Today, we’re speaking with Joe Cordovano, Executive Director at Fresh Start Ministries, a a year-long, residential, faith-based substance abuse program for men. We explore some of the unique challenges that men face in addiction recover. And discuss the kinds of structure or discipline can men benefit from. Then, we invite your questions or comments at the end.
ADDICTION BLOG: Thanks for taking the time to share your work with us, Joe! First of all…I’m interested in some of the principles of gender based substance abuse treatment. Because Fresh Start Focuses on helping men, What are some of the best practices in addressing addiction in the male drug addict and/or alcoholic population?
FRESH START MINISTRIES: Well, Lee, in thinking about your question I’m reminded that all people who have addictive personalities have certain character defects. First, they are alienated from God. Second, they alienate themselves from their true selves: not the person they have become, but the person God created them to be. Third, they alienate themselves from their significant others, meaning the very people who really care about us are the ones we push away. Finally, we fall into denial of addiction and projection. In other words, we deny we have a problem until we can’t deny it any longer then we begin to project our reason for using on to people, places and things.
Working with men, I’ve found that many men have low self esteem and most of them have a hard time forgiving themselves for the way they have treated others while in their addiction. Men also have that whole “Machismo” thing going on. In a lot of ways, men are more fragile in their emotions than women; they just have a harder time letting their emotions out.
ADDICTION BLOG: And, in your decades of experience in treating substance abuse, what are the unique challenges that men face in addiction recovery?
FRESH START MINISTRIES: It’s something I call the Knight-In-Shining-Armor Syndrome. Men of all walks of life seem to be wired in such a way that we think we are expected to come to everyone’s rescue. We are made to believe that we are all to be super heroes saving the world while the whole time we are emotional wrecks because we think we are not supposed to share our own feelings or hurts. So, we keep them in and that causes us a tremendous amount of emotional pain that using drugs or alcohol seems to make go away for a little while.
ADDICTION BLOG: Early recovery is a very shaky time (especially regarding relapse and prevention triggers). What happens in the first two months of a person’s recovery to increase chances of relapse?
FRESH START MINISTRIES: It’s called a BUDD (build up to drink or drug). I’m sure there are people a lot smarter than me that could give you all the formulas of what a person is going through emotionally, mentally and physically. I’ll try to explain it in terms that everyone can understand.
A BUDD is a period of time when the person in recovery experiences an over whelming desire to use alcohol or drugs. This physiological occurrence happens within predictable time frames: 4 to 6 weeks, 4 to 6 months, 11 to 13 months and then at 20 to 22 months.
As you can see, the first couple of months is crucial. This is also usually the first real time a person has to exercise making a right choice. I say that because this is a time we have to choose if we are going to take a drink or drug, it’s the first time we have to make a choice about people, places and things since the last time we used a substance.
ADDICTION BLOG: How important is the role of drug or alcohol testing in treatment of substance abuse? How often or under what conditions does drug testing work well to enhance program participation?
FRESH START MINISTRIES: In our program it’s essential. Testing is what helps our men stay accountable, not just to the program but to each other also. When a man comes home from a day pass, everyone knows that if he stepped on property there is a 95% chance he hasn’t taken any booze or dope into his body. Since most passes are on Saturday, that’s a major victory for everyone involved.
ADDICTION BLOG: What kinds of discipline can men (and women) adopt in early recovery?
FRESH START MINISTRIES: Well considering ours is a Christian 12 step program, I would have to say a time of prayer to God not just to thank him or pray to Him on behalf of someone else but as a time to allow him to show you any shortcomings for the day on your part. Here at FSM, we couple that with a daily moral inventory and journaling about what insights you may have obtained through your time with God in prayer and meditation.
ADDICTION BLOG: How, in your experience, can someone in early recovery optimize their chances for success?
FRESH START MINISTRIES: They need to get in a program of some kind that will help them to learn how get more disciplined and begin to make better choices. They need to get a strong support system around them friends, relatives, employers, etc.
ADDICTION BLOG: It’s your mission to help men change from the inside-out. Can you explain the process of discipleship to us?
FRESH START MINISTRIES: It’s really pretty simple, it’s a theme throughout the entire Bible: it’s called relationships. It’s me with 37 years of sobriety eating, playing, working, sharing in the same way with the man who has been here 1 day or 1 year. It’s the book of Acts put into modern day practice. Teaching men how to fish so they can always eat, but also sharing my food with him until he gets better at fishing for himself, so to speak. Then, hopefully, he will share his wisdom and knowledge with one of the newer men.
ADDICTION BLOG: As someone who works with former addicts the whole year round, what do YOU DO to re-charge yourself and maintain a level of energy and optimism required to do the work?
FRESH START MINISTRIES: It’s not hard to stay charged up because most of the guys are like sponges and want to get everything they can from any of the staff at FSM.
As the spiritual head here along with my wife, we have learned that vacation time is very important. There was a long period of time when we first started that between starting a new ministry and raising three children we thought we were fortunate if we could get a couple of hours at the beach. I must confess we almost wore ourselves out, that’s why as soon as we were able to start bringing on staff, we could.
Sometimes, we had to make them take time off and we still do that to this day. I personally have found that lifting weights does wonders for me taking down my stress levels so I try to get to the gym three days a week. I also have a motorcycle and that helps keep the stress down also. My wife likes to lose herself in reading books and shopping even if she doesn’t buy anything it’s her way of de-stressing, not so much me.
ADDICTION BLOG: As a faith based organization, is Christian belief a pre-requisite to program participation?
FRESH START MINISTRIES: If you are asking if a man needs to be born again the answer is no. If you are asking if a man can have a relationship with a Higher Power of his choosing and that not being God or Jesus I would ask him why then he would want to come to a place that is going to teach something contrary to what he believes. I would also share with him that I don’t know any other way of teaching recovery since having a relationship with the Lord is how it happened for me and I don’t know any other way. I would then ask him if he wanted a referral to the type of program that may be closer to what his beliefs are.
ADDICTION BLOG: Fresh Start estimates that 2/3 of all participants that make it past the first two months of the program go on to longer terms of sobriety. Is this estimate accurate and been verified by a third party? what do you think brings about such a high success rate?
FRESH START MINISTRIES: Yes, this is an accurate statement. The third party would be the Alumni who are no longer destroying their lives or the wives who thank us for giving them back the man they feel in love with. Last month, we had our graduation and we always like for the families to get up and say a few words. This man who just finished a year with us gives his testimony and then his mother gets up with his son in her arms, They little boy leans over to the mic and says daddy I’m so proud that you don’t get messed up any more and I’m happy your home with me. How’s that for a statistic.
ADDICTION BLOG: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
FRESH START MINISTRIES: Yes. I’d like everyone to know no matter how bad it seems there is hope through Jesus Christ.