to her. I trusted that her advice was real, regardless if it hurt my feelings.

Our conversations were not of the 12 step nature, nor did she stress any of that fellowship. She understood what I needed and how to approach me without going the regular programming route of a 12 step regimen. Sue explained that I had a duty as a son and wanted me to seek out different things in life. I remember her telling me to take advantage of the library that was offered and how working out is critical to a positive life of recovery. In hindsight, she was my first mentor but did it completely different than any other facilitator I had come across in a treatment setting. Not to mention several other treatment staff went rogue in helping me that truly changed my life. Things like giving me money, toiletry items, and clothing for when I transitioned to the halfway house, understanding I will need support. They went above and beyond to save my life, which made me want to make them proud. I am forever indebted to them because of the risk they took in supporting me off the books. 

Higher administration in these institutions emphatically object to having personal relationships with the clients, but Sue understood the way to my heart was soul to soul exposure. She knew that a Mother figure was the medicine I needed to heal. I will never forget she stated, “Freddy, you have a purpose in this life, and you were never a mistake!” Fast forward my one year anniversary of sobriety, I spoke at that treatment center, and she gave me her first-year coin along with telling me she loved me in front of all the patients. At my induction for Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society, I was only allowed two guests, and she sat beside my wife. I gave her my rose from that night because she deserved that and so much more. If Sue would not have taken a different approach, I promise you I would not be here today!

I have become successful by using my experiences and pain to inspire others. My lived experiences are not to be in vain instead, be the fruit for a change. A brother, mentor, and inspirational leader Greg Williams of Third Horizon Strategies empowered my voice for this exact change. Greg Williams is a filmmaker and director of The Anonymous People. He has made it a life mission to change the way the world views substance abuse and mental illness. He is currently working with Alliance for Addiction Payment Reform to incentive recovery, not relapse. By allowing me to share my lived experience in the treatment system, the power brokers in the room can better understand how to treat this illness. I believe Sue’s behavior and Greg’s actions are the new ideology we need in this system.

What do we have to lose in adding to the foundation of a battle we are already losing?

Instead of immediately offering a 12 step program to a new patient, why not offer other avenues of health? What if there were an additional space for programming only for spiritual practice, mental health, life skills classes, parenting groups, financial literacy, physical health, nutritional health, education on medication? What do we have to lose in adding to the foundation of a battle we are already losing? Keith Murphy, LPC, LCADC, and recovery advocate based out of New Jersey has long been a proponent of a better future for the next generation. Dr. Kristine De Jesus, who is a generational change agent for diversity, agrees that the system must change foundationally. Together they delivered a workshop at the SAFE Project Leadership Academy held in Washington, D.C. last year that left the room shook to the core. However, it was the quote by Mr. Murphy that stated how to accept change collectively, “We are all in the same church just sitting at different pews.” If the treatment system could take a hard look at the programming with that type of attitude, I honestly believe the rate of relapse and death would drastically drop. 

I thought long and hard before writing this piece because I wanted to ensure a solution over emotional critique. As a person in long term recovery and a motivational speaker for the youth, I have a God-given duty. My mission statement of Inspire, Educate, and Create healthy lifestyles for all must be a way of life. I am entrusted with platforms to be a teacher to the youth. My job is an integrity paycheck that I must daily deposit into the souls of the youth. By noticing a systemic flaw and not speaking on it is criminal behavior at it’s finest. Any business that does not change with its market gets left behind only to fail eventually. When a medication does not yield results, it’s taken off the market. The television is filled with new marketing campaigns of various chemotherapy drugs in hopes of finding a cure. What is taking the drug treatment centers so long? Why are these institutions refusing to see the evidence and move to a more holistic approach? There are a few but not nearly enough needed to really put a dent in this epidemic. Is the philosophy a case of profit over people? Treatment centers, please wake up and realize there is more than one way to skin a cat! 

A Tutorial For Student Success in The COVID-19 Education Landscape

The greatest gift of knowledge and success is sharing it.

People always ask me, “Freddy, how have you been able to be so successful during COVID-19 with all that you carry on your plate?” COVID-19 has enhanced not only my speaking business but my personal life as well. In the middle of a global pandemic, I have been able to thrive instead of surviving. Currently, I operate a motivational speaking company, full-time honor student taking 15 credit hours, family man, volunteer, part-time waiter, a person in longterm recovery that includes a mental health diagnosis, and mentor. The way I was able to uplift my life and business was through the methodology of health being wealth. A daily regime that focuses on a healthy funda of spiritual, physical, and mental well being is the key to success. The application of those areas has branched out into networking, time management, and high-quality health. Allow this blog to be a tutorial for success not only this fall but moving forward in the new educational landscape of COVID-19. 

Health is wealth! That is the famous quote so often stated but honestly not displayed in behavior considering the statistical decline in American health. COVID-19 has exposed the truth about the importance of a healthy lifestyle. When I enrolled in college, I had a solid foundation in recovery and overall health that brought out my best. I woke up to prayer, a nutritional breakfast, mental health medication, daily mediation, and looking over my assignments for that day. I had a day of health that put me in my best mind frame before dealing with the rigorous work of the college. I realized that intelligence mixed with a confident lifestyle of health could take me to greater heights in life. By having different avenues of health at my disposal, I was able to avoid major pitfalls. Each practice of health played a pivotal role in all the areas I needed to become a successful high honors graduate. My confidence skyrocketed, and I took the risk of building a speaking company that changed the course of my life. 

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My brother and recovery advocate Cameron Siler of New Jersey famously states, “Freddy, your network will determine your net worth!” The college experience has taught me the system of networking and how it can genuinely change your life. I began to receive scholarships because of the fruits of my labor in the classroom. These scholarships led to award dinners with donors, other scholarly students, and higher education administrators/professors. Here I learned how to use elevator speeches and the proper etiquette of being a professional—networking at these events opens doors to new books, speaking engagements, and priceless wisdom. The formula for a successful career can be step by step scholarships, award dinners, and networking. Understand by adding this new network to my life; they push me to become a better version of myself. I realized that they could only help me if I am helping myself. They are there as guides and, during critical moments, help me tap into my potential. I am blessed to have a high functioning village that helps to develop my success. How do you become a master? Study and learn from other masters.

If I had a dime for every time I heard, “Freddy, there are not enough hours in a day!” I combat that pessimistic view by writing down my actions of every hour on a given day. Suddenly I noticed how much time I was genuinely wasting. My experience taught me that time was not the issue; instead, what I did with my time was the key. I learned that being a productive adult is doing what I do not want to do when I must do it. In the fall semester of 2019, I was blessed to travel to five cities in six weeks. In each of these cities, I was tasked with conferencing, speaking, and networking. At the same time, I was maintaining my academic duties as a Phi Theta Kappa student and leader on campus. I specifically remember wanting to enjoy ribs and the beautiful nightlife of Kansas City with my colleagues. However, I had a term paper due during an essential time in the semester. I realize that I am not guaranteed to return to each city I visit. It has become a personal goal to enjoy every moment of each visit. I made the tough decision to forgo that night of entertainment and good food for hotel vending with water. For a person with such high energy and, at times, uncontrollable happiness, this was an enormous moment in my maturity. For years in my addiction and recovery, I was erratic, along with disastrous episodes of being compulsive. Looking back, I realized I was learning to place needs over wants. Since that moment, time management has become a way of life that allows me to be productive rather than busy. No matter the accomplishment, money, or material possessions, time is something we never get back. I implore us all to cherish every second that we are given! 

The upcoming semester will be a test for all parties involved in education. As a nation of education, we have the chance to show the next generation how to overcome during tumultuous times. Let us show them COVID-19 will not cripple our education system but rather help us to dig deeper into our repertoire of intellect. I enter a new university on a full paid scholarship along with being in the honors program. My advisor stated I must take 15 credit hours to graduate in four semesters to avoid the summer classes. I dread taking classes in the summer, and that was the sacrifice to be made. My goal is to graduate with Summa cum laude honors and valedictorian of my class. I can only accomplish that by using the tools, I stated in this piece. In the end, if my goals are not scaring me, they are not big enough! 

People in Recovery Are The Definition of Faith

Unemployment, custody battles, abuse, divorce, homelessness, legal troubles, and physical illness are thought to be catastrophic events in society. These events require a reset of life that requires a significant amount of faith. For people entering recovery or on the journey, they defeat these circumstances daily through faith.

It was not until years sober did I realize the lessons of faith the recovery community is teaching the world. Society has been given a tutorial of how to not only survive but thrive when faced with the harshes of life’s challenges. 

Faith, by definition, is having complete trust or confidence in something or someone. People devote their lives to religions and spiritual groups based off of faith. Decisions are made daily with the faith that everything will be okay. Covid-19, along with the protest, has further displayed the truth, concerning humanity and faith. The only thing guaranteed in life is change. Whenever those changes become extremely difficult, and the future is uncertain, faith is tested. Before Covid-19, there was a segment of the population that faith was easy to practice. Having the employment status, luxuries, and, most importantly, the security of the future you want makes faith an easy practice. My life before and after recovery has taught me that faith is an action word amid the storm. 

I have been to many treatment centers, shelters, and programs all built to help people restart their life. While in these institutions, I was surrounded by many people who faced uphill battles written about in books. Every year over a million people enter a treatment facility looking to gain a better life. Within that million, some people are entirely rebuilding their life. These people are all at different ages and stages in their life as well. They are task with not only defeating a debilitating disease but also navigating a new start. I have heard countless stories of people entering treatment that lost it all and must figure out a new way of life. Also, consider the toll that substance use disorder and mental illness takes on the body. In these situations, history has shown us many will quit; however, in the recovery community, the choice has overwhelmingly been to keep fighting. In that fight, faith is what carries the person in recovery through these trials. There is a saying in the recovery culture, “you are either going through something or coming out of it.” By practicing faith in their recovery program, their lives begin to change for the better. 

A friend of mine in recovery told me years ago that faith is easy for anyone in sobriety. I was complaining to him that having faith is hard, and I did not understand the concept. He explained it to me on the terms of before sobriety. I must admit that I was practicing faith before I even realized it. There was a routine of indulging in alcoholic beverages before operating a vehicle. Add on the other massive amounts of toxins and substances added to my body while in public. I was a complete wreck and had no business in any role of parenting, driving, or being responsible for anything important. Each time I made these decisions was a practice of faith. I say faith because I truly believed everything would work out. Faith is leaping without evidence that things will be okay. Even though I was displaying extremely irresponsible behavior, the evidence was clear that my actions showed faith. At this point, I realized I must now put my faith into action through my new life in sobriety.  

In 2018, it had become clear that I had a gift to speak, and I needed to pursue that has a career. I remember vividly having the paperwork for the LLC on my computer screen but could not hit submit. I was too scared of what the future may hold and how telling my story may negatively affect my life. I was consumed with fear instead of being consumed with faith. Unfortunately, I was looking at what could go wrong instead of what could go right. My fiance told me, “Freddy, you have and gift and a career that fell into your lap. It would be selfish to sell the world short on your gifts because of your lack of faith. Submit it and trust God.” I can report her faith has taken me across the country keynoting at colleges, national conferences, and holding high school assemblies. Her life experience in recovery has given her a strong foundation of faith. People in recovery have taught me that the practice of faith is the answer to any life problem. 

Right now, the world is going through so many changes, and people are stuck asking why? My advice to the world is to look no further than the recovery community for faith. You will find people at the worst points in life dancing in the rain. You will find survivors of the worst behavior humanity can offer only to bounce back and save other lives. The key to success, when faced with pain, is the mindset we carry. Frederick Douglas was correct with, “without a struggle; there can be no progress.” Recovery has taught me that without faith, there can be no hope!  

The Poison of One-Way Thinking

LGBTQ, abortion, civil rights, and several other equality protests are currently at the doorstep of America. The fabric of these issues is the systemic poison of one-way thinking.

Parenting and education have taught me the value of being open-minded. By trusting my recovery process, I have opened my mind and broken a generational cycle of one-way thinking. 

“Do as I say and not as I do!” Those were the famous words I heard growing up in my household. I was raised in what would be considered an old school household. Physical discipline was the standard, and having an opinion was entirely out of the question. I wholeheartedly believe my Mother and grandfather just followed suit of what they were taught. Even in recent conversations with my Mother, she stated it was muscle memory when it came to parenting. My family is built on Christian principles of spare thy rod, spoil the child. While I agree that discipline is vital, I now understand being opened minded about the discipline is also essential. My first attempt at parenting I was the same way, and the children were well behaved. One would think that experience would prove enough to continue its use. However, it was my second attempt at parenting in recovery that changed my mind. I entered a home where I was parenting adults, and I had to switch my styles. I tired heavily to rely on the parenting I was taught and enacted in my first attempt only to be left frustrated. As I began to grow in my recovery process, it was clear I needed to be more open-minded. I began to execute different procedures when I interacted with them and garnered positive results. I learned that the greatest parents are the best listeners. Within a short time, my daughter began to open up to me and trust me with information. I explained to my wife that we now had a new mission. During my childhood, the Sunday dinner table held the most respected voices of my family. My grandfather was a great man that blessed us with impeccable wisdom that we all carried throughout our lives. Besides him, my Mother, aunts, and uncles also shared valuable gifts of thought that help me to this day. As significant as this wisdom was the key element missing was open-mindedness. The principles of recovery have taught me how to change my parenting at Sunday dinner. I have learned how to respect all ways of thinking so that everyone’s voice is empowered. Even though I may disagree with my daughter, she is not to be shamed, guilted, or bullied for her thoughts. I am not to weaponize parenting or biblical principles to cover for my ego. In my opinion, parenting is the hardest job on the planet. I have learned everything in parenting by regret. Having parental rights is entirely different from the skill set needed to be a great parent. Recovery opened my mind to trust, acceptance, and faith, which changed my relationship with my daughter. I am grateful to report my Sunday dinner table is filled with different perspectives, all that are empowered and respected. 

I used to be ashamed of my mental illness and felt my story should be kept in the rooms of the program. Honestly, I felt that sharing my story would disrespect everything I was taught about the rooms of recovery. I had a poisoned, brainwashed, one-track mind that was heading me down a busy but not productive road. I had all the theatrics of a proper program, but I was not growing as a person. Being clean but not recovering is a deadly road for a person with mental health and substance use disorder. College is where this thinking began to break. I could no longer spend all my time at different meetings because I had homework to finish. I began speaking with other students who had other problems in life. They showed me different techniques they used to deal with issues. I learned how to balance family, my recovery, and schooling all at once. College is also where my speaking company came to life. My story began to circulate with the administration at the college. My hard work turned into the fruits of high honors, and they began investing in me as a student. They funded me on trips to conferences where I presented workshops on mental health, substance use disorder, and my story. These conferences are where schools offered me speaking engagements, and the rest is history. It became clear that I had a speaking gift with a story the world wanted to hear. I began to feel empowered and found my passion. Education changed the course of my life all because I was open-minded to trying a new recovery route. 

The cruelest dictators in history all share in a common theme: one-way thinking. There are thousands of religions and institutions that promote they are the best with the understanding of thinking one-way. How far has that gotten us? In 2020, we are in the midst of a civil rights movement demanding answers for equality and equity. How long will it take the world to wake up to be open-minded? What generation will demand that everyone is equal and different perspectives are welcomed. I want a world in which all backgrounds and ideals are considered to every voice is empowered. Imagine a world in which we all worked together for the good of the cause. How many diseases could be cured and new inventions made for the next generation? Let us not poison the next generation with one-way thinking but instead use a recovery process to promote the beauty of open-mindedness. 

Substance Use Disorder Is a Disease, Not A Moral Choice

Yale, Harvard, Oxford, Princeton, Stanford, John Hopkins, UCLA, all agree that substance use disorder is a disease, not a moral failure.

However, stigma still outweighs education? What will it take for society to recognize substance use disorder as a disease?

Allow me to paint a picture that may help you understand this illness. 

At eight years old, I was diagnosed with severe allergies and asthma. My mother had a job that was packaged with great healthcare benefits. The doctor prescribed the steroid Ventolin and Vanceril. At the time, these medications were the top of the line concerning asthma treatment. Leading authorities on childhood asthma spoke in glowing terms about the results this medication displayed. The first day I took the medication still feels fresh in my mind. My mother sat me down and correctly showed me how to use the medication. The first inhale of the medication gave me the highest euphoria to date. At that very moment, I could not wait for her to depart because I knew I was taking more. That was the beginning of a long road of substance use disorder. 

It was not just the inhaler, where I displayed addictive behaviors. I fell in love with my first blue raspberry blow pop and ate a case. I took my lunch money and bought a case of blow pops only to result in an emergency room trip. The first time I ate pepperoni I indulged so much I threw up. I played my Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo until they burned out. Fast forward with over two years sobriety; I ate so much ice cream, my cholesterol levels became almost toxic. A year later, I used so much cologne I had to seek a dermatologist for steroid cream. Do you see the pattern here? I was born with a brain that likes more. The difference between a person without this illness, their brains shut off. My brain has no shut off from something it truly likes regardless of the consequences I suffer. 

My mother blamed herself for years, and honestly, I was ashamed of my inhaler abuse. However, all the research shows that substance use disorder is not a disgrace; it is a disease. I am taking power out of shame and educating the world. How would a mother have known the best medication prescribed was addictive? The best health insurance gave her a great doctor, and in turn, he prescribed the best medication. Our system is built to trust the decade and rigorous study of medical school. We all visit doctors in search of the best help and trust their opinion. Even second opinions are sought by a person in the medical field, preferably another doctor. The cold hard truth is that nothing could have stopped my years of abuse. It was only a matter of time before I found something I liked, and it had its effects. 

I kept asking myself why all these latest studies concerning substance use disorder focused on the youth? As I continued to read more and more, I realized they discovered the answer. If we are to understand this illness, indeed, we must understand the behaviors that start at the youth level. I have spoken for years at multiple treatment centers monthly to a range of crowds. I have NEVER met a patient that began with intravenous drug use at the age of nine. There is a progression that takes place, starting with behaviors that lead to compound drugs. The patients I have encountered speak about the same behaviors I displayed. It is almost a known fact in treatment centers that most kids abused some type of inhaler or huffed a chemical way before alcohol/drug use. Behaviors starting this early makes it clear the brain never had a choice. At eight years old, I did not have the mental capacity to understand the disorder. I knew nothing about scientific research, medical journals, leading authorities on subjects, and conferences where this disorder is discussed. All I knew is that my brain wanted more, and the habit immediately became second nature. I was never taught how to be an addict because it became natural in the pursuit of more. All the behaviors I displayed early were the same behaviors at the height of my addiction. 

Education and personal testimonies are the keys to breaking the stigma. When I address student bodies, I urge them to embrace their illness. When I accepted, I had a disease is when my life began to grow. I began to attack it with a lifestyle of health that has displayed great rewards. The research and my life experience have taught me how powerful stigma can be in pursuit of answers. I learned that not accepting it does not mean it goes away. By not accepting this illness, I added on years of pain and regretable trauma. Let this blog be the education for the world to wake up and understand it is a disease, not a disgrace. I never asked for this illness, and I often wished I had a different brain. However, since accepting it as an illness, I have made lemonade of out lemons. Stigma is about being normal and accepted. I once asked a friend would I ever be normal, and she told me, “Normal is a setting on the dryer!”

Wake Up, America: I am African-American and in Recovery

Being black in America and recovery should not be a double edge sword. For years, mental health and substance use disorder funding have disproportionately affected people of color.

Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, and Ahmaud Arbery all share a common bond: unaddressed systemic racial inequality in our society. These are all people of color whose lives were taken by the very people sworn to protect and serve. I am a citizen in this system but also a person in recovery. For years the healthcare system and, in particular, mental health/substance use disorder funding disproportionately affected people of color. Being both African-American and in recovery, I now understand what Langston Hughes meant in his poem “Beaumont to Detroit: 1943.” Hughes stated, “How long I got to fight both HITLER-AND JIM CROW.” 

By default, I am a very optimistic person. In large part, because of Christian upbringing, it leads me to focus on soul and character rather than pigment of skin. My circle of friends is full of a cast of characters who feel society has cast out as odd. They are all from different backgrounds and carry different perspectives on life. Growing up, I always wanted to believe in everyone and felt we all have gifts. As I have gotten older, I truly believe in the methodology of two brains being better than one.

However, my beliefs and lifestyle are not a symbol of what America has allowed for generations. I continue to hear that racial injustices are just a few bad apples left. Regularly I hear, “Freddy, you see that Obama was elected. See, this country has truly changed. We are not racist like we used to be.” I wanted to believe that myself; however, I find myself typing this while watching buildings burn from racial pain. I see peaceful protesters being tear-gassed in front of the White House. I see another African-American family crying out to America for help because they now must bury their loved one. I see another African-American daughter who will be without her father. I stopped pondering the ideals of a few bad apples left and realized the reality. Think of it in this sense. If you have a freshly picked basket of fruit, you will check to make sure they are all good. How many rotten fruits until you throw the whole bushel away? America, it is time to wake up and address racial inequality so no one shall live in fear. 

I am black before I am a human being in America. My degree and talent is only a credit card to get in the door. Being allowed through the door and being accepted are two different things. Even though I travel the country uplifting student bodies and teaching about substance use disorder, being black is overrides any accolade.

I knew my life had changed when the racist vernacular became different. Before education, the words of “nigger” or “coon” were the majority of racial slurs thrown in my direction. I once asked a guy what I did wrong, and he said, “You were born black.” I now travel the country as a motivational speaker providing speaking services to different institutions. At these events, it is commonplace to be told “You are one of the good ones,” or asked, “How long did you smoke crack?” I realized that I was no longer a “nigger” in their eyes; I was one of the good boys. Quickly I had to learn how to navigate these waters and hold my emotions in check. Upon checking, I realized my Caucasian colleagues experienced nothing like this. It reminded me that I am black before I am a human being in America. My degree and talent is only a credit card to get in the door. Being allowed through the door and being accepted are two different things. Even though I travel the country uplifting student bodies and teaching about substance use disorder, being black is overrides any accolade. America now that you hear my problem, let me offer you a solution!

I currently have a post on LinkedIn that has over 84,000 views. This post was my immediate thought upon graduation of my Associate’s Degree. It reads:

After 15 rehabs, 20 psych units, countless shelters, recovery houses, homelessness, and eating out of a dumpster…By Gods Grace and mercy today, I graduated from Delaware County Community College! To everyone who believed and supported me, I am forever grateful and thankful for your prayers. I leave as a national scholar, multiple scholarships, published writer, owner of an LLC motivational speaking company, and graduate with 3.71 high honors. My whole life, I thought I was stupid, unworthy, and overall just settling in life. However, God raised me, and sobriety changed my life. There is a stigma in this world about addiction and mental illness. Let today be hope for someone struggling. It is not how you start; it is how you finish. My mother told me if she died tomorrow, she can finally go to her grave and sleep well. This graduation is the content for the student bodies I address. Every time I speak, the blessings are for them! These youth need to hear how they can be anything they want if they are willing to work hard. Today is not just a win for me; it is a win for anyone who needs hope! The Message LLC is built on three fundamental principles: Inspire, Educate, and Create Healthy lifestyles for all!

I believe my post went viral because my story is the change we need to see. America, my life offers the solution to the problems we currently face. I am the story of hope mixed with love. I was able to achieve all those great things with a village full of color. That color starts with a Caucasian fiancee who believed in me before I believe in myself. A team of Caucasian women who love me as their son, knowing my past is full of homelessness and dumpster diving. They never judged me on my past but rather uplifted me for my future. They pray for my mother and genuinely ask about her well-being without even meeting her. I am blessed to have found a group of people opposite my color who love me as a black man. What is taking America so long? When I visited the Holocaust museum and the African-American museum, the country was in turmoil. I realized we honestly had not learned enough. We need to have these uncomfortable conversations and put systems in place to achieve togetherness. Legislation must be passed along with an overhaul of the educational system. There must be a cohesiveness from all races with oversight to garner correct results. 

I do not want my village to be the exception of the black experience in America. Being black in America and recovery should not be a double edge sword.

Unfortunately, I realize my life is not the typical village for most African-American males, especially those in long-term recovery. I want America to wake up and focus on the solution. For decade upon decade, we continue to have this conversation, and yet progress is minimal. I do not want my village to be the exception of the black experience in America. I want my story and life to be the norm. I want the youth to learn from my mistakes and also see that color is not the soul. Being black in America and recovery should not be a double edge sword. Instead, it should be a symbol of hope. America, please wake up and accept all people of color because the next generation is watching! 

Collegiate Students in Recovery: How The COVID-19 Pandemic is Affecting Them

As the world scrambles to figure out how to adjust, there is a population of people setting the bar for humanity. Collegiate recovery hosts a vast network of students who are thriving during this COVID-19 crisis.

As one student stated, “My body is in quarantine; however, my mind is free to create anything.” 

Each day I awaken, I am astounded by the uplifting energy and work of students in recovery. Understanding that self-help groups cannot meet in person, they quickly shifted to the online world. Amid this shift, they have opened doors to anyone in public looking for any type of help. This has created new networks and opportunities for growth that are entirely under the radar. A woman who has dedicated her life and career works to the health profession stated, “My students in recovery are such blessings in that they allowed me into one of there meetings when I was struggling with a personal issue. That meeting gave me the idea of doing morning mediation with yoga. Because of that my whole house has joined in, and it has become a blessed family event. I am forever grateful.” All across the country, there are countless stories of these online self-help groups changing the lives of everyday people. One may ask, how much further behind would the country be without this segment of people? 

Students in recovery are untapped resources. Students in recovery have seasoned souls. They are more dedicated to achieving their goals. Their focus is laser-sharp in response to the stigma society has placed at their feet as a people in sobriety. They tend to look up to the people others look down on because they know pain and struggle. They realize the value in time and try to use every second to better their surroundings. It is time we embrace collegiate recovery and end the notion of stigma outweighing the education of recovery. 

COVID-19 has decimated the world and it has sent many into mass hysteria. However, for students in recovery, it is another day at the office. Collegiate recovery students face a challenge every day to stay clean and sober, along with the hurdles of college. Their success through this has been the mindset of health equals wealth. When I entered college, I did not plan to have the blessings of being a national scholar or motivational speaker. Those blessings came as a result of the labor put into my health. Each day I entered class after prayer, morning medication reading, healthy breakfast, and taking medication. I put myself in the best possible mindset to be my best “me.” Recovery taught me that the foundation of my success had to be rooted in health. In the past, I was able to attain things but ultimately lost them because the foundation planted wrong. I now am blessed to travel the country speaking and national scholar with a full paid tuition to finish my bachelor’s degree. I can promise you without the tools of collegiate recovery and the focus of my health; I would not have those accolades. Collegiate recovery taught me the blessings are in labor. The yoga, self-help groups, healthy diet, exercise, volunteering, mediation are all for the preparation to achieve the honor’s society. Collegiate recovery has allowed me to become a walking weapon of hope with the platform to empower other people. My story is no different; millions of students in recovery right now excelling from their living rooms. As a nation, let us take notice and use these blessed people as a tutorial of how not to survive but thrive through this crisis. 

As my mother would say, “Word to the wise!”  During this time, it is easy to focus on the problem, but recovery has taught me the solution is the answer. Collegiate recovery has taught me to love the labor more than the fruit because then the fruit will taste much sweeter. Right now, a student in recovery is writing a book, creating a company, or doing something to build a new kingdom. I want to look back years from now and say I used this time to create something that made us better as humanity. I can get more degrees, money, cars, houses, etc.. However, I am never getting time back. I urge us all to use this time to create something to make the world a better place and be more like the example of collegiate recovery. 

 

Wake Up: It’s Time to Support College Students in Recovery

I entered college after some monumental life experiences changed the molding of my identity.

Between the time I lived in addiction and now, I have gone from identifying as a homeless, dumpster-diving, non-hygienic man to a person who is asked to teach Sunday school, sponsor a child in Africa, co-parent, and attend events as a motivational speaker. Now that I am in recovery, I hold high academic honors and am on the Dean’s List with a 3.6 GPA. I have received a plethora of scholarships and founded The Message LLC, a motivational speaking company.

My success in recovery is only possible because of the support that was available to me through the support of many people, some of whom I met at Delaware County Community College. As a 37-year-old student in recovery, I see a need for more funding of health programs at all schools, but especially at the college level, where there are many students like me, who are getting their educations back on track after experiencing addiction. 

I want all recovering students to experience the same opportunities to succeed.  

I believe that all colleges should offer on-campus recovery programs that provide funding, peer specialists in recovery, education on resources, and addiction therapists on site. Many four-year universities offer this type of support; however, they are poorly funded. For example, West Chester University offers a Collegiate Recovery program. The sole purpose of the organization is to help students who have substance use disorder or are in recovery from other conditions like mental/eating disorders. West Chester University is one of many colleges nationwide that are being progressive in this new movement paired with the Association of Recovery in Higher Education.

Colleges are especially in need of this type of programming because when I am on campus, I regularly see students taking flyers of self-help group numbers from the public announcements board. That should not be shocking because according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (Advancing Addiction Science), both amphetamine use and alcohol abuse in the form of binge drinking were all greater percent points higher than noncollege students. Not to mention, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) concludes that 25% of students have a diagnosed mental health condition or approximately 5 million individuals. A 2014 study from Dr. Alexandre Laudet and others demonstrated that students active in CRP have higher rates of retention, graduation, and grade point average than the average student. 

It is time for Colleges to realize health is wealth. Let us change the culture of these institutions of graduating quality, not quantity. America is currently in a student loan debt crisis of epic proportions. The funds to provide students with these needs are there but need to be reallocated to the right services. Funding for a pizza party of five students in recovery may seem minimal but that party may save a person in recovery life. 

Colleges should build the program on the standard that we want every student in recovery to get the most out of their education. 

I had the blessing of traveling to five cities last semester, speaking to students in recovery and conferencing. Through all that travel, I realized our colleges must wake up and begin to address the needs of the new students we educate. I recognize to have the correct culture that must also start with human resources. Through the hiring process, I believe it is critical to look past the resume and ask potential candidates their thoughts on students with substance use disorder/mental health illness. Since we are in the worst epidemic this country has ever seen, doesn’t that require drastic measures? I want all teachers and students to be equipped with the best possible situations, so we are graduating healthy candidates for employment. Let us not operate on the methodology until the unaffected are affected. Every student who is affected by mental health or substance use disorder changes the foundation of the college. By funding the collegiate recovery programs immensely, the college will bear fruit that will last a lifetime. 

 Students in recovery are untapped resources that have gifts that can change the world. George W. Bush, William S. Halsted, and Buzz Aldrin all are outspoken addicts/alcoholics who are currently in sobriety.

As W.E.B. Du Bois once said, “Education must not simply teach work; it must teach life.” 

I hope that one day soon, students will not have to fight for addiction and recovery services, but that they will be as common as finding the bookstore. No student should be forgotten.