This is the second in a series of interviews of people in and around the Recovery Space.
- Who are you?
My name is John Winslow and I am a person in long-term recovery. For me that means that I have not used alcohol or other substances for over 44 years. I’m what we refer to as a “Snowbird”. My residence is in Bradenton, Florida on the beautiful Gulf Coast, but I spend my summers “up North” at Virginia Beach, Virginia during the hot season. I’m married with a daughter, a son, and three grandchildren.
I had just turned 26 years old when I entered into recovery. At the time I couldn’t imagine a life without alcohol and other substances. I was what some might refer to as “a sick pup” and my life was a wreck. As a result of having had a great treatment experience and throwing myself into recovery, my life turned around 180 degrees. I shifted from self-loathing, shame, humiliation, remorse & regret, and despair to learning to love myself, gaining self-respect and the respect of others, and leading a life of love & service.
2. What do you do professionally?
I’m retired! However, that doesn’t mean that I simply spend all day walking along the beach looking for seashells and golden doubloons. Read on and I’ll tell you more…
3. Do you have any personal interest in addiction and recovery that you’d like to share?
Yes, I absolutely have a personal interest in addiction and recovery. When I first got sober, I realized that if I was going to maintain my recovery over the long haul, I would need to establish a career that would support my long-term goals. Through the process of prayer and meditation along with consulting with my recovery guides, I felt spiritually led to enter the emerging field of addiction treatment. At the time there were few young people in recovery working in the addictions field. I have always believed in the power of example. As people began to recover at younger and younger ages, I believe it was helpful for them to see someone with whom they could identify staying sober and living a life of service.
4. Tell us about your professional experience in the area of addiction and recovery.
My first job in the addictions field was as an evening counselor at Springfield State Hospital in Sykesville, Maryland. I left a good paying job with the Federal government to get my foot in the door as a neophyte counselor. The pay was so low that I was forced to live on the grounds of the hospital in a small one-room bedroom overlooking the psychiatric patients below, doing what we then referred to as the “Thorazine Shuffle”. It was a wonderful training ground for the rest of my career. I ended up returning to school, having had only a high school diploma. I obtained my master’s degree in Human Services and over time became a Licensed Professional Counselor. Having worked in a variety of settings, I eventually established and ran my own private outpatient addictions treatment practice for 20 years. In 2004, I relocated to Maryland’s Eastern Shore where I became the director of Dorchester County’s outpatient program and founded one of the state’s first recovery community centers: Dri-Dock Recovery & Wellness Center. During that time, I was elected president of the Maryland Addictions Treatment Council.
Over time, my focus and passion shifted from addiction treatment to that of recovery services and advocacy. I was recruited by the Maryland chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence as Coordinator of their Recovery Leadership Program. It was in this capacity that I expanded my growing interest in connecting the dots of recovering individuals, families, and communities which in time led to the creation of International Recovery Day.
5. What are you most proud of?
I would say that of the things that I am most proud is far and above – that of my continuous recovery. *in saying this I must note acknowledgement that my recovery was (and is) a gift ~ but I do take credit for the footwork that I’ve put into this miracle of miracles occurring in my life! As they say… “it’s a simple program, but it ain’t easy”.
On September 11, 2001 our lives changed. A few days later I sat in a classroom at Eagleville Hospital taking my examination for Licensed Professional Counselor. Immediately upon completing this grueling test I drove into New York City and landed at Ground Zero where I served with a Red Cross Mental Health team offering support to the police & firemen attempting rescue efforts.
Lastly, I’m proud of having established International Recovery Day, Inc. The premise is based on the concept that “We can do together what none of us can do alone.” We’ve created a global recovery event that embraces all addictions and all recovery pathways all on the same day!
6. What keeps you working in addiction and recovery?
I am driven and guided by my inner voice (which I identify as the God within). The world has suffered too much heartbreak and devastation at the hands of addiction. My hope is to shift the focus from the ravages of addiction to the hope offered through the recovery movement. We need to collectively demonstrate to the world that we can and DO recover.
7. How has the pandemic affected your work?
The Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating to addiction treatment and recovery efforts. Most Recovery Month events have historically been held in person. Unfortunately, many of those events were cancelled this year. Due to the fact that International Recovery Day is an on-line event, we were not hampered in that regard. There were a number of exceedingly large in-person events through which we had planned to inform recovery audiences about our event. Those plans had to be scrapped. However, we’ve attempted to take full advantage of social media to move our message forward. The other primary segment of International Recovery Day is our “Recovery Lights Around the World” campaign that has not been significantly negatively impacted by the pandemic. We have well over 80 structures around the world that are going purple on Sept. 30th, to include Niagara Falls, the Ben Franklin Bridge, Aloha Towers, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, to name a few.
8. What effects of the pandemic are you observing in the people you serve?
We know that in addition to a significant increase in alcohol consumption within the general public and the reduction of services and closure of treatment programs… suicide, relapse, anxiety, and depression have all increased significantly as well within the recovery community. The recovery community more than ever needs to hold out a beacon of hope to those still in need of help and services. International Recovery Day serves to offer that beacon to the world!
9. What, if any, long term effects do you anticipate on the field?
As with other segments of our society, the pandemic is taking a significant toll on prevention, treatment, and recovery organizations, institutions, communities, and individuals. I’m mindful of catastrophe movies such a “Deep Impact” in which the survivors gather together afterwards clinging to the words of their leaders proclaiming the time for rebuilding is at hand. We of the Recovery Movement know all about surviving catastrophes and of rebuilding. We’ve rebuilt our own lives and lived through tough times – assured by those who came before us that “this, too, shall pass”. We need to have faith and take heart, to trust the process, but to also be prepared to grab a shovel and dig in ~ for there will be much work to be done.
10. Have you seen any benefits or new opportunities in the pandemic?
I am sometimes accused of being an optimist. I’m OK with that. I always believe that if we look hard enough, or step back, take a deep breath, and look at the bigger picture a vision of new possibilities will emerge. I continue to trust the process and look forward to seeing what is revealed.
11. If you were able to work on a fantasy project to improve treatment and recovery support, what would it be?
I really don’t need to envision a fantasy project for me to tackle. My Higher Power has already dropped it in my lap when upon reflecting on the words of William (Bill) White and a biography of Marty Mann the idea for a global celebration of recovery was revealed to me. On that day the concept of International Recovery Day was born. Our website: https://internationalrecoveryday.org/