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Understanding Addiction: Community Workshop Open to All

Have you ever wondered what to say to someone who might be struggling with addiction? Do you think someone close to you might have substance or alcohol use disorder, but you’re not sure what the next step is in getting them help? Have you ever wondered what recovery actually is?

Those in search of answers can hear directly from a regional leader in treatment and recovery, at the upcoming community workshop Understanding Addiction: How Research is Charting New Roads to Recovery.

The event is set for Wednesday, March 13, from 6-8 p.m. at Oxford Treatment Center’s outpatient office at 611 Commerce Parkway. There is no charge to attend. Refreshments will also be provided, and everyone is welcome.

Mark Stovall, CAT, CMHT, Chief Operating Officer for Oxford Treatment Center, is the creator and facilitator of the Understanding Addiction community workshop.

Mark Stovall, CAT, CMHT, Chief Operating Officer for Oxford Treatment Center, will be leading the workshop, designed especially for those who have a friend or family member struggling with addiction.

Stovall is the former statewide head of substance abuse treatment oversight, having served as director of the Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Services at the Mississippi Department of Mental Health (DMH). He has two decades of experience in the fields of chemical dependency and behavioral health.

“We enjoy any opportunity to share with the broader community what we are learning about addiction and recovery — both through research and through our own work with patients every day,” Stovall said. “We want to help people understand the nature of addiction as a disease. We also want to help family members and friends understand how to support their loved ones in finding recovery.”

As a chronic disease, Stovall said, addiction cannot be cured with a quick-fix approach, but rather through a long-term strategy of support. Family and friends have an important role to play in providing that support, he said.

“The good news today is, there is help and there is hope for people struggling,” Stovall said. “We can give them the first glimmer of hope that they’ve ever seen before.”

Stovall’s program will also give practical advice so family and friends can talk to people in their lives who may be struggling with addiction.

“A lot of times people will say, ‘If you loved me, you would stop using,’ but this shame-based argument does nothing but hurt everyone involved,” Stovall said. “Instead, we need to change the conversation and provide the support they need to get them proper help.”

The community workshop

Complements a 1.5 CE Lunch & Learn seminar for mental-health professionals on Tuesday, March 12. Stovall will be presenting Addiction 101: The Basics of Treating Addiction. Details and registration:

Brian Whisenant, Director of Community Relations, has been instrumental in the creation of the continuing education programs offered at Oxford Treatment Center.

Brian Whisenant, Director of Community Relations, said the topic had been requested by therapists and social workers who often encounter substance-abuse problems in their clients, but are not specialists in treating addiction. For the community workshop, he said, Stovall will focus on providing practical information for people of all ages and backgrounds.

“Mark frequently presents at professional conferences, but at the same time he has an incredible way of making it simple for those of us who are not clinicians,” Whisenant said. “I’m excited for our community members to be able to learn from him.”

Stovall will also answer questions about how family and friends can tap into treatment and support resources to get their loved ones help.

“It means something to me to be able to help not only those in recovery, but also those people who will be with them on their journey,” Stovall said. “Ultimately, our success in treatment is actually about what happens after a person goes home. We want to equip both individuals and their loved ones for long-term success.”

Yoga instructor Blends 12-Step Training with Personal Journey

Six years after losing her 23-year-old son to a drug overdose, Kent Magee has found a powerful way to help others build their recovery from addiction — one breath at a time.

Magee joined Oxford Treatment Center’s staff of experiential therapists in December as a part-time yoga instructor. She is certified as a Y12SR instructor for 12-step yoga, and launched Mississippi’s first Y12SR program as a community class a year ago.

Kent Magee, RYT 200 and Y12SR Certified yoga instructor, leads recovery yoga classes for patients at the Etta campus.

“Yoga is a powerful tool for helping people fight their addiction and to get on a path to freedom,” she said. “Addiction affects not just your mind but your body as well — your whole life. When people use yoga as part of their recovery plan, it brings mind, body and spirit together.”

Magee’s classes are among a broad range of experiential therapy sessions available to patients at Oxford Treatment Center. In addition to the center’s signature equine therapy program, patients work with therapists in art, music, recreation and challenge-course sessions as well as in traditional talk-therapy groups and individual counseling sessions. The result is a treatment program that patients can tailor to their own needs and interests, boosting their engagement and speeding progress in recovery.

In each of her yoga classes, Magee selects a 12-step topic and leads a series of movements designed to embody that day’s theme. For example, a session focusing on the first step — admitting one’s powerless over addiction — incorporates postures of surrender such as child’s pose.

“Through yoga, we add the physical element to what can be a totally cognitive process,” she said. “If you are working the 12 steps traditionally, in a classroom or around a conference table, it’s all very much in the mind.”

By adding a physical dimension, you realize all the tension you’re holding in your body and find a new way to let that go. Particularly for people who are newly out of detox, it can be a very powerful tool to move beyond that initial stage where you’re really just white-knuckling it.”

Magee’s own journey with yoga has been intertwined with the experience of addiction and loss in her own family.

She began her eight-month teacher training program on the same day her son, William, began residential treatment for his drug addiction. The day she was scheduled to teach her first yoga class was the same day her husband found their son dead from an overdose.

“Yoga had been something I had really connected with personally, first as an avid practitioner and then as a teacher,” she said. “After our son’s death, it seemed at first that our connection to recovery was over. It was only as we started to heal that we were able to look up again and say, ‘OK, what are we going to do next?’”

In 2017, she and her husband, David, announced they were establishing the William Magee Center for Wellness Education at the University of Mississippi. The center, which is slated to open later this year, will include a focus on prevention and early intervention for substance use disorders among college students. Magee also became involved with the Collegiate Recovery Community on campus, serving as a volunteer board member.

When she learned about Y12SR, The Yoga of 12-Step Recovery, she decided to earn the certification and traveled to Colorado for training. In 2018, she began offering weekly donation-based classes at Oxford-University United Methodist Church, with proceeds benefitting both the church and the Magee Center.

Tori Ossenheimer, CTRS, Director of Experiential Services

The community class functions as an open meeting for those in 12-step recovery groups, including spouses and family members who take part in Al-Anon and Nar-Anon. Those in outpatient treatment at Oxford Treatment Center’s Resolutions campus became frequent attendees. Tori Ossenheimer, CTRS, Director of Experiential Services for Oxford Treatment Center, invited Magee to lead a similar program at the Etta campus.

“I was impressed with Kent’s knowledge of recovery as well as her ability to tie yoga and recovery together,” Ossenheimer said. “In just the first month, her yoga classes have grown as patients are telling each other how much they enjoy the group and benefit from it.”

Magee said that since joining the staff she’s been impressed by both her colleagues’ professionalism and by the willingness and open-mindedness of the patients to engage in her classes.

“Sometimes you feel like all the things in your life have led you to a certain point for a reason,” Magee said. “You look back on the moments when it is so hard and you wonder, ‘Why is this happening?’ It is very gratifying when you can take that pain and grief, and release it in a good way by helping others.”



Supporting prevention, early intervention at Ole Miss



Oxford Treatment Center 2018 Employee of the Year Honored

Recognized by her peers for her passion and enthusiasm for her work, Nurse Krista Hartfield, LPN, was honored as Oxford Treatment Center’s 2018 Employee of the Year.

The award was given to her by Medical Director Dr. Stephen Pannel, at the center’s January staff meeting.

“Krista is very reliable,” said Pannel. “I can always count on her to give me the most recent information and to follow through on patient care needs. She is very good at closing the loop on patient needs.” 

As a nurse, Hartfield primarily works in withdrawal management unit at the Oxford Treatment Center. Her position involves monitoring the physical and vital signs of patients.

My patients are my inspiration.

The around-the-clock supervision and attention to patients might make it the most demanding unit at the center. For Hartfield, the challenge is worth it.

“I have worked in other areas, but this is where I am meant to be,” she said. “Working here is humbling and motivating. My patients are my inspiration. They come here sick and ready to give up, but they push through and fight.”

“You’re with patients for days and weeks, sharing in their struggle and having their back. There are tough times, but at the end of the day you go home knowing you made a difference. It really motivates you to keep going. It’s rewarding work.”

“To see someone’s life turned around at the end of their treatment here is what inspires me every day.”

Hartfield has been a member of the Oxford Treatment Center staff for five years. She previously worked as a nurse at an assisted living center and at a medical clinic.

When asked what motivated her to transition into the field of addiction treatment, she said that it was compassion for others and the loss of a family member to addiction.

“Addiction took my father away; that is what brought me here,” she said. “I thought if I can help someone get through this — even one person — that is more than I could do for him.”

Hartfield says working in the addiction treatment field has taught her a lot about the disease of addiction.

“I have learned a lot about how a substance grabs ahold of the brain during addiction,” she said. “I used to question if my father had a choice. Working here I learned addiction is a disease; when it takes hold of someone, they do not have a choice.”

She says her work has also changed her perspective on those struggling with addiction.

“I have become more sensitive, more compassionate,” she said. 

I hope to help others understand: Those struggling with addiction are everyday people, normal people.

Seeing the progress that a patient makes is the most rewarding part of the job, Hartfield said.

“From my perspective, working in withdrawal management, seeing someone at the beginning of their journey here when they feel at their lowest, to the person they are when they leave here, it’s amazing.”

She says seeing a patient return as on alumni visit later is the best gift. Robust alumni programs at the Oxford Treatment Center include monthly meetings, quarterly events, and a yearly alumni weekend where alumni and their families are invited to return to the center for fellowship and reflection.

“It means a lot to see people get to where they want to be in life,” Hartfield said.

“When a patient returns on an alumni weekend or a visit with their family, just seeing that transformation reaffirms the life-changing work that is happening here. I’m honored to be a part of it.”

 In 2018, Hartfield was named Employee of the Month for February. Other staff honored as Employee of the Month in 2018 included:

Counselor Claire Harris, M.Ed., NCC (January)

Housekeeper Betty Holden (March)

Business Office Specialist Allison Crane (April)

Maintenance Technician Pete Potts (May)

Mental Health Technician Miranda Kiddy (June)

Equine Therapist Greg Davis (July)

Behavioral Health Technician Jason Lane (August)

Equine Therapist Adam Hyland (September)

Marion Campbell, Housekeeper (November)

Counselor Amy Willard (December)

Jerri Avery joins Oxford Treatment Center

Substance abuse:

New clinical director brings more than 20 years’ experience

A longtime regional leader in behavioral healthcare has joined Oxford Treatment Center as clinical director.

Jerri Avery, Ph.D.

Jerri Avery, Ph.D., arrived on the Etta campus in August. Her role includes advancing clinical excellence at Oxford Treatment Center.

Avery brings more than 20 years experience in behavioral healthcare, including at the Mississippi Department of Mental Health’s Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Services, where she served as director. She was most recently clinic director for Acadia Healthcare’s Jackson Comprehensive Treatment Center.

“Dr. Avery brings a high level of clinical insight and a wealth of experience in the field of behavioral healthcare,” CEO Mark Sawyer said.

“Her ability to lead our clinical team is matched only by her compassion for our patients and their families. We are very pleased to have her on board.”

Avery said a top priority at Oxford Treatment Center will be bringing new resources to the clinical team. That includes hiring additional therapists, as well as expanding opportunities for professional development for the center’s current team. Avery said she wants to see therapists grow and achieve new certifications in their areas of interest.

“Our clinicians are truly dedicated to what they do and to serving others. I want to give them every resource and tool they need, so that they can provide the highest quality care for our patients.

“We want to equip them to use their compassion, skills and training in such a way that they’re making lives better — and are also happy in their own life and work, too.”

Avery’s own research and teaching interests include public policy, research design and methodology, integration of primary care and behavioral health, substance abuse prevention, mental health promotion and medication assisted treatment.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master of education degree in community counseling, and a Ph.D. in public policy and administration. She is an adjunct professor at Belhaven University, teaching graduate-level courses in management research, public policy, management ethics and organizational behavior. She also regularly presents at state, regional and national conferences.

At the MDMH Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Services, Avery was responsible for an annual budget of $21 million in federal and state funding. She secured and supervised the implementation of more than $50 million in federally funded discretionary programs.

She has previously served as a member of the National Prevention Network, National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Directors, and the Mississippi Council on Compulsive Gambling’s Advisory Council. She is a former director of the Southeastern School of Addiction Studies and the Mississippi School for Addiction Professionals.

For Avery, interest in addiction treatment and recovery started early. As a child, she learned about recovery from the family of a close friend, whose father found recovery after living in addiction. She completed an internship during graduate school at a substance abuse treatment program. The experience fixed her course.

“I fell in love with addiction treatment and the hope of it — the fact that people do get better and create new lives for themselves,” she said.

Her earliest professional experiences included running an Intensive Outpatient Programming and serving as a clinical supervisor at a residential treatment program. She has also been involved in consulting and research.

Avery said joining Oxford Treatment Center offered a chance to return to a more hands-on role in helping people overcome addiction.

“Direct service in a program that houses people is very different from public administration,” she said.

“When your work is shaping policies and budgets, you are affecting people’s lives — but at a distance. At a treatment facility, you can see it every day.”

Oxford Treatment Center adds music therapist

Sessions focus on expression, group dynamics

Oxford Treatment Center has added a board-certified music therapist to its staff, broadening its experiential therapy programming for the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction.

Hannah Roye, MT-BC, joined Oxford Treatment Center as a music therapist in August.

Hannah Roye, MT-BC, joined the staff in August. Her sessions are part of clinical programming for people in residential treatment at the Etta campus. They complement Oxford Treatment Center’s existing range of experiential therapies, including equine, wilderness, ropes course, art and mindfulness.

Music-therapy sessions help people build healthy new ways to understand and express their own emotions, as an alternative to using drugs or alcohol to cope with strong feelings.

“Many people in treatment relate music to a negative time in their life — when they were using substances and partying,” Roye said.

Music therapy provides a new meaning for music and helps people realize that they can express themselves in new ways they never thought about.

Instruments incorporated into music therapy sessions can include drums, guitars, tambourines, maracas and various other instruments. Each instrument supports a new way of self-expression through music.

“The focus is on expressing oneself positively through music, even when discussing and processing is hard,” Roye said. “Music gives people in treatment another way to dig into themselves and into what they are going through.”

That can include simply helping people recognize and cope with what they are feeling that day, she said.

“I look into how they are producing music and expressing themselves through their instruments,” said Roye. “Playing drums loudly can translate to anger or excitement, and playing quietly could mean that a patient had a hard morning or feels uncomfortable.”

The benefits of music therapy include the role it can play in group dynamics. Whereas people in active addiction isolate themselves and manipulate others, those who succeed in recovery learn to build healthy new relationships and embed themselves in a supportive community.

As with other types of group-therapy sessions, music therapy helps develop positive new ways of interacting.

“In a group, people in treatment can feel supported by their peers,” Roye said. “They compliment each other’s playing. They begin to play together, and their beats start to fall into each other. Soon they begin to feel connected and accepted in that setting.”

Music therapy is increasingly being recognized for the role it can play in helping people recover from addiction. Earlier this year, Las Vegas music therapist Judith Pinkerton, LMPT, MT-BC, was the first music therapist to receive a music-industry award from the Academy of Country Music. She leads sessions for those in treatment at Oxford Treatment Center’s sister facilities Desert Hope and Solutions Recovery.

Roye’s previous experience includes leading music therapy in such settings as memory-care units, retirement homes and schools. She also has experience working with adolescents and adults with substance use disorders.

Roye holds a bachelor of music degree from Mississippi University for Women. She is certified by the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT).

Connecting nature to mental wellness

Experiential therapists present at regional conference

Meaghan O’Connor, M.Ed., NCC, CCTP

Oxford Treatment Center experiential therapists Katherine Westfall, MSW, and Meaghan O’Connor, M.Ed., NCC, CCTP, shared insights from their work with patients in addiction treatment recently at a conference for outdoor education professionals and students.

The Arkansas Regional Adventure Programming Conference was held April 20-22 at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper, Arkansas. Westfall and O’Connor presented I Bend So I Do Not Break: Connecting Nature and Mental Wellness.

“We know that physiologically when you spend time in nature, it naturally lowers your cortisone levels — the stress hormone,” said Westfall, a wilderness therapist at Oxford Treatment Center. “As anxiety melts away, being in nature is a chance to just be who you are and be fully present in the moment.”

The practice of focusing on what you are seeing, hearing and experiencing, instead of the whirling fears and worries inside your mind, is known as mindfulness. It is often used today as a tool to prevent relapse in recovery from addiction.

O’Connor leads mindfulness and meditation groups at Oxford Treatment Center. She is also a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional through the International Association of Trauma Professionals.

Westfall holds a master’s degree in social work in addition to being a Wilderness First Responder and Challenge Course Facilitator. She works with young adults at Oxford Treatment Center, leading camping, canoeing and other recreational therapies.

Katherine Westfall, MSW

In the conference presentation, the two therapists shared perspectives on how interacting with nature affects people biologically, physiologically, emotionally and interpersonally. They also offered practical ways that even non-therapeutic outdoor programs, such as those on college campuses, can integrate wilderness therapy and mindfulness concepts into their programs.

As a field, wilderness therapy traces its roots to Outward Bound adventure programs developed more than half a century ago. Its application in therapy, particularly for troubled adolescents, took off in the 1990s.

Westfall said the use of wilderness therapy in substance abuse prevention and treatment is still new and evolving. “It’s exciting for us to be part of building new programs and advancing this field,” she said.

Learn more: 5 Ways Wilderness Therapy Aids Recovery

ARAP Conference photos by Damon Akin/University of Arkansas



Mark Stovall joins as first COO

Mark Stovall, CAT, CMHT

Oxford Treatment Center has tapped the former statewide head of substance abuse treatment oversight as its first Chief Operating Officer (COO).

Mark Stovall, CAT, CMHT, joined the center in March. He brings nearly 20 years experience in the coordination, development and management of inpatient chemical dependency and behavioral health programs.

“Mark Stovall is ideally suited to advance our clinical programs and refine the care we provide to our patients and their families,” said Mark Sawyer, CEO of Oxford Treatment Center.

“He is deeply familiar with all the dimensions of clinical care and how to excel in each one. Meanwhile, his passion for helping people overcome addiction is sincere and contagious. Our staff is already benefitting from his engagement and leadership.”

Stovall is the former director of the Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Services for the Mississippi Department of Mental Health (DMH). During his eight years with the department, he led divisions including Adolescent Services, Clinical Services and Treatment Services. His efforts at DMH included advancing the use of evidence-based programs in community treatment centers across Mississippi.

Stovall was recruited to Oxford Treatment Center by founding CEO Billy Young, who recently transitioned into a consulting role with parent company American Addiction Centers (AAC). Stovall’s first visit to the residential campus at Etta was in 2012, as part of a team of state regulators on site for the center’s DMH certification.

“I never dreamed I would be here in the role I have today, or that I’d have the opportunity to work for an organization like AAC,” Stovall said. “I’m impressed every day.

“Both locally and at the corporate level, our goal is driving clinical excellence to help patients be as successful as they can be in long-term recovery,” he said.

During his first weeks at Oxford Treatment Center

Stovall has focused on gathering the insights of existing staff, drilling down into details to define how the center can reach new heights in quality of care.

“Oxford Treatment Center is already a well-oiled machine, with staff and facilities that are second-to-none,” Stovall said. “The task ahead is about pioneering a new level of excellence in addiction treatment.”

Stovall joins Oxford Treatment Center from Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center, a private treatment facility located outside Oxford. As founding executive director, Stovall oversaw the development of the clinical program from the ground up.

His approach blends hands-on clinical experience with high-level fluency on research-based treatment strategies. He also brings the perspective of being in long-term personal recovery himself.

“The patients who come to us have been through a lot of pain, and have caused a lot of pain,” Stovall said. “When you’re at that place in life, a little bit of love and compassion goes a long way.”

A Mississippi native, Stovall holds a Master of Education degree in Community Counseling from Delta State University. He devoted the early part of his career to supporting mental health and addiction recovery in the Mississippi Delta. He served as director of the Cleveland Crisis Intervention Center, an acute stabilization hospital for seriously mentally ill patients, and as director of adolescent treatment at Region I Mental Health Center-Sunflower Landing.

Stovall is a Certified Addictions Therapist and Certified Mental Health Therapist. He has presented extensively on dual-diagnosis treatment and on treatment planning at state and regional conferences. He has served as director of the Mississippi School for Addiction Professionals.

Learn more about our Leadership team

Bluebird Trail a new addition to campus

Nesting boxes offer hands-on exercise in new beginnings


Oxford Treatment Center’s residential campus will be a more welcoming haven for wildlife this spring, with the installation of new nesting boxes for Eastern bluebirds.

A collection of more than 50 nesting boxes are currently being installed on the 110-acre campus and surrounding properties. While the boxes are built to suit the species’ standard preference for nesting sites, they are also unique: Each one features the brightly painted designs of a person entering recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.

Director of Operations Sid Russell, an avid naturalist and outdoorsman, worked with Art Therapist Resa Frederick to incorporate the conversation project into therapy sessions for patients.

“This is all about new beginnings,” said Sid Russell, Oxford Treatment Center’s director of operations, who initiated the project.

Russell oversees the center’s facility management and maintenance. He conceived the project as a way to use leftover lumber from projects on the campus, rather than throwing it away. The boxes were built by the center’s maintenance team.

Recognizing the opportunity for therapeutic use as well, Russell offered the boxes to Art Therapist Resa Frederick, M.Ed., NCC, LPC, who has incorporated them into her sessions with patients this spring.

“Every project we do allows the individual to express themselves, while incorporating themes of addiction, recovery, reflection and hope,” Frederick said. “The birdhouses provide a perfect ‘canvas’ for that expression. They symbolize recovery as a new beginning, along with the importance of having a firm and solid foundation, being surrounded by a positive community, and having a place to belong.”

Those themes were apparent to Russell, who is in long-term personal recovery from addiction. An ardent naturalist and outdoorsman, he looks to nature as a way to shape his own perspective in recovery. He maintains a collection of bluebird houses, wren houses, squirrel boxes and hummingbird feeders at home.

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

“I respect and admire the wildlife the Lord gives us and try to learn from them,” Russell said.

“When you’re in active addiction, it’s all about you. You’re the center of attention. But being in nature helps you see that you’re a very small part of a very big world, and that all of creation works together.”

Russell was previously involved in the development of a bluebird trail in Tupelo. At Oxford Treatment Center, he contacted the owners of surrounding properties for permission to install some of the bluebird boxes on areas around to the campus.

According to the North American Bluebird Society, nesting boxes hung along prescribed routes help bluebird populations to grow and thrive. To best attract bluebirds, the boxes must have the right depth and entry-hole diameter. They also must be hung at a specified height, preferably facing southeast. And they must be at an appropriate distance from each other, since bluebirds are territorial during nesting season.

In addition to the bluebird boxes, Oxford Treatment Center’s maintenance team has also begun building and installing wood duck houses, to attract the beautiful migratory birds to areas around the center’s private lake. Such wildlife conservation projects are rooted in another central tenant of recovery — giving back.

“We’re here to be stewards of the earth,” Russell said. “If we can help a little bluebird along its way, that’s a worthwhile effort.”

Three views on forgiveness

Is forgiveness always about fixing a broken relationship? Or can it be something that just happens within yourself?

Forgiveness is a common theme at Oxford Treatment Center. Many people who abuse drugs and alcohol started using those substances to cope with pain and trauma they’ve experienced in life. But even when it doesn’t lead to addiction, holding onto anger can be a miserable burden. Does harboring resentment make you feel better? Or is it just holding you back?

Here are three perspectives from the panelists on Forgiveness: Finding Peace in Letting Go, part of Oxford Treatment Center’s 2018 Community Workshop Series.


Joy through the pain

Robin Minyard

In 2012, Robin Minyard was devastated by the loss of her 30-year-old son, Levi, to suicide. She and her family worked hard to face their grief and come to terms with his loss. Through counseling sessions alongside her husband, David, they drew closer as a couple than they’d ever been. Then, in April 2017, she was blindsided when her husband took his own life as well.

After David’s death, I found myself again having to face the loss of a loved one to suicide, yet it was even more painful the second time. All of a sudden, I was completely vulnerable to everything — every emotion, every fear that you could possibly experience. And one of the emotions I went through is an intense anger at being put in this position.

I’ve been through all of it. The feelings of wanting to lash out: “How could you possibly do this to us — again?” It really has been a journey. And I’m not speaking from a point of having arrived. But I’m getting there.

I have a very deep faith, and that has gotten me through all of this. I have truly seen the hand of God every step of the way, and I still see it. If I did not see that bigger picture, I could not be where I am. I have to have a perspective that allows me to rise above this.

For suicide survivors, one of the things that can be a hindrance to healing is the lingering guilt. “Why wasn’t I more compassionate to him if I saw him suffering — if I even saw it?” There’s this extra layer of pain that asks, “What was my part in this?” Then there’s a feeling of abandonment that survivors experience. It’s a hard thing to walk through all of that, and then to say, “It’s all good. I forgive you.”

At some point, you have to scream and holler, hoping that nobody’s around. I think dark humor also has its place in this whole idea of forgiveness.

You have to acknowledge the presence of this pain — the thing that keeps me from wanting to forgive.

Emotions require so much energy — especially anger. I’ve never felt comfortable with conflict, not even within myself. For me, the default response is, “All right, here comes a joke.” So I have to recognize that and say, “A joke is not appropriate here.”

I needed to acknowledge the fact that I was so angry and distraught over this event. I had to acknowledge it and embrace it and let it be what it was.

I’ve learned a lot from yoga, and from the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. He says that your anger is like a child; you need to embrace it, comfort it, instead of rejecting it and pushing it down.

So much of what we do is to suppress the feelings of anger, disappointment, rage, depression — all the things we try to stuff down and not feel. It’s easy to do that with substances.

But when you actually can start feeling the pain, it opens you up to feel everything else, too, which can be wonderful. I think I have a greater depth of joy in life today, and hopefully I can see the sufferings of others with more compassion. That’s one of the benefits of facing the anger. When you get to that place where you can forgive, it frees you up to live more fully, without that burden to carry.


Rethinking ‘I forgive you’

Richard Balkin

Richard Balkin, Ph.D., LPC, NCC, is a professor of counselor education at the University of Mississippi and editor of the Journal of Counseling and Development for the American Counseling Association. His published work in the area of forgiveness includes numerous research articles and presentations on the subject. In addition to the March 20 community event, he will present a continuing education seminar for mental health professionals the following day as part of Oxford Treatment Center’s 2018 Professional Development Series.

We typically think of forgiveness as something that’s an interpersonal exercise: You forgive someone with the goal of restoring that relationship. But often what we deal with in a counseling setting doesn’t fit into that narrow vision of forgiveness. Sometimes forgiveness needs to happen on an intrapersonal level — within oneself.

One example is when someone has been abused. You may be holding onto anger against someone who has hurt you badly in a physical or emotional way. Reconciling with this person may not be what you need to do — and if they’re still abusive, that could even be dangerous. Sometimes you need to get out of a dysfunctional relationship and there is no reconciliation. So what do you do with the anger and resentment you still harbor from this person?

The first thing we have to recognize is that anger and resentment are normal. The goal, through counseling, is to reach a point where you’re no longer traumatized by it.

Often, that looks like coming to a place where that person or event is no longer a focal point in your life. You’ve moved past it. You don’t think about this person, and you’re not wishing them ill will. You’re not spending negative energy focusing on them. You’re not hankered down by anger. You’re able to say, within yourself: “What I wanted from this person, I’m never going to get. But they don’t owe me anything. I’m OK with that, and I’m done.”

One barrier that people deal with can be their own beliefs and perceptions related to forgiveness. Think of some of those things we often say: “Turn the other cheek.” “To forgive is divine.” When you take that approach in the context of abuse, you might put yourself at risk for further abuse. We sometimes apply these cultural and religious tenants in ways that keep us from acting in our own best interest.

When you want to move past the pain someone else has caused in your life, that might mean restoring the relationship. But that can also mean simply finding forgiveness within yourself. There’s freedom in broadening what we mean when we talk about forgiveness.


The process of letting go

Barry Doughty

Barry Doughty, ICADC-I, has been a clinical therapist in the field of addiction treatment for more than 11 years. He has worked with individuals, groups and families, helping people overcome dependency on drugs and alcohol. He is also an instructor in the Mississippi Addiction Counselor Training program. He leads primary adult programs at Oxford Treatment Center’s residential campus in northeastern Lafayette County.

Many of the addicts we work with show up with a lot of resentment, anger, hatred, hostility. All of these things keep them trapped in the illusion that it’s somebody else’s fault, or someone owes me. “If you had been dealt my hand,” they’ll say.

Those are common excuses that addicts use to keep using drugs. It doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been trauma in that person’s life, or pain from their past that needs to be addressed. But you can’t hold onto that and live a productive life. The anger — it will continue to gnaw at your soul.

Even if you have been a victim of abuse, you can’t continue to live as a victim. You can’t stay in that mental space. It doesn’t mean that people are not victimized, because they are, every day. They may use drugs to cope with that pain. But not everyone who’s been a victim uses drugs. There are better ways to cope. That’s a big part of what we work on in treatment.

Learning to let go of the anger is a process. It’s not like you just snap your fingers and you’re there. Letting it go is like an exercise you may have to do again and again.

When people do come to a place of forgiveness, you see them find a peace that they may have never felt before, or at least not in a long time. In treatment groups and in 12-step meetings, we have them share that experience with others — the whole experience, not just the good part in the end. We talk together about what it was like being in that place of anger, getting to the point where you want to let it go, and then reaching the other side in forgiveness. In recovery from addiction, we know how important it is to use our stories to encourage each other.

Personally, one thing I do if I find there’s anger built up inside of me is I pray for the other person. I pray for them, that they’ll receive in life all the good things and happiness I want for myself. And after time, if I continue that prayer, it becomes what I really do want for them.

Forgiveness is for me; it’s not for the other person. When I’m forgiving someone, I’m not doing it for them. I’m doing it so I can live and be at peace.

Remembering Bethany M.

Recovery advocate worked publicly, privately to help others


Bethany Morse speaks at Oxford Treatment Center’s 2017 Anniversary Weekend at the Etta campus

Oxford Treatment Center’s 2018 Anniversary Weekend on June 2 will include a special tribute to an alum who dedicated her recovery to helping others break free from addiction.

Bethany Morse, a well-known regional advocate for treatment and recovery, died Friday, Feb. 2. She was 34. Her family said she had suffered from health problems recently and was scheduled to see a doctor that day.

Throughout the Mid-South, Morse was known as an outspoken, public advocate for addicts and their recovery. She also worked privately behind the scenes to find treatment resources for people who wanted to get help for addiction.

For her family and close friends, the days after her passing were a revelation. Messages of gratitude poured in, a testament how many lives she had touched since she entered recovery in 2012.

“There is a lot of comfort in hearing from people from all walks of life — people whom she helped get to treatment, as well as their parents and loved ones,” said Morse’s father, Dennis.

We really didn’t know the scope and magnitude of all she had done. What we did know was that she was a selfless person.

“She did so much for others, without any expectation of getting anything in return,” he said. “I hope she will be remembered as someone who made the most of her time in recovery to have a permanent impact on others.”

Among her many roles, Morse was a volunteer and billboard champion for Tennessee Overdose Prevention, a nonprofit whose work includes training people to use Naloxone, the life-saving opioid overdose antidote. She took her cause the state legislatures in both Mississippi and Tennessee, promoting Good Samaritan Laws that protect friends and family who call 911 when someone overdoses, rather than fleeing for fear of arrest.

Morse also publicly promoted awareness for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and was a fierce advocate for autistic children — most of all her 5-year-old son, Tyler.

Morse began her recovery at Oxford Treatment Center. After a relapse, she returned for detox before transitioning into a long-term recovery program for mothers and children, Renewal House in Nashville, Tenn.

In the years since, Morse worked with Oxford Treatment Center as an alumni speaker and as a public voice for recovery. She participated in panel events in Memphis and DeSoto County, bravely offering her personal experience as a recovering addict and advocate to balance the perspectives of first responders and physicians.

“She was a true recovery advocate,” said Angela Quadrani, a Memphis-based treatment consultant for American Addiction Centers who worked closely with Morse.

“She made her life very public and positioned herself as a voice of change,” Quadrani said. “She had a way of putting things that would influence people in positions of power. Behind the scenes, she was working to find treatment for addicts who wanted help, and helping people she didn’t even know to get through crises and find recovery. She never got paid for any of this. She lived to help others.”

From Tennessee Overdose Prevention: Bethany Morse Obituary and Memorial Fund