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Julio Briones – Crisis Manager – Working with addiction

Discussing the Stigma of Addiction

Charles:

Today we welcome Julio Briones a Crisis Manager that works with many individuals and their families through some of the hardest times in their lives. Hello and welcome Julio, how are you today?

Julio Briones:

I am well, thank you.

Charles:

I’d like to start by getting to know more about what you do as a crisis manager; the people you help and at what points in their life. Could you tell us a little about this?

Julio Briones:

As a Personal Crisis Manager, I work with families that are dealing with problems that can be beyond the scope of everyday life. Drug addiction, pending incarceration, messy divorce, etc.
Because of my life experience I can take over the process for them and become an advocate for them all the while providing education on the realities of what they will go through and directing them to where they need to go such as placing them into rehab, finding them a lawyer and, if need be, I will advocate on their behalf to make sure they are getting the top level services they require.

Charles:

You mention your life experience; what uniquely positions you to be able to help people going through such crises?

Julio Briones:

I went through what many of my clients are dealing with. I went to prison for a total of 10 years, the last 2 years being in a treatment center.
In that time I had to deal with many issues, I lost my father, and got divorced from my first wife.

It opened my eyes to the realities of my circumstances and I saw many other struggling with similar issues. I became a paralegal to try to help.

I think that going through that type of experience is hard, emotionally physically and psychologically

Charles:

Wow, so basically you have taken your own hardships and turned them towards helping others going through similar issues. I would like to ask you a little about a subject that is very important to many. Coming out of prison and being addicted there can be a lot of stigma. You are an example of someone who fought through that stigma and used your experiences in a good way. Can you tell us a little about how society looked at you when you first reintegrated into everyday life?

Julio Briones:

Once you go through this experience your life is never the same again. I remember when I left prison and went into treatment. That first time I went to a store with the counselor people knew we were coming because the counselor is known in the area. The comments were harsh, the looks, the stares made me feel less than human. It still happens in many cases today, I speak to people that do not know who I am and what I do and once I tell them of my past they look at me with either disgust or pity.

People, I find, tend to look at ex-cons or recovering addicts as a subset that is not salvageable in society.

Charles:

Do you feel that maybe people that have gone through similar things or have family members going through the same things are more accepting?

Julio Briones:

It’s about 50/50. Many people who have gone through this type of experience either directly or by seeing a family member deal with it will equally be accepting or reproachful. It depends on the experience they had as an individual and what steps they have gone through to address the issue. If, for example the person had a family member that was an addict and that person stole from them repeatedly, unless there is family and individual counseling to help them cope with it they will generally look at all addicts as thieves.
It really comes down to how open the person is to working through the damage caused by the addict.

Charles:

That is an interesting point, would you say that labeling and stereotyping can make it harder for a someone with a history of substance abuse to find work and integrate back into society? Would this stigma also cause them to relapse by only being welcome in certain circles?

Julio Briones:

Absolutely. I believe that as humans we are social creatures. Placing a stigma on anyone can restrict the overall acceptance into any social group and, as a result, it will force the outcasts to find each other. This ostracizing of addicts, I have found leads to depression, suicide, and/or relapse very quickly. The frustration of not being able to find work because many times addiction and arrest go hand in hand it leads people to a developing a sense of hopelessness in the change they are trying to achieve; this results in going back to what is comfortable and easy…the addict lifestyle.

Charles:

Having worked with many people going through these problems; what coping mechanisms and help can be provided to overcome such issues?

Julio Briones:

I always recommend to families to get counseling or join a support group. I think that educating a family will help them deal more effectively with the transitioning addict once they decide to get back on track. For the actual addict, I believe that once they come out of treatment they need to go to 12 step programs as well as some sort of after-care counseling. This combination will allow for the family to be able to function supportively and give the addict that safe place they can always go to for comfort. If a person going through this doesn’t get that feeling of acceptance they will go looking for it even if that means going back to the people and places that aren’t good for them.

A good friend and compassionate ear is a thousand times more valuable to an addict than anything when they are trying to stay on track.

Charles:

Stigma is a harsh thing, do you find that recovery rates are better when someone gets involved in the community replacing the label of addict/ex-con with whatever their role becomes in society? Let me elaborate slightly on my question – normally we are often labeled based on what we do, the person at the petshop is now a customer care representative; the person that brings our mail is now the mail person. How important is it for a recovering individual to find their place in society? What can we do to help them do this?

Julio Briones:

Having a place in society is going to be the key to many of those problems. If a person does not feel they can get a job that will allow them to sustain themselves and possibly a family because of a record or a stay in a rehab then they give up quickly. I think the “ban the box” movement is going to go a long way in correcting this by giving the ex-offenders a chance to get gainfully employed. I also think that there need to be more vocational programs for addicts and ex-offenders. Not everyone is cut out to be a banker and there is no shame in being a carpenter or mechanic. These jobs would provide more opportunity for people and give them a purpose. We as a society need to remember that addict or not they are still human beings. We are your neighbors, your friends, your family and can’t just be tossed aside and forgotten. Drug abuse is an epidemic in many neighborhoods, it doesn’t care about race, income or social status. It leads people to crime in many instances and that just compounds the problem. I think that as long as we do not lose sight of the fact that addicts and ex-cons are people we can get to a place where society will find them a place again successfully.

Charles:

We have covered a lot of ground today and I feel your input has been phenomenally helpful, I want to ask you another question. In another conversation with a professor that has worked in this field for many years an important point was made. Apart from community directed stigma many substance abusers also suffer from what can be termed self-directed stigma. I want to ask you as a former addict with many years of sobriety and also as a crisis specialist. Did you at any point stigmatize yourself? If so, what did it take for you to change that perspective? Have others you have worked with had this problem and how was it dealt with?

Julio Briones:

I agree, in many cases the addict will stigmatize himself. They will get clean and convince themselves that they do not deserve success or that if they achieve success they will go back to using. As a result they will become too dependant on being around other recovering addicts and live life in fear of standing on their own. Many will take another extreme path and isolate themselves from the world to a degree. I was given an opportunity to get counseling when I was coming back into society and was able to understand that my choices will determine my life and that being successful will not ruin my recovery as long as I don’t lose sight of what I want from my life. It is a choice I make every day and I try to teach that to my clients and families. I am a big proponent of counseling because I know the importance of working through all of these stigmas, both those that are self-imposed as well as those put on us by society.

Charles:

You mentioned the “ban the box” movement; can you tell us a little more about this movement?

Julio Briones:

It is a movement to get states to require that employers remove the box asking if one has ever been convicted. It will allow a worry-free submission of an application for employment and the background check will not be made until after the job offer has been accepted. This will allow disqualification from employment based on crime. For example, a person with sex crimes against children would not be hired at a daycare, but it would not preclude a person with a drug charge from working in a supermarket or in a more professional setting.

Charles:

Julio, you have been a phenomenal guest today, before we end our interview is there any parting advice you can give to recovering substance abusers and their families in overcoming the hurdle that is The Stigma of Addiction?

Julio Briones:

Thank you. I will give the advice I give to my own clients. Do not let shame get in the way of your life. Things happen, get the help you need and look forward. In the end, we are the sum of our experiences and if someone judges you for what you went through the problems lays within them, not you.

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