'This Is A Journey' - Q&A With Chelsee Ferk On Recovery And The LIVES Challenge

The winner for Recovery Brands’ LIVES Challenge will soon be announced. But to keep the conversation going, we sat down with the actress from our video, Chelsee Ferk, to hear about her experience working with More Than An Addict and her journey to find recovery.

Ferk is a person living in long-term recovery and states that she first became interested working with More Than An Addict when she heard the name of the organization. She says it resonated with her, “I felt plagued by the word ‘addict’. It felt like a label that set a precedence that allowed anyone to determine my character over one piece of my existence.” She goes on to say that this was debilitating to her self-confidence, keeping her in shame and keeping her from sharing this part of her life with others. 

Beyond relating to More Than An Addict, Ferk shares that the video in particular struck a chord with her. “It takes courage to take ownership of past choices and allow space for self-worth. I went through this feeling when applying for jobs and finally getting an interview. Like in the video, the words ‘here’s my chance’ entered my mind, helping me remember that I had something to offer to companies that would hire me into their organizations.”

Ferk states that believing in yourself and not giving up were both focal points of the video and in her own life. “It was powerful for me to share that reality of my own experience through the video.”

But many often do not speak up about their experience in recovery from addiction – with over 23 million people struggling with addiction, only about 10% of people are receiving treatment. According to Recovery Brands, one of the primary reasons for lack of treatment is stigma and shame – second only to financial concerns.

Regarding stigma, Ferk says this issue is “prevalent and heartbreaking,” she continues, “we have all been affected by addiction whether we are the addict, or we care for the addict. It is a social issue that is often rejected and considered by many as immoral.”

She says there are many misconceptions regarding those who struggle with addiction. “We are not degenerates, we are your daughter, friend, coworker, school teacher, influential person or a part of society.”

But Ferk was not without advice for others who are struggling or who have recovered. She says, “Know this is a journey, know there is a next; living in addiction isn’t it. I have known the exact numbness and emptiness of this disease, but I have experienced tenfold the beauty in this club [recovery] we belong to.”

According to Ferk, the key is reaching out and finding resources that will help you get well and stay well. She adds for others to remember, most importantly, “it is never too late, no matter how many setbacks you have experienced because of your addiction.”

You matter. You are more than an addict.
 

September is National Recovery Month. To help empower a person living in long-term recovery in their next chapter of life, please consider donating to More Than An Addict

From Addiction To Entrepreneurship – How Laura Benedict Got Sober And How Recovery Saved Her Business

Laura Benedict stands in front of the red barn's road sign with an urge to businesses to continue giving and doing good in their communities. 

Laura Benedict stands in front of the red barn's road sign with an urge to businesses to continue giving and doing good in their communities. 

Tucked away in Augusta, Maine you will find not only beautiful scenery and tight-knit neighborhoods, but a small restaurant called The Red Barn. The business serves delicious fried fish and chicken, among other items, and serves up a large dose of kindness and community along with it. The company is owned by Laura Benedict, 51, a person living in long-term recovery from alcoholism.

Having owned the restaurant for over 30 years, Benedict has deep pride in the company’s mission. A company known for its’ philanthropy, community, and all around feeling of inclusivity are what have made the restaurant the success story it is today. She shares, however, that the businesses recent successes and recognition for extravagant philanthropy have multiplied exponentially after she got sober and found recovery.

Addiction, the disease that does nothing but steal the lives of those afflicted, is something that Benedict’s family had struggled with for generations. She adds that before she got sober, there wasn’t a night in 31-years that she didn’t take a drink.

Before Benedict got sober, she describes doing everything she could to look good on the outside and to build her pride – giving money she didn’t have and giving off the appearance that she was successful and doing well. She describes this period of life as “having made every million-dollar mistake in the book.” Before recovery, Benedict says it was all about her.

But that all changed on December 12, 2014 when she decided to ask for help and get sober.

Benedict had her moment of clarity – the point of tension where something had to give, and that was honest, transparency and acceptance with herself. After rehab and plugging into both her local community and recovery community, she says that she’s received immense support. And it was ultimately that love and support that began to transform her business.

Within the first 9-10 months after getting sober and finding recovery, her business was paying off debts, getting out of near-bankruptcy and even hit $4 million in revenue in 2015. Now, she’s on track to hit $5 million in revenue, employs 38 staff and sees as many as 4,000 customers per day in peak season.

Benedict shares that these successes were about doing the right thing – getting transparent with her customers, with herself, and creating a transparent, honest environment through her business at The Red Barn in return.

Now, Benedict says recovery has given her the ability to give and to love on people with no agenda. “It’s not about me,” Benedict says, “it’s about all of these people and making their days better.”

Through an outward focus on her customers, with a special emphasis on often-forgotten populations like veterans and the elderly, customers have flocked to The Red Barn as a business where they find both great food and a welcoming atmosphere. The Red Barn community is made up of local citizens and those who travel hours to come and dine at the restaurant – all because of the environment created that was radically transformed through Benedict’s recovery.

For other entrepreneurs and people struggling, Benedict says to remember that “there’s always hope, even if you don’t feel it. It will spring up when you don’t know it.” Beyond having hope, she reminds those struggling to be vulnerable because in asking for help and admitting shortcomings is where they will find their strength.

For Benedict, this strength has been found in her recovery and in the community created at The Red Barn. And through this community, there is left a beautiful story of recovery, a lesson of transparent entrepreneurship, and a thriving business that has grown in the hearts of the Augusta community.

 

To help others like Benedict recovering from addiction and alcoholism, please consider giving a gift to More Than An Addict in honor of National Recovery Month this September. Your philanthropy will be used towards the continual development and administration of scholarship and entrepreneurial programs to invest in the lives of the recovery community and their next chapters in life.

Entrepreneurs in Recovery: Tiffany Hunsley's Story

The ribbon cutting ceremony at Recovery Is Happening's new location; 2016.

The ribbon cutting ceremony at Recovery Is Happening's new location; 2016.

Tiffany Hunsley is the Executive Director of her own non-profit organization, a college graduate, a proud mother and a passionate encourager of others looking to make their dreams come true.  And, she’s in long-term recovery from substance abuse. In fact, it was her recovery that provided the genesis for her current-day success as asocial entrepreneur and national recovery advocate.

That success is seen most clearly in her work with Recovery Is Happening, a non-profit recovery community organization in southeastern Minnesota that embraces all pathways to recovery and seeks to impact the community and enhance long-term recovery through public education, advocacy and peer support. She founded the organization in 2011 and works at the local and state levels to evangelize her organization’s message.

The early chords of Hunsley’s story sound strikingly similar to the stories of others who’ve struggled with addiction. Her first drink at age 12 led to an escalating path of lies, manipulation and debilitating substance abuse disorder. Her disease progressed into the use and production of meth, which ultimately led to her arrest and, perhaps, most importantly, her enrollment in Wabasha County’s Drug Court. It was the long-term support and accountability that she found in Drug Court which make the more recent chords of Tiffany’s story uniquely her own.

“Drug Court is a long-term program for people who suffer with a chronic illness,” says Hunsley. “Because of that I was guided and held accountable to a degree that allowed me to grow and flourish.”

It’s that long-term accountability that really made the difference for Hunsley. And, she says, it was ultimately their guidance that led her to college. She’d been struggling to find her way when her Drug Court team urged her to consider pursuing education, a path she had never really considered.

“Through the Drug Court process, they saw something different in me that I didn’t see in myself,” says Hunsley. “I really felt like I needed to do what they asked of me so through that request I applied to go to college. What I found out was that when I apply myself I’m actually very intelligent.”

Pursuing higher education enhanced her recovery process and she worked to intertwine the two by doing papers and reports on addiction and recovery whenever possible. Her final capstone to complete her degree in social work focused on how communities can bring awareness to the fact that people can and do recovery from substance abuse. And, with that, Recovery Is Happening was born.

“I had spent a lot of time reflecting and growing in my own recovery and I had recognized that throughout my addiction so much focus was always put on my addiction. The focus was never put on my recovery and it didn’t make sense to me,” says Hunsley. “Ultimately I decided that writing a 30-page paper wasn’t good enough, so I put a committee together and we held our first walk that year (2011) – 93 people came.”

Five years later and Recovery Is Happening has grown into an impactful organization and Hunsley has grown into an impactful leader and entrepreneur. She relies on her energy, enthusiasm, personal drive and complete commitment to honesty to stay in recovery and lead her organization. She’s particularly driven to serve those who’d previously been underserved and those who’d been encouraged to stay anonymous.

“The anonymous people inspire me,” she says. “I really had been a part of the recovery community that lived in the shadows in our community. I really wanted to be a part of bringing that out into the light because it is an absolutely amazing, beautiful group of people that should walk with their heads held high and no longer feel like they have to recover behind closed doors in church basements because that adds to our own self-shame and stigma that our illness can so easily take us back to. Bringing it out into the light really allows us to be proud of who we are and the recovery that we worked so hard at.”

Her hard work, passion and drive serve her as well at home as they do at work. Hunsley says she’s transformed what “used to be a dysfunctional home” into one that’s thriving and that embraces high standards. This largely comes from having found her place in the world.

“I think you know when you’re serving your purpose and you’re in your element,” she says. “The stars are aligned and you just feel the world is exactly the way is supposed to be and that’s how I feel when I do this work. I know it’s what I’m meant to be doing.”

Hunsley believes that her success can be replicated by others who are in long-term recovery. With support, accountability and hard work, they, too, can meet their goals and make their own personal dreams come true. Two keys to consider – an open mind when it comes to failure and the need to surround yourself with good people.

“I don’t believe in failure. I believe that failure is success turned around. I believe that I have to fail and I learn by making mistakes,” says Hunsley. “That’s key. And, I knew it would take a team of people that I had to bring along on this journey with me to help build this vision. So, this is not by any means something that I could in any way accomplish on my own.”

Her advice to others like her that are emerging from the grasp of addiction and looking ahead to a future that’s happy and productive? Go for it.

“I absolutely would never have believed in a million years that I would be the executive director of my own organization,” she says. “And you know what? It started with a desire to want to make a difference. If you have a desire to do something, you don’t know what it will turn out to be. But that little spark can grow into a huge fire so you’ve just gotta go for it. Life is too short; there’s no better time than now.”

For Hunsley, the struggle and hard work have paid off. She’s living life as her most authentic self and she’d proud of her accomplishments, both personal and professional.

“Now I get to live in a world where my passion is carried into many aspects of my life. Although I wear many hats at home and as an executive director, I get to be exactly who I am in every one of those hats.”

To help more individuals in recovery like Tiffany realize their potential as community leaders, advocates and entrepreneurs, please consider giving a gift to More Than An Addict

Sharing Ideas at TEDxZumbroRiver – Now Where Do We Go From Here?

Last week I had the opportunity to speak at TEDxZumbroRiver in Rochester, Minnesota. The experience was life changing, exciting, and inspiring to say the least. When I started More Than An Addict last year, I had one goal in mind – to start an organization that would inspire individuals in recovery from addiction to reach their full potential. Too often I had observed those in recovery had their potential put into question because addiction was a part of their past. This didn’t sit well with me. What if your past wasn’t a disqualifier, but your present was a qualifier? Because for those who have beat addiction, this means recovery is in your present …and that is a powerful thing.

Tori Utley, Founder and executive director of more than an addict presenting at tedxzumbroriver on may 5, 2016

Tori Utley, Founder and executive director of more than an addict presenting at tedxzumbroriver on may 5, 2016

At More Than An Addict, we’re not afraid of big dreams when we encourage individuals in recovery to strive and achieve their full potential. Whether that dream is owning a business, going back to school, or developing the next invention – we believe it’s possible. We believe all that’s missing is a society that understands recovery and values its’ importance appropriately. By empowering the individuals who have courageously battled addiction, we will see millions of people leverage their life experience to benefit society. And better yet, we’ll see that same skill be transformed into something tangible in recovery – something that can influence our communities and our companies.

There are over 23 million people living in recovery from addiction today. This is an amazing feat showing that recovery is possible and that it surrounds us every day. On behalf of the millions of those who have battled addiction and have won, let us be a society that is empowering and validating of the human experience. We will observe that the experience of recovery can transcend into the workplace and create dynamite employees – those who are creative, driven, and tenacious.

We’ve spread the idea, and we’re excited to keep building what we’ve started. When people get together in a room and are confronted with problems, solutions, and new ideas, big change can happen. My hope is that those who heard the idea behind More Than An Addict at TEDxZumbroRiver are inspired to be leaders of change in our community. This is a lofty goal, but one we believe is possible and worthy of our time and effort.

Don’t look down on those with addiction in their past – validate the amazing things they have accomplished in their recovery, equip them with support, and empower them in the workplace. This is a drastically different end to the story about what can happen on the other side of addiction – and it’s called recovery. And recovery not only transforms lives, but it has the potential to transform our companies and communities.

Let’s continue to show those in recovery that they are more than the labels they’re given as a result of their past – they’re more than an addict.

Tori Utley
Founder & Executive Director

 

If you are interested in financially supporting those who have recovered from addiction by empowering them to pursue opportunities in education, employment, or entrepreneurship, please consider giving a gift today.

Entrepreneurs In Recovery Series: Then Treatment Center Client, Now Treatment Center CEO

When she was younger, she wanted to own her own business – she said she always knew it’s what she would end up doing. Despite big dreams, at 14 years old, Mattea Schmitz got caught up in drugs and alcohol, saying she immediately became addicted. What followed were years of heavy drug and alcohol use, and during this experience she got kicked out of high school. But even in her addiction, Mattea was driven. She ended up figuring out a way to get her high school diploma despite getting kicked out, and went to college to study business.

When in college, she says the drinking and drug use continued to escalate and she started using meth. “I thought I was enjoying life, but it was just a disaster,” Schmitz says. After a few rough years from ages 19-24, on August 2, 2007 she said to herself “This is not who I am, this is not who I can be for the rest of my life. I don’t want to die being an addict – I want to live.” Mattea recounts thinking those statements as she sat in jail, but says that she’s been sober ever since that moment. Following the arrest, she went to treatment at Common Ground in Rochester. After completing treatment successfully, she got serious in recovery and started working. And then a couple of years after going to Common Ground for treatment, she went back to the same company, but this time for a job interview.

Although the then-treatment center owners were skeptical, Mattea proved herself through her impressive resume and experience she’d gained in her recovery. She got a job as an assistant, but quickly worked her way up – she was promoted from an assistant to an office manager, then to a business manager, then to the director of operations, and in January 2015, Mattea purchased the company. She is now the CEO of Common Ground, the same facility she attended for treatment 9 years earlier.

Mattea describes the feeling as surreal – she says that without her recovery she wouldn’t have any of the experiences she has today. Since taking over Common Ground just over a year ago, she has expanded the facility to two outpatient sites and is opening a halfway house in Winona, MN this summer.

We sat down to ask Mattea a few questions about her experience as an entrepreneur in recovery, and here’s what she had to say:

Q: Were there any lessons that you learned from your using days that have helped you as an entrepreneur today?

A: “The hustle. I sold drugs to do drugs. I could find money anywhere – I knew who to call, I knew how to make money, I knew who to trust. Translating that to being an entrepreneur, I’m doing the same thing, just on the right side of the law – I’m finding the clientele, doing my research, finding who I trust in hiring the right employees – the people I trust the most to carry out the mission of Common Ground.”

Q: How has your recovery benefitted you as an entrepreneur?

A: “I couldn’t do anything I’m doing today without my recovery. I wouldn’t be alive right now – I knew if I didn’t get sober, I would die. My recovery also makes me a better leader – I’m compassionate with the staff and I understand the clients – I’ve been in their shoes.”

Q: What would you say to people in recovery who are thinking about going back to school, joining the workforce, or starting a business?

A: “Don’t settle. I know that you might think people are looking at you differently – and maybe they are looking at you in a different way. But there will be people who understand your situation, and the right doors will open. Don’t think that because you have a felony or a past that you can’t make a difference in your life or in other people’s lives. You have too much potential to just settle.”

Schmitz and her staff are continuing their work at Common Ground, the outpatient treatment center that Schmitz attended 9 years ago. At Common Ground, the group conducts assessments, education, and outpatient treatment programming in both Rochester and Winona, Minnesota. By this summer, the organization will also be opening a halfway house for men who are recovering from substance use disorder. Schmitz is managing a growing enterprise with nearly 15 staff members and counting, and she is not slowing down any time soon.

Take it from Mattea – don’t settle. Lessons learned in addiction – the hustle – when translated to recovery, fuel the drive to become a great entrepreneur. The leadership and vision that she has harnessed are saving lives, and recovery has transformed her past to a tangible, meaningful impact on her community today. 

 

If you are interested in helping individuals in recovery achieve their dreams and goals in their new chapter of life, please consider giving to More Than An Addict. Your generosity will allow individuals in recovery to go to school, start a business, or positively impact their communities.