Scouting the Roadblocks

Connection counselor Jeff McKenzie helps people find their footing in early recovery—and stay the course

Meet Jeff McKenzie, MA, LADC, an addiction counselor with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation who specializes in recovery coaching and monitoring. As one of eight Connection counselors, McKenzie guides clients through the ups and downs of early recovery—and is always ready with an assist.

How does the Connection bridge the span between treatment and recovery?

In treatment, patients are educated about how recovery works, but learning how to live in recovery—actually changing your mind-set and behavior in relation to almost every aspect of your life—presents new challenges at every turn. Having support, guidance and accountability in those early months makes that transition more viable.

That's the idea behind Connection™. We work with individuals over an extended period of time to help them establish and sustain recovery so they can be the person they want to be and lead the life they want to live.

Are there certain behaviors or objectives you focus on?

Honesty and accountability are key. We ask a lot of questions to stay on top of both. First and foremost, we always ask clients if they've remained abstinent. The Connection™ program's random drug testing verifies that information easily enough, but what we're really after is helping individuals recognize triggers, feelings, and attitudes that could lead to relapse and identify how, exactly, they plan to address those emotions and situations.

We know relapse begins long before the individual picks up the substance. It can start with getting complacent about recovery or experiencing some kind of loss, deciding not to go to meetings, neglecting to use coping skills and eventually becoming less and less resilient to handling life on life's terms.

It sounds like you really get to know your clients.

Yes, and they grow to trust and count on us. Even clients who may have initially resisted our services become engaged and encouraged.

I coached the first Connection client. He was a professional athlete, and he didn't want anything to do with us at first. His team insisted that he participate. As we got to know one another over many weeks and months, we shared some good cries and laughs—and he began to really thrive in recovery. His wife was thrilled. He was thrilled. And his team was extremely thankful and impressed.

So family members can be involved in Connection, too?

Absolutely. There are two ways that happens. One way is a client to designate loved ones along with continuing care professionals, employers, or others concerned about his or her well-being to receive Connection accountability updates and verification reports. The other way is for family members to sign up for our coaching and support services even if their loved one isn't a Connection participant. We work with spouses, parents and other family members on how to set boundaries, hold their loved one accountable and rebuild trusting relationships.

What's your best advice for people who are new to recovery—and their loved ones?

Be patient. There are a lot of ups and downs in early recovery. It's a roller-coaster ride. So, strap yourselves in, stay positive and ride through it together. Things will level out as you move along. And you don't want to give up before that happens.

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