16 Ways My Recovery Has Changed At Year 16

Lisa McLaughlin, Workit Health’s Co-Founder and Co-CEO, just celebrated 16 years sober.

Recovery is not a static thing; it changes over time. Here are 16 ways Lisa’s recovery has evolved:

1. I feel confident defining my own terms of recovery.

For me that looks like abstinence from most substances. I make exceptions for SSRIs, herbal tinctures, and CBD oil for back pain. I also eat Tiramisu and keep my 12-step chips. I believe we chart our own paths. I thank the Bay Area Recovery scene for showing me a thousand beautiful ways to bloom.

“I thank the Bay Area Recovery scene for showing me a thousand beautiful ways to bloom.”

2. I trust my thoughts.

I no longer believe there is a “stranger in my brain who is out to kill me,” or that I need to have a sponsor or a friend in recovery “think for me.” I call my sponsor when I’m stressed or sad or triggered and tell her how I’m feeling.

 Juice shots instead of tequila shots

3. I map my triggers using Workit.

In the past I thought triggers were random and unpredictable. Now I realize there’s a formula for mine. Top triggers for me are holidays, grief about mortality, being out of shape, hormonal flux, and jealousy. Evenings from 9-12 when I’m thinking about any of these things … are a hot spot. I use Clue to track my cycle and it makes a world of difference.

4. I use a habit checklist as a go-to coping tool when a trigger hits.

Sometimes it’s a list on paper, but mostly I use coach.me or other tools to track my status: I tackle cravings by going to the gym, keeping in touch with friends, learning something new (TED Talks are great for this), meditating, or doing breathwork.  At Workit we call these “coping cards.” There are 20 tools I mine—once excessive, often excessive.

5. I hang out with a lot of people on Medication-Assisted Treatment and do Workit Together meetings with them.

I look for areas where I’ve been complacent in only hanging out with my friends who all have 10-15 years clean and have steered clear of the touch part of giving back. We’re thinking of hosting a MARA meeting at Workit.

6. I speak publicly about my experience in recovery.

Lots of weird things happen when I do this. People ask me if I’m unfit to be a leader at Workit because of my past, people “suggest” that it might make more sense to de-emphasize my story … I love every minute of their discomfort because I know it means the recovery closet is going away sooner than they think.

7. I support and mentor Women entrepreneurs as a form of service.

Many of the women I’ve met on the path to recovery were blocked entrepreneurs who had misdirected that energy into their addiction. There are a lot of parallels between drug addiction and entrepreneurship. Both require a high appetite for risk, the ability to put yourself out there  without knowing how cold the water is going to be, the ability to keep getting it done at all costs. People who use a lot of drugs are great at all these things.

8. I deeply embrace the Woo.

I embrace it despite being raised Baptist and despite years and years of academic training discrediting “new age” wisdom.

9. I rely heavily on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to build my resilience and reframe my thinking patterns.

Historically, I was more of a war story fan. These days, I’ll take positive thinking that focuses on solutions over a qualifying monologue any day.

10. I am developing a personal advisory board for many different aspects of my spiritual and professional life.

What this looks like for me is reaching out to people I’m deeply inspired by and following their work in a more dedicated way. Since I’m slightly socially anxious, it will likely be some time before these individuals know they are on my advisory board. I used Joyable to work on my social anxiety, it helped a ton.

11.  I rely on my co-founder Robin.

We met in AA, so we share that, but we also share this wild path of growing a social enterprise in a male-dominated industry, working on a stigmatized topic during a massive crisis that people still want to gloss over and ignore. We both have a love for learning and spiritual growth. She is my starred phone number, my saving grace, and the person who sees all 8000 layers of me (often before I do). She’s a sage.

 Lisa with Workit Health co-founder and co-CEO Robin McIntosh

12.  I stay accountable on social when I’m feeling isolated.

Sometimes this means tweeting to #recoveryposse, posting to a FB group of people in recovery, posting in a private Workit group, or listening to audio shares on the Workit Health site. There are a thousand ways to not feel alone today.

13. I read.

At least 10 minutes a day. At Workit, we’ve got a book club, and we’re currently reading “The Recovering” by Leslie Jamison. Join us 🙂

14. I do dreamscapes and journaling on the Recovery grad school of my dreams.

It’s still not out there, but we’re doing our best to crank it out quickly at Workit.

15. I keep up with the science.

I’m a biohacker and spent a lot of time learning about how my genetic profile set me up for addiction and what can be done both preventatively and prophylactically to respond to that legacy. Turns out there’s a lot. Another blog post for another day.

16. I don’t identify as an “addict.”

I’m just a human with a set of preferences, and one of them is a desire to be as conscious on this earth as I can. I choose recovery today, its not so much the forced feeding it was in my heathen days.



Precision Medicine World Conference Interview With Lisa McLaughlin

Workit Health’s Co-Founder and Co-CEO Lisa McLaughlin is proud to be speaking at the Precision Medicine World Conference Michigan on June 6-7.

At PWMC 2018, recognized authorities from all sectors of the healthcare and biotech community share innovative ideas and solutions. Learn more about the conference.

Conference organizers caught up with Workit’s Co-CEO Lisa McLaughlin, to ask her about innovating solutions for the opioid crisis in Michigan.

Q: What need is Workit Health addressing?

A: Drug overdoses killed more Americans last year than were lost during the entire Vietnam War (69,000). Workit Health provides a rapid access opioid program that ensures that patients all over the country in need of immediate access to care for their addictive behaviors can acquire low-cost evidence-based treatment and recover from the comfort of their own homes through telehealth. We meet patients where they are using a harm reduction model that is science-based but has formerly been under-delivered due to the research to practice divide.

Q: What are the products and/or services Workit Health offers/develops to address this need? What makes Workit Health unique?

A: Workit Health provides an integrated wrap-around program for individuals struggling with opioid use, utilizing a hybrid in-person / telehealth model of care. In addition to receiving Medication-Assisted Treatment with buprenorphine, patients receive holistic intensive outpatient care through a comprehensive online program credentialed by the Joint Commission. We are a next generation digital medicine clinic that empowers patients to recover on their terms. We differentiate as the only patient-led licensed telehealth program that uses an innovative home-based induction model to treat patients with Opioid Use Disorder.

Q: What is your role at Workit Health and what excites you about your work?

A: I spearhead business development and clinical partnerships at Workit Health.

It’s incredible to get the opportunity to see employers empower themselves to get ahead of rampant addiction levels across the nation and provide proactive care to their workforce by rolling out the Workit program. We’re able to see incredible transformations to workplace culture when employers offer support for recovery.

Now that we’re establishing claims-based care for the Workit Program through partnerships with health care plans, it’s thrilling to be instrumental in ensuring that patients who need care for addiction can access Workit through a google search and have the program reimbursed by their existing coverage. We are entering an era of open recovery where the plagues of treatment center deserts and waitlists are quickly becoming obsolete. We’ve been losing so many for so long to programs that don’t meet patients where they are with a harm reduction approach. Its deeply gratifying to be part of the solution, especially because we are a team of patients-as-designers who have lived through these gaps in care personally and plodded through to successful recovery in treatment cohorts where our friends have not been as lucky.

Q: When thinking about Workit Health and the domain Workit Health is working in, what are some of the recent breakthroughs that are propelling the field forward and how will they impact healthcare?

A: The opioid epidemic has forced the recovery field to look hard at longstanding community based care models (traditional outpatient, 12 step) that have been effective for some cases but aren’t enough to constitute a comprehensive response to a public health crisis that’s filling morgues to capacity and flooding the foster care system. This has led to nationwide efforts to get physicians trained and waivered across a variety of medical specialties to provide Medication-Assisted Treatment to patients in primary and urgent care settings. Emergency-room initiated treatment models are emerging that are meeting patients in place and getting them started on a program of recovery.

Q: What are the short-term challenges that Workit Health and its peers are facing?

A: There is a fair amount of fear and misunderstanding about which conditions are a suitable fit for telehealth and home-based care. In the recovery world, exorbitantly priced inpatient settings have dominated the landscape. There is a dominant mindset that this is a key component of competent care for addiction. This has often led to an unfortunate trend where patients fall off a cliff when they return to their community because their recovery supports and sober allies are in another state.

Additionally, many larger players in the field mistake digital therapeutics for “apps” that are a “nice to have” supplemental therapy or educational support. As clinicians running full scale comprehensive programs through these platforms, we have our work cut out for us in educating partners and the broader medical community on the robust literature supporting the fidelity of these programs for behavioral healthcare. We are now running full clinics from mobile devices and there are new regulatory landscapes that come with that sea change.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with the PMWC audience? 

A: I think it’s important for individuals to understand that we all have a role to play in ending the opioid epidemic. In order for patient-centered telehealth models like the Workit Program to be accessible at scale we need a lot of early adopters and evangelists to support the underlying optimism that exists in the market for evidence-based companies to get their platforms to the patients that need them. We now have refined pathways and processes for getting these innovations evaluated through peer-review studies and FDA clearance. These innovative platforms can help us achieve consistent, safe, and affordable clinical outcomes at scale.

The Center of Addiction Recovery Cannot Hold

Welcome to the last, and only, house on the block. The current system of addiction recovery is broken.

The current system of addiction recovery is broken. We have been losing too many, too fast, for way too long. At Workit, we call these friends and family members the Lost, and we have grown tired of watching them die by the hundreds. We have come to believe that there is a better way and that we are responsible for designing it together.

We have long relied upon a model of abstinence-based recovery.

It’s a two state model: On the wagon or off. This black and white model is expected to treat an infinitely nuanced condition with many shades of gray. We’ve got chemo or nothing. This makes sense at the end stages of a condition. At that point, it comes down to life and death. As we say in recovery circles, the cucumber becomes a pickle. It was this way with me—I choose abstinence because it suits me now. The lifestyle has seduced me. But it is a one-size-fits all model. We are forcing the young into the cucumber fermenter half-grown because, “If it’s a mistake, what’s the harm? Mistaking yourself for an addict may be the best mistake you make in your life.” In reality, most of us teetotalers are still “picking up” one or another addictive behavior long after we quit drugs and alcohol. This week it’s sugar. Next week, perhaps Nintendo.

“We have long relied upon a model of abstinence-based recovery. It’s a two state model: On the wagon or off. This black and white model is expected to treat an infinitely nuanced condition with many shades of gray. ”

It’s not as though we haven’t tried “Moderation Management” as a society. That story just happened to end in a real alcoholic’s path to vehicular homicide and ultimately suicide. The painful truth—for those of us who are hard-wired to match well with abstinence—is that there are many among us who moderate well. 60% of young people grow out of risky use. They do #dryjanuary, they give up booze for Lent. They quit when they’re pregnant.

But as a society, we have cleaved to the wagon as the ultimate solution, the road less traveled that everyone gets. Peer-to-peer self help groups have become the market dominant force. A horse and buggy solution in a world of self-driving cars. There have been none to replace them. Everyone trying something new is a snake oil salesman until proven otherwise. Never mind that Bill Wilson was a self-declared snake oil salesman; never mind that Dr. Bob was a proctologist.

In a world where abstinence is the dominant method, there must be pickles.

People must become star-bellied sneeches and stay that way. One does not become a pickle overnight, but addiction can move lightning fast. For me, it moved with a tailwind of hundreds of years of genetic predisposition. There was quickly a spectacle, but there had been warnings and whispers long before I was intervention-worthy. Addiction starts with an evening and a mismatch between your intents and the outcomes. The first night you decide to drink alone for the wrong reasons. The moment the pursuit becomes about your un-quelled pain, unmet needs, underlying conditions. At first it’s just a whisper drawing you into a place where you imagine you might smile more. But the center does not hold. Things fall apart.

Addictions are fed. AA has proven that you can starve them with spirituality and fellowship and poorly lit rooms with coffee. There are mutterings about feeding the white dog instead of the black one. There is comfort in the idea that our unbroken circles signal we’re feeding the right dog that day. When you enter the doors of AA if you “Do the deal,” you lay down the life you led before. You set forth on a new path. I needed to do this, and I remember the magic of it. It served me well; it kept me alive. I learned to live, but it has taken me much much longer to learn to thrive.

In the world of abstinence-based recovery, the binary isn’t just limited to the wagon and whether you were on or off. We retell the story of our past as the dark time and then the redemption. Was everyone that you knew before broken? Perhaps not. But in the rooms we tell you that the only thing you have to change is everything. We tell you that to come away from it you must create a new world of service, unity, and recovery. You must cleave to us “as the drowning do to life preservers” and release all aspects of your former self that distance you from God and from your fellow men. The therapy offered is spiritual. We, the members, are the evidence.

You make another possible world when you reject the confines of your own.

Such is the hero’s journey. You take your world and say, as Sylvia Plath did, “No, you do not do. You do not do anymore black shoe in which I have lived like a foot.” Taking this transformative leap is epic. It moved mountains in me. I felt change happening on a moment-to-moment basis in early sobriety. The present moment was more palpable than even my most vibrant memories of childhood. For a moment, maybe even a hundred moments, I sat astride the “pink cloud.” All was made new. The new world was a thing of great beauty.

Inebriation can be lovely. There is beauty in the camaraderie of connection and the release of inhibition. When I think of that world of merriment, I’m reminded of a favorite quote: “Sit by my side and let the world slip, we shall ne’er be younger.” There is beauty even in addiction itself. There must be, or it would never be so effective at seduction. It would never have mesmerized us collectively for centuries. I would never find myself staring straight into the eyes of the Deans of Medical Schools, knowing they’ll never partner with Workit because they’re still so deep in the fray that they’re shaking as we speak.

In abstinence-based recovery, we tell ourselves it is not so. All was squalor in our newly minted history. Everything about that world was broken. You are either of that world or of this one. We take AA by the hand, we pick a sponsor as delicately as we might choose a romantic partner, and we let this be our medicine. We come to see the world we knew before as a whirlpool of temptation that comes and goes. But we trust that it will not assault us for long if we rely upon these bonds, these actions, these rituals. And for me, that has been true. But it has been insufficient. At Workit we believe there are worlds beyond well that we have not yet known. As Cassie, our Head of Content, would say, we are “carving them from the sky.”

The problem with the current models is that I have relied upon these bonds for well over a decade and they have saved me and not saved my friends.

These bonds have not stopped the incessant call for release that plagued their minds and their anxious caffeine-pounding bodies in their waking hours. Many of them have died. By overdose, accident, suicide. Some in the late stages of pregnancy, most dual diagnosis, and one who lived in my home and saved me countless times in the days when she was further along the road to happy destiny than I was. When they go, we say “Man, they should have worked a program. They weren’t working the program hard enough.”

Those answers are insufficient. Slim survival in the company of the drowning is insufficient.

The irrationality of Alcoholic Anonymous is this. It fancies itself the center of the addiction world, but it is only a star. It is a beautiful star, but this center just cannot hold. Not in the era of personalized medicine. Not in a time of genetic medical breakthroughs, infinite technological levers for customizing care, and near-ubiquitous access to instant help. Not in the year when 52,000 people died from heroin overdoses (5k more than the US lost in the Vietnam War). Something much, much rougher this way comes. We must respond accordingly.

“The irrationality of Alcoholic Anonymous is this. It fancies itself the center of the addiction world, but it is only a star. It is a beautiful star, but this center just cannot hold. ”


Small Talk with Mark S. Lee

Lisa McLaughlin, the CEO of Workit Health, discusses the startup ecosystem in Ann Arbor, MI, with Spark CEO, Bill Mayer, and radio talk show host, Mark Lee