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.”
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