855. Life as a Chameleon–A Story of Addiction & Recovery
Blake E. Cohen
“The thing that excites me the most about what I’m doing (as a Certified Addiction Professional) is I get to travel the country, talk to people from all walks of life, and educate them on the disease of addiction. And not just educate them on how it’s affecting the country, but educate them on what we can do to help prevent it for future generations─prevent it in the workplace, prevent it at home. And to really foster an environment that is warm and connecting, to combat people’s needs to use substances.”
Having overcome years of addiction and finding recovery at the age of 25 (he’s now 32), Blake Cohen found a life beyond his wildest dreams. Throughout recovery, he had to learn how to have fun, live life, and make an impact all without the use of substances in his life. He has a career in the substance abuse field at a treatment center named Recovery Unplugged, has hosted radio shows, speaks to children in schools on a regular basis about his story of addiction and teaches them how being cool is being yourself. He is also a bestselling author with the new publication, “I Love You More, Short Stories of Addiction, Recovery and Loss from the Family’s Perspective.”
The Most Impactful Turning Point?
“My second treatment program was 90 days. We did a lot of really intensive, hard work, and it was there that a group of my peers sat me down in what they called ‘the hot seat’ and told me that ‘You are a chameleon. You change your personality, your voice, the way you speak, everything that you do changes depending on who you’re talking to. Do you even realize you do that? Who are you?’ And it destroyed me. It was one of those things I knew in the back of my head, that I never really knew who I was, but I never thought anybody else ever noticed. But it was a group of my peers calling me out and telling me things that were hard for me to hear that saved my life. It was sort of a shock to the system. I mean, the drugs and alcohol are taken away from me, so I can’t use that to cope with how I feel anymore. And I can’t use people-pleasing or mask-wearing anymore, so my other coping mechanisms to deal with the world are taken away. So, I’m sort of stripped down with nothing. And that’s when I became teachable, became willing to listen to suggestions and to start rebuilding my life a day at a time.”
The Most Powerful Lessons Learned?
1. “I think a big part of being in recovery–or just being successful in life in general–is always remaining teachable and never thinking we have all the answers.”
“I turned my life around, with the significant help of a group of my fellow addicts, when I decided to start listening to other people and seeking out people who’ve done it before me. I really started seeking mentorship and insight from other people who could help me grow. One of my incredible mentors, the CEO of a private substance abuse treatment center in Fort Lauderdale where I was employed, really took me down the path of showing me what good, ethical treatment looks like and how to talk to people and how to really make a difference in this field. He was great at constantly teaching me new avenues. And, of course, other people I met along the way. It just really inspired me to keep trying new things and keep putting myself out there.”
2. “Shame is a normal part of the disease of addiction.”
“But that should not stop anyone from getting help. The goal is to know that there are recoveries out there and that it is possible to find what will work.”
3. “In the field I thought I knew everything, what could they possibly teach me? You know, you think that because you went through it yourself. But there was so much more out there than I realized.”
“ ‘If you want a higher position in this company, you’re going to go back to school,’ my boss said. So, I signed up to become a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP), which in Florida, in a sense, equates to a Masters in Addiction. It’s a 14-month course. You have to work in the substance abuse field for 6,000 hours, which is three years, get 300 supervision hours of you doing groups and individual therapy sessions, and take a state board exam. I learned, among other things, that the way I got sober isn’t necessarily the way that everybody else gets sober. And there’s so many different, beautiful modalities and ways that people find recovery that is not just the way that I did it. There are tons of ways that people can find recovery and a better life. And it changed the way that I even looked at recovery. It made me realize that recovery is not only being abstinent from substances. It is asking yourself two questions: Are you happy? And are you making progress in your life?”
4. Why are the majority of people not doing work that uses the best of who they are?
“I believe that it is based in fear. I think people are afraid of taking a chance with their life. And often the thing that they want to do seems so out of reach because they tell themselves that it is out of reach. So they play it safe as opposed to doing what they could potentially love. … As much as I’d like to say, just rip the Band-Aid off and dive right in, that’s not always the most practical thing to do. Start doing it on the side. Start dabbling. Dip your toe in the water and see if it’s something that you can enjoy, and slowly make your way to it. And once you find out that it is, dip your foot and dip your calf and your knee, your thigh, your hip. Keep going and eventually, you’ll be fully immersed in something you love.”
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