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Building a supportive recovery community to reduce shame

September 23, 2013
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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Phoenix Multisport, a place where individuals struggling with addiction and starting to begin their path toward recovery can go to participate in a variety of sports activities—climbing, cycling, boxing, yoga, or triathlon training (just to name a few)—it’s not about the sports. What it is about, says Scott Strode, executive director and founder, is the supportive community that these individuals are walking into, and the new identity they are creating for themselves.

Strode, who spoke at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD) as a plenary speaker on Sunday, shared his experiences of addiction and early recovery. When he stopped using drugs he found he had an abundance of extra time on his hands. “The people who worked at Blockbuster knew my name and had the new releases waiting for me,” he joked because he said he isolated himself in his apartment and watched movies because he wasn’t sure what to do other than head to the bars.

After a friend introduced him to boxing, he was awakened to the world of athletics and began to get involved with triathlons and climbing as well. Soon after, he realized that this is what the recovery community really needed—not only somewhere to go to fill the time and space in your life, but also to have a new set of contacts and people to turn to when life gets rough.

Phoenix Multisport has now been open for seven years and has served about 8,000 individuals in three communities in Colorado. The organization has begun to do an outcomes study on the program and has been finding extremely positive results. Of those individuals who have taken the survey, results showed a 23% relapse rate. The interesting part about these results, Strode said, is that 40% of these people who took the survey had no formal treatment, only the supportive community of the program.

This led him to discuss the next steps that he sees Phoenix taking:

  • Since there is currently no clinical component to the program, he would like to see Phoenix work hand-in-hand with some clinical partners. These clinical partners would help facilitate certain workshops, such as a grief workshop or an early childhood trauma workshop, and these activities would show up on the Phoenix schedule amongst the 50 weekly sports activities. Phoenix is beginning to do this with its clinical partners in Colorado. He believes that if the clinical component is added, the relapse rate that they found can be even lower.
  • The next step, which Strode shared exclusively with those in attendance at NCAD, is that the organization is looking to expand outside of Colorado and has decided on the first move. “We’re going to be in Orange County— that’s the first place that the board of directors has identified as where we’re going to open,” Strode told the audience. Currently the organization is fundraising for the new program.
  • Additionally, he shared that the goal is to have Phoenix locations in five or six cities in the next five years. Because the organization has many connections in these cities, “the front runners” are Orange County, Los Angeles, Boston, San Diego, and Salt Lake City.

Phoenix Multisport thinks it’s important to remove the shame and stigma so often associated with addiction. “When you see a Phoenix jersey go by when you’re cycling or in a triathlon, we’re taking away that shame. We’re building a national community where people are proud of being sober and of who they are in recovery, and that will open the door to so many people taking that next step in their recovery journey,” Strode said.   

Phoenix currently networks with a few inpatient programs in Colorado and also drug courts. With these connections, the individuals begin to get connected with the Phoenix community while in treatment or in drug court. This way, the contact information of their “using friends” can be replaced with contact information of team members at Phoenix. Instead of having a rough day and calling up someone to go drink with, they can call someone and go cycling instead.

Individuals at Phoenix Multisport are not referred to as “clients” or “patients,” but rather “team members.” Team members do not pay a fee to participate in the activities. Multi-day trips sometimes have room and board costs attached, but Strode said most of those costs get subsidized and there are also scholarships available.

Strode also illustrated a few points on the program’s “code of conduct” that create a community people want to be involved with. It states “anything that isn’t nurturing isn’t welcome at Phoenix.” This means no intimidation tactics, no swearing, no put-downs, etc. There is also no smoking allowed at the program facilities, and Strode says he wishes this is something that was practiced more broadly across the field. The organization isn’t about who can lift the most or run the fastest, it’s about the community that surrounds the individual in recovery.

 “In their most challenging moment, you can help give them hope. A high five could be the one thing that keeps them from relapsing tomorrow,” he said.

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