It’s Time for the Media to Stop Controlling the Recovery Narrative

“Whoever controls the media controls the mind,” Jim Morrison. Most would agree that Morrison was ahead of his time with that quote.

The media has become so crucial to political office that exuberant amounts of money are designated for political campaign ads. These campaign managers do extensive research to know exactly how to target each television audience. The goal is to control the narrative of believing what is on the screen. This same exact theory is used when discussing substance use disorder and mental health. It is time for the media to wake up and deliver a more informative view of the realities of these disorders. 

For starters, I praise shows that display the horrors of where substance use and untreated mental health can lead a person. I find it courageous, wise, and storytelling at it’s finest to show such devastation. However, this is only one side of the coin to often seen on prime time television. I have been an avid viewer of the show Intervention and commend their reporting. I cannot count how many times I watch this show and on the commercial break, see ads with enjoyable alcohol use. My family and I have even made note that they are showing the use of alcohol while the primary programming is about abstinence of drugs/alcohol. Let me further explain this example of mixed messaging! My blood often boils when these networks run commercials for major restaurant chains because they glorify destructive behavior. A family is shown smiling around a table with the kids enjoying juice or soda. The parents are then shown with the father having a tall glass of beer and the mother drinking a glass of wine. Who is driving home? When I brought this up to others, I was told it is just one drink, and that is not a DUI. Is the risk worth the reward? Where is the oversight to control the messaging? A show like Intervention should never be followed up with commercials glorying fun times with alcohol. Instead, the network should display commercials promoting health, fitness, and success stories of individuals that survived the disorder. A person watching that show with no knowledge of the inner workings of recovery could easily be confused by this messaging. As a nation, this stigma surrounding these illnesses leaves us with no margin of error. Unfortunately, sponsorship funding has created institutional laziness without concern for the next generation. Stigma is allowed to outweigh education as long as quarterly goals are hit. 

During my second semester of getting my associate’s degree, I took a mass communications class. I will never forget my teacher stated, “If you want to know what your favorite show thinks about you, watch the commercials.” I have since begun to pay closer attention and have been amazed at the depths of marketing each network delivers. All sports networks advertise athletic apparel, new movies, and alcohol/beverage companies. I often wonder where the advertisement for the world of recovery is?

“I feel so bad for those people on television. I often see people like that on the streets, and it makes me feel so sad,” said Jane Doe. I have been subjected to this rhetoric through my many travels as a motivational speaker. My experience has awakened me to the damage the media has done to the minds of many people. Now that I have diagnosed the problem, allow me to offer a solution? 

There are channels dedicated to 24-hour coverage of subject matter ranging from sports, news, and cartoons. Why not create a network all about recovery. Use this network to give platforms to people who are saving lives daily and inform the public of all sides of the fence. Medical experts, health institutions, and news programming could deliver unprecedented access to the real world of recovery. For far too long, we have allowed the media conglomerates to control the narrative of recovery. Sadly this control has bled into the fabric of our society and help create a detrimental stigma. The media is a foundational tool that, if used correctly, can begin to change how we heal from this current epidemic. I now understand why the most educated, objective, and informed people all are avid readers. None of them watch television because they also know the media is a dangerous place.

Profit Over People: The Reality of Coming Out of Inpatient Treatment

“Get a job you lazy bum! My taxes go to programs like welfare to take care of your lazy self! You are the reason America is all messed up, I hate you, people!” That was the standard rhetoric thrown my way while begging for change during my addiction.

However, once I came out of treatment while staying at the halfway house, I heard this same hyperbole. I realized there is a severe disconnect of information between the public and those within the circles of recovery. Let this piece shed educational light on the realities of coming out of inpatient treatment

The beauty in all these recent protests of justice is that other oppressions are being brought to the surface. This country was founded on a white supremacy slant that has imposed its will for far too long. That supremacy has seeped into other institutions creating a culture of profit over people. The thinking has become a hierarchical boys club where marginalized people dare to challenge the status quo. They are to be thankful for the Snap benefits and any other programming they decide to give out. This climate of thinking has cultivated into a society of survival of the fittest. Instead of embracing, uplifting, and seeking change for the oppressed, they are judged without proper education on their circumstances. Shockingly those judgments are even passed onto people with a diagnosed illness by the top medical institution and experts in this country. 

In your spare time, today, watch award speeches from any walk of life. Quickly you will notice how they take time to thank all the people that help them achieve said goal. No one is a success without help in this life.

In every Fortune 500 company, all the employees play a part in helping the company reach its goals. The janitor, CEO, and secretary all have important roles that keep the company moving forward. Emeril Lagasse, a known legendary chef that changed the way America views cooking, once said, “The most important person in my restaurant is the dishwasher! I cannot serve any great meals without a clean dish.” When a person is in their active addiction, their moral compass takes a back seat to the power of getting more substances. The frontal lobes become so corroded with substance abuse that irrational thinking becomes the norm. If you happen to walk past a homeless person begging for change, understand this was never the goal. Especially if that person suffers from mental illness and substance use disorder. Name an Obstetrician or Parent that discussed how the baby would be homeless in twenty years? That sounds just as ridiculous as someone believing a person with mental illness and substance abuse enjoys begging for change over a beautiful, uplifting career. Substance abuse is a consistent battle of the mind that takes a dramatic emotional and spiritual workload. If that person is fortunate to receive inpatient treatment, the system should not then expect greatness without proper help. The quality of that help should be in the form of housing, medication, therapy, food, and transportation. We are currently in the worst epidemic this country has ever seen, and drastic times call for drastic measures. Would it be considered drastic if it helped save your loved one? 

Imagine being released from an inpatient treatment center after 30 days and then given 90 days maximum to create a new life? Imagine your loved one, did their part of getting sober and was ready to begin a new life with a positive attitude? Imagine they beat the statistical odds of surviving this epidemic and were eager to start a fulfilling career? Imagine knowing they must find housing, medication funding, therapy, food, and transportation in 90 days? Imagine knowing they emotionally, mentally, and spiritually changed their life, but the system does not constitute that good enough.

In all of my twenty inpatient stays, I have rarely met a person coming home to a 401k, mortgage/apartment, family medical leave pay, child care, food, and transportation all at their fingertips. My mother and fiancé were able to come home to that type of help, and both remained sober after their first attempt at sobriety. How many new people in sobriety without this help have been lost to a system refusing to share resources to programming designed to help them? Allow me to use my experience for an even more excellent example of this failed system. I was considered a star in my last treatment because I started a prayer group and became a community leader with integrity. I not only listened to the professionals in treatment, but I took it upon myself to set a higher standard. Once I transferred to the halfway house, I realized I was up against incredible odds. I remember vividly asking the upper management for transportation help getting to appointments and them referring me to my network in the meetings. They stated they did not have a fund for that, and that is why we are to gather numbers at meetings. I feel sorry for them because they are victims of a flawed system. The system is assuming that in these meetings, anyone and everyone will help someone build a new life. Unfortunately, they are not taking into account the racism, egos, and selfish behaviors that occur within those rooms. Every area of 12 step meetings is not equipped with the personnel to handle someone in need of these areas. I remained sober and gained employment within those 90 days while again becoming a leader in the house. After seven months of exceeding expectations and following all clinical guidelines, I still found myself destitute per survival in this country. My options were a recovery house or shelter. I chose the shelter because the expense of a recovery house exceed any reasonable budget that I could afford. I was incredibly blessed to find people outside of the 12 step fellowship through education and a new family that empowered me with the resources I desperately needed. I am forever grateful for their help, but what about those coming behind me not so fortunate? 

The higher levels of education I climb in life, the more failed policy I discover.

My hope is that these protests bring about change in the areas of policy. There must be people in that room that come from these areas that lack the right resources. Often these rooms are filled with resume glory, hierarchical egos, and one-way thinking that has left marginalized people fighting amongst each other for resources. Being a professional with a heart is not weak but rather beneficial for a better nation. Epidemics are crushed through policy changes that divert resources in the correct places. Positions of power have been abused far too long without any substantial consequence. Profit over people has not only become a way of practice, but resume building trumps the health of the next generation. No one does anything alone. We all needed help to achieve any goal in life. America, wake up and support those coming out of treatment because they may have the intellect for the next invention or cure of diseases. Ask yourself, “Where would you be without the help you got?”

Single Parents In Recovery Are Diamonds In The Rough

A single parent is tasked with education, health, discipline, fun, providing, and overall safety of their child on their own. All while trying to maintain their own sobriety. 

“I really wish me and your father would have made it,” Mom said. Those were the first words my Mother stated to me when I entered the viewing of my late Grandfather that raised me as his own. I was perplexed, baffled, and any other adjective you can think of in describing a high state of shock. I never realized the toll being a single parent in recovery took on my Mother until that moment. She did such a masterful job in providing, teaching, and covering up for the loss of a father that I forgot the daunting task of being a single parent in sobriety. Throughout my travels as a motivational speaker, I have seen a lack of empathy, respect, and overall praise for all single parents in sobriety. As a humanity, it’s time that we pay homage to all single parents in recovery for doing what is seemingly an incredible selfless feat. 

I was going through my fiancé’s wedding album of photos, and quickly noticed all the happiness on everyone’s face. My insecurities began to show, and my fiancé could not understand. I explained that I had never seen her and the family so happy in one setting—the excitement and joy they were displaying made me question our relationship. She explained to me that weddings are supposed to be timeless photos of one of the best days of your life. I spoke to my therapist about this and spent time contemplating this idea. I then realized that no one gets married to then get divorced. The ideology of marriage is that you have found a partner you love to live in this life forever. According to the American Psychological Association, 40 to 50 percent of couples divorce in the United States. I would love to ask each one who walked down the aisle, did they expect divorce? I will take an educated guess that 99 percent expected to live happily ever after, and the mention of being a single parent was equivalent to utter blasphemy. My eyes were now open to the excitement of marriage. This new understanding helped me gain perspective on my Mother’s journey as a single parent in sobriety. 

My Mother entered treatment during my third-grade year of elementary school. This year she will celebrate 27 years of sobriety with no relapses. During all of my inpatient stays at treatment centers and psychiatric units, I was always reminded that my Mother is a modern-day miracle. Experts in the field will always draw upon how statistically, my Mother’s accomplishment and road in sobriety is phenomenal. Now let us add on coming out of treatment after only five days of detox to raising a child as a single parent. In examining the odds she was up against, I must say single parents in recovery are a model for success. 

Medical experts commonly use the phrase that two brains are better than one. A single parent is tasked with education, health, discipline, fun, providing, and overall safety of their child on their own. My Mother worked in social service, stayed sober, and raised a son. I currently have a spiritual two-parent home where we both are blessed with education and years of sobriety. I promise you that parenting is the most challenging job I have ever done in my life. I have no clue how any single parent raises a child in sobriety. I work extremely hard to stay sober and juggle the quality time with my family. The daily regime of staying sober requires time, money, and commitment that being a single parent can easily make overbearing. In third grade, I did not have the mental capacity to understand the new life my Mother entered. Immediately this makes it more difficult because you are raising a child in a life they do not understand. My fiancé and I consistently state how grateful we are for each other’s help getting through life. Countless nights and days, we both are deeply appreciative of being able to rely on each other for growth. God putting us together gave us a life beyond our wildest dreams. As a single parent, my Mother had no other partner she loved to lean on in times of need. Every day she woke up to a game seven where losing was not an option. Yes, my Grandfather was an invaluable piece of help that was  irreplaceable, but if we dive deeper, that can also be demanding. 

My Grandfather was a blessed old school soul, Christian, and married for over 30 years. When my Mother divorced, he made clear that it was unacceptable, and her job was to ensure I was educated. The day she came home from rehab, he told her, “If you ever drink again, I will take Freddy!” To this day, my Mother recalls that conversation as the fear that kept her sober. While I believe her, that also does not do the justice of understanding the pressure. No one wants to let their parents down and let alone their child. No one is given a book on how to be a parent, let alone a single parent. On the fly, she was tasked with figuring it all out, praying that the results would bear good fruit. 

I entered my first treatment at 16 and left home by the age of 17. Let me be clear! That was to no fault of my Mother but rather my unwillingness to change my behavior. I was spiritually sick, immature, and did appreciate her efforts as a single parent. Looking back, the criticism she faced was the unequivocal judgment from a spiritually immature atmosphere that has reigned far to long. As a woman, a person of color, and a single parent, her efforts were extraordinary. Now that the dust has settled, she is a blessing to my family. She has set the standard for parenting and survival against enormous odds. I now realize the sacrifices she made as a single parent are why I am able to write this article today. Her resume is filled with accolades of college graduates from a historical HBCU, social service awards, and documentary appearances. Those achievements are beautiful resume glory, but her most extraordinary milestone was her work as a single parent mother. 

If I had a dime for every single parent Mother I have met that had low self-esteem and shame for being in that position, I could retire. America, we need to wake up and realize these single parents are the definition of faith, courage, and perseverance. Our society has embedded awards and parties thrown for education and employment achievements. How about the achievement of being a single parent in sobriety? How many people can not only stay sober but raise a child on their own at the same time? How many are willing to sacrifice their wants and needs for the long term benefit of their child? How many are willing to face the scrutiny and negative feedback of every decision they make concerning their child? 

When I see a single parent dropping their kid off at school, daycare, school events, and not having a social life, I realize they are displaying the highest character of love. Instead of shaming these beautiful people, let us take the time to praise their efforts and surround them with more help in this society. I have been extremely blessed to grace the stage as a National keynote, graduate with high honors, and be a published author. Most who meet me always ask and assume those are my happiest moments in life. Honestly, the best days were when my Mother was dropping me off at daycare at 5 a.m. because she is working midnight shifts to earn extra money. The days she sacrificed her lunch to bring me lunch at school because I forgot mine at home. Countless nights that I ate, and she didn’t because we could not afford both meals. Watching her budget at the kitchen table and making the choice of my needs over her own. Hearing her say, “Lord, please make way for daycare, lights, and Freddy’s sneakers for basketball.” Her making me watch Reading Rainbow and Mr. Rogers when she had to do work to ensure I was always getting a good education in my mind. See, my Mother’s story is just one of the countless other single parents that we as a society have taken for granted it. I no longer see single parents as a loss but rather as a gift that the world should embrace. To my fiancé, Mother, and any other single parents in recovery who reads this, I thank you and salute you for the gifts and love you brought into this world. As a society, we have failed you and often not appreciated your marvelous efforts. 

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 any we have seen before.

Before and during this epidemic, I have been institutionalized in over twenty drug treatment centers and mental health facilities combined. Being blessed to have a motivational speaking company, I 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, and 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 system is focusing on the wrong things.

The judgmental emphasis on how a person recovers has exasperated many recovery advocates fighting this debilitating epidemic. These viewpoints have infiltrated the 12 step rooms of fellowship, which has increasingly caused unnecessary harm. Logic would suggest that when losing a war, a change of attitude and treatment would make complete sense. But no. The mission statement of treatment centers and literature of 12 step fellowship is too often dominated 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.” Now I ask the system, “When will you change your thinking, so that we can stop losing this epidemic?” Looking back, I 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 United States Representative Elijah Cummings stated, “We are better than this!” 

The world of addiction is changing, but the treatment system lags behind.

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, when I first began working in this field, it was unheard of 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-size-fits-all approach that yields 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, no one is 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 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 that my last treatment facility 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. 

Individual helpers are showing a way forward.

I wholeheartedly believe the institutions are currently flawed and need to change. However, some special people work in this system and understand what must be done. When I entered my 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 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 differently than any other facilitator I had come across in a treatment setting.

Sue and several other treatment staff went rogue to help me, and truly changed my life. Things like giving me money, toiletry items, and clothing for when I transitioned to the halfway house, understanding I would 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 when she said, “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 Sue gave me her first-year coin. She told 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 hadn’t taken a such a unique approach, I promise you I would not be here today!

We need flexible treatment options, not one-size-fits-all.

I have become successful by using my experiences and pain to inspire others. My lived experiences are not to be in vain. Instead they will 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 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 a quote by Mr. Murphy that suggested to me how we can collectively accept change. He said, “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. 

We can change, and we must!

I thought long and hard before writing this piece. I wanted to offer a solution rather than emotional critique. As a person in long term recovery and a motivational speaker for the youth, I believe I have a God-given duty. My mission statement, “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. So noticing a systemic flaw and not speaking on it would be tantamount to criminal behavior.

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 merely surviving. Currently, I am the operator of a motivational speaking company, a full-time honor student taking 15 credit hours, a family man, a volunteer, a part-time waiter, a person in long-term recovery that includes a mental health diagnosis, and a mentor. The way I have been able to uplift my life and business is through the methodology of health being wealth. A daily regime that focuses on a healthy foundation 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. 

Prioritize health.

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 nutritious 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. 

Motivational speaker Freddy Shegog

Network, network, network.

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.

So you see, the formula for a successful career can be step by step scholarships, award dinners, and networking. Understand that when I add these new members of my 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.

Optimize your time.

If I had a dime for every time I heard, “Freddy, there are not enough hours in a day!” I combatted 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 meant 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. But I made the tough decision to forgo that night of entertainment and good food for hotel vending machine food with water.

For a person with such high energy and, at times, uncontrollable happiness, this decision was an enormous milestone 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! 

Set audacious goals.

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 as valedictorian of my class. I can only accomplish that by using the tools, as 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!”