At Sanford Behavioral Health, we have invested in our workplace culture to provide a pleasant space for patients to recover and a great place for staff to work. Why? Because a positive workplace culture impacts patient satisfaction and the team’s performance. Today’s Limelight Interview with Substance Use Disorder Program Manager Garrett Dunn, CADC, reflects Sanford’s culture with a bonus. Garrett is not only an alcohol and drug counselor but also a person in long-term recovery. In that regard, he is a wealth of information about the successes and pitfalls of lasting recovery.
“When clients are admitted to treatment, their eyes are lifeless, and they are experiencing various symptoms of detox – chills, shakes, restlessness, and irritability. Afterward, with supportive medication, sleep, and well-needed meals, life returns to their eyes. They start asking questions about the process and what they can do to save their life.” Garrett Dunn
Reflections on Lasting Recovery – Limelight Interview
SBH – What is your role at Sanford Behavioral Health?
Garrett Dunn – My title is Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Program Manager. That means I work at Sanford West Behavioral Health Campus and oversee the staff for our SUD track. My responsibilities include programming for detox and all levels of addiction treatment. I am new to this role but will help hire, train, and oversee the day-to-day operations.
I returned to school in January to get my masters in social work, and I am certified as an alcohol and drug counselor. In the past, I operated as a case manager, helping clients with FMLA and short-term disability, which is an important part of the process. I enjoyed alleviating some of the financial stress for our clients. I plan to take more pressure off the staff’s shoulders in the coming days.
SBH – Are you in recovery?
Garrett Dunn – I am in recovery; I will have nine years on October 7th.
SBH – Congratulations! As an alcohol and drug counselor and a person in recovery, what are the keys to lasting recovery?
Garrett Dunn – A combination of desperation, willingness, and contrary action. We get returning clients, and I always greet them with open arms and tell them I am glad they’re here. With relapse comes guilt, shame, and embarrassment. I say, “Let’s get past those feelings because they will not help you move forward.” Certainly, coming back to Sanford is better than the alternative!
Previous treatment or a period of sobriety is not in vain. Hopefully, seeds have been planted, and you have started to build a foundation for recovery. You are just missing something. So, the contrary action is either stopping the thing you are doing that does not work or doing it differently. It is an opportunity to tweak your coping skills and determine what needs to change. It is an opportunity for growth, with it comes willingness and honesty.
SBH – Is honesty another key?
Garrett Dunn – Yes. If you can be brutally honest with yourself first and then with others, you can tear down the reservations in the back of your mind. There was a little voice I struggled with, and it took me a number of years to get sober. I had six months, nine months a couple of times. But it was ten years of back and forth before I was utterly desperate.
SBH – Why do you think it took so long to stay sober?
Garrett Dunn – That little voice that says, “You don’t know how to face life on life’s terms without this thing that you’ve been using for so long.” Life is scary. There is a lot of fear that bleeds into every aspect of life. Alcohol made me feel smarter, funnier, and better looking. I thought it gave me confidence. So, it takes time to break down the big lies we tell ourselves.
SBH – You have mentioned “desperation” a couple of times. How is desperation a catalyst to lasting recovery?
Garrett Dunn – If you have nowhere else to turn, sometimes the clouds part. That is what it boiled down to for me. My ego, pride, and inability to be honest with myself kept me drunk longer. I did not think I was like those “other people” in recovery. When I was introduced to AA, I remember looking around the room and thinking, “I’m not one of them.” Of course, some of those horrible stories told at AA meetings became my stories because addiction is a progressive disease. If you currently have your marriage, job, and family intact, it will not last. You must do something to manage a substance use disorder, or it worsens.
SBH – What are the pitfalls to lasting recovery?
Garrett Dunn – Complacency and resentment are the big pitfalls. Finding something to blame other than yourself when you go back to using or drinking. And I hear all the time from clients that they “stopped.” People stop utilizing the mechanisms that worked. They stop going to 12-step meetings, working with a sponsor, or maintaining the routines they established in treatment. I warn clients that it is relatively easy to stay sober in treatment, but once outside the bubble, you have a lifetime of vigilance ahead.
SBH – How do you talk about a “lifetime of vigilance” to those new to recovery without overwhelming them?
Garrett Dunn – It comes back to what may be the biggest cliché in AA: one day at a time. I have a five-year-old son, and I’m a single father. One night as I was making dinner, I thought, “Oh my gosh, I will have to make him dinner for the next 14 years!” That could easily have led to worrying and anxiety (what if something happens to me), and it won’t produce any positive benefits. So I reeled it back. I do not have to think about making him dinner five years from now, just tonight and tomorrow. I think that parlays to this disease, you have to stay in the moment as best you can.
SBH – What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
Garrett Dunn – Working with clients. I love to see them progress. When they are admitted to treatment, their eyes are lifeless, and they are experiencing various symptoms of detox – chills, shakes, restlessness, and irritability. Afterward, with supportive medication, sleep, and well-needed meals, life returns to their eyes. They start asking questions about the process and what they can do to save their life.
SBH – What about the most significant challenge?
Garrett Dunn – (Laughs) Working with clients. I have been doing this for a number of years, and I love it, but it is a challenge. Because we are dealing with individuals fighting a life-threatening, cunning, and baffling disease. When you think you have seen it all, somebody throws you a curveball, a new set of problems, or a deeper pathology you have not seen before.
Working with someone who does not want it yet is the most difficult challenge. Maybe they have turned up for somebody else’s sake, like the spouse, partner, job, or the courts made them come to Sanford. You can tell they are not ready, even with all the resources available, and it is hard to watch.
SBH – What is your favorite journey?
Garrett Dunn – My journey of recovery and sobriety and learning how to grow to be a man again without crutches. Stripping away the lies and raising my son as a sober person, a better version of myself. God willing, he will never see his dad under the influence.
What makes Sanford Behavioral Health a great place to work?
Garrett Dunn – What I have come to love about Sanford is the intimacy and passion in everyone who works here. Within the first week of starting my job, I knew it was a welcoming place, and the staff cared about what they were doing. I met the owners, Rae and David Green. In fact, they went out of their way to introduce themselves to me. The programming is a similar model to what I was used to but with a higher standard. Clients provide feedback about the excellent care they are given – and it’s rewarding. It feels like this is exactly where I belong.
SBH – In closing, what is your motto?
Garrett Dunn – That is a good question. I don’t have a motto, more like a mantra to remind me to walk with my chin up and shoulders back – walk slow, talk slow, breathe, and believe in yourself.
That is a good mantra! Thank you, Garrett.