“I believe in you”. That one phrase is where addiction counseling begins. When someone else has faith that you are going to not only make it, but flourish and thrive through the journey, magic starts to happen. That magic can be summarized in one word, “sobriety”. As an addiction counselor, I have discovered things that gets and keeps people sober. Through my revolutionary approach to addiction treatment called “Woodworking Therapy”, individuals develop a skill few people ever acquire, as well as a positive experience they will have for the rest of their lives.
When I was 7 years old, I helped my Dad create the living room floor out of solid oak wood. This took place in 1988 in the Boston, Massachusetts suburban town of Dover. I was drawn to the chop saw, smell of fresh-cut oak wood, and the whole project in general. Little did I know that almost 3 decades later, I would be helping people get their lives back. My passion for woodworking and my ability to teach it to others has a fullfillment factor to my life. It isn’t enough just to go through the motions of treatment with me. I am a strong believer in having fun while going through rehab. I make sure that people suffering from addiction get a general set of tools in their “recovery tool box” that they can use to stay clean.
I realize that peoples lives are on the line, and whether they live or die from this disease is contingent on the counselor’s ability to inspire, educate, and truly believe in each and every one of them. I have to create a “sobriety blueprint” for each client, follow it carefully, and modify it as necessary in order to successfully do my work as a counselor. If I am confident in their ability to become clean and sober for the rest of their lives, they become confident. One tactic I always execute when doing a psycho-education group, is to be myself. Let them have a “question and answer” time as well as a “burning desire”time too. I have to be real with the group, and keep the lecture animated using visual aids, handouts,and interactive exercises.
When I am introducing clients to woodworking, usually during their recreational time, I have a prototype of a project to show them as an example. I also lay out all the hand tools nice and neat, set up a finishing area for painting and staining, as well designate a separate workbench for demonstrations. I show the group of 10 to 20 clients the prototype first. I get them open to the possibility that they can create this project too. Usually they only show a glimmer of confidence in themselves, but I take each client from where they are at, and go from there. My favorite 2-session woodworking project is a “keepsake” box. It is simple, creative, and serves as a symbol of the start of their journey into sobriety.
I took part in a self-improvement seminar called, “Enlightened Warrior Training Camp” where I spent five days in upstate New York discovering my passions, abilities, and life purpose. I climbed mountains, experienced a sweat lodge, and even walked on 15 feet of red hot coals (fire walk). I realized then that if I could walk on fire, I could do anything I set my mind too. I learned to trust, whole-heartedly in my peers as well as in myself. I decided at that point, after the 5th day that I was going to combine my two passions, woodworking and substance abuse counseling. And now five years later, I have executed “Woodworking Therapy” in not just one treatment center, but two treatment centers.
Creativity and the freedom to make a keepsake box customized just the way they want it, is a key factor in this programs success. Clients get to learn fundamentals such as sawing, hammering, painting, screwing, glueing, etc. But they also get to use a woodburner to write a message on their projects. They choose the color, stain, and whether to keep it natural or gloss it up with a polyurethane. Most clients make their woodworking masterpieces for a loved one. That shows me that they care for others and are starting to believe in themselves like they did before alcohol or drugs took over.
One of the joy’s that I get from running this program is when I call role and get a headcount of who’s going to be in the woodworking group. Role call sets the stage for the clients next 2 hours. Often times clients clap with excitement when they see me approach the front with my clipboard. The energy is high, and the clients even forget that they are in rehab.
“Woodworking Therapy” is just the start of where I want to go professionally. I see myself training other instructor’s in workshops all over the world, how to teach woodworking to clients. Who’s going to stop me? In conclusion, and through this revolutionary approach to addiction treatment, I have found that all you have to do is “believe” in their success. When you do that you set the stage for them to believe as well. That is where their journey starts.