I arrived at the Freedom and Recovery Conference tired, hungry, and a wee bit underdressed. The attire called for business casual, yet prepping for a three hour motorcycle ride from Palm Springs to San Diego, I had packed the dress shirt and heels in my Harley Davidson backpack, opting to wear boots, comfy pants and my bike gear for the road. Upon arrival, I texted lead advocate Nate, who stated they were eating lunch in the main hall and I could come get some grub if I wanted to. A little embarrassed in my get-up, but famished after a mini-tour, I hiked out to grab my conference pass and meander into the dining hall. I was greeted with mostly welcoming smiles and bright eyes. I dub those “the faces of recovery.”
Nate came up and helped me with my gear. As I gathered food (which was absolutely delicious, btw!), I glanced around the room at the people who were listening intently to the speaker. I sat down at a full table and met a woman who recognized me as Adventure Vanessa. She had passed through during Professionals Weekend the month prior, and I had the honor of escorting her and 29 others on an amazing hike up Tahquawitz Canyon. I did my best to greet her warmly, but the smell of the chicken and my apparent exhaustion was creeping in. I bowed my head in prayer, thanking God for a safe journey and delicious lunch, then I chowed down! The discussion in the room was around a new drug that was on the market that is supposed to aid in the withdrawal from heroin. While I do not have personal experience with an addiction to heroin, I listened intently, never knowing when this information could aid a friend in need. I recognized speakers from television shows (namely Intervention) and familiar “faces of recovery” from Palm Springs.
After the lunch, Advocate Nate and I walked to his room so I could do my quick change into Business Casual Vanessa and blend in with the faces I knew and loved. On the walk to the room, we bumped into Lee Pepper. Lee is one of our fearless leaders of HIR, mainly behind the scenes. He wears many hats and does incredible work for our team. I would probably equate him to Dr. Xavier of X-Men (more hair though). Lee has the hospitality of a southern gentleman and the uncanny dress sense of an upscale LA exec. I blushed at my attire and excused myself, but Lee waived it away and stated, “You’re the new face of recovery! Bad rebel, tough chick!” (I wondered if he knew I rode a Rebel…)
After I changed, Nate stated that Alexis wanted to meet with us at the Heroes’ booth. As we walked toward the booth, Nate shared with me his love of attending conferences: “You get all these competitors of our industry into one place and there is no animosity. What other industry is like that? We all just want to help people get well.” I reflected on that during our walk. In my previous life, I was an investment banker and attended conferences as well. Yet it was made up of all colleagues from the same company. No way would you get two, let alone a whole industry, of competing bankers into one room, smiling and laughing with each other. Interesting.
We headed up the stairs and found another of our fearless leaders, Alexis Short with Brains on Fire, manning our informational booth. A southern belle in her own right, Alexis tirelessly works for our cause and supports every move we make as advocates, guiding and assisting our efforts in a way that denotes strength and compassion. While we were chatting, a familiar “face of recovery” introduced himself. Ken Seeley from Intervention 911 runs the Ken Seeley Recovery Home in Palm Springs. He gave a bright smile and was remarkably pleasant to talk to. I have met other “well-knowns” in various industries and they can often times come off as arrogant. Nate’s previous remark about our industry rang in my ears and I smiled. No other industry, I thought.
Nate and I took a tour of the booths, hopped into a speaker event and listened. The morning’s ride and lunch was starting to settle in. I needed coffee! When the presentation was over, we walked outside and Nate introduced me to a few of our fellows. Every single one of them expressed gratitude and love for what they do. Smiles, smiles, everywhere! As I again excused myself, off to find the green siren in grande form, those I had just met were eager to help me find the energy I required. So helpful! I stepped off hurriedly, not wanting to miss my next presentation in 20 minutes.
On the walk I bumped into Andrea Rutherford, a wonderful lady who is also a figurehead for Heroes. With another HUGE smile and hug, she asked about my journey in. The people working in recovery have such compassion. The love and joy I feel when I am amongst them is created from such selfless devotion to the cause. Whether it’s providing treatment, housing, counseling, or research, each and every part of the community for recovery interacts and plays a crucial part in erasing the stigma and opening the veils shrouding recovery and mental illness. What a wonderful field I have found myself in.
Before I left the conference for my three hour ride back to Palm Springs, I ran into the most dedicated recovery warrior I have met to date: Zigi Graham, alumni coordinator for Michael’s House and event planner extraordinaire. We chatted for a bit and I expressed how tired I was feeling, even with the injection of caffeine. But it was time to jet. As I prepared to leave, I ran into Alexis and she asked me to text her when I got where I was headed… I was wowed by her kindness.
This first conference for recovery left me feeling the love, man! Yes, I gathered pertinent information about the disease and wonderful knowledge and statistics surrounding the disease, past and present. But what I really got to do was connect. I got to connect with other like-minded individuals working tirelessly to aid in the fight against what we suffer from. The “faces of recovery” were from various walks of life, different backgrounds, different stages in recovery; yet we are all striving toward a common goal: to be free. With the key players in place, we are well on our way. Let the awakening begin!