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‘Faces of Recovery’ calendar reveals strength, character

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published December 22, 2015

 Mitchell Allen is featured in a recovery calendar put out by Henry Ford Macomb Hospital, CARE of Southeastern Michigan and Project Vox. The calendar, which has been produced since 2007, chooses 12 individuals and tells how they feel in recovery and sobriety.

Mitchell Allen is featured in a recovery calendar put out by Henry Ford Macomb Hospital, CARE of Southeastern Michigan and Project Vox. The calendar, which has been produced since 2007, chooses 12 individuals and tells how they feel in recovery and sobriety.

Photo provided by Henry Ford Macomb Hospital

MACOMB COUNTY — If pain is weakness leaving the body, the participants in Henry Ford Macomb Hospital’s 2015 ‘Faces of Recovery’ calendar have acquired plenty of strength.

In partnership with CARE of Southeastern Michigan and Project Vox, Henry Ford has produced its annual calendar that includes personal messages of hope from 12 people in addiction recovery.

About 7,500 copies of the calendar are distributed across metro Detroit in an effort to instill hope and inspiration in those who are in recovery themselves, or those caught in the vortex of addiction and see no way out.

Robert Lagrou, medical director of inpatient services for behavioral health at Henry Ford, has spent nearly 10 years at the location in Clinton Township. He said the calendar, which debuted in 2007, is important for those who are currently struggling with addiction. It’s like a wake-up call for some.

“When you look at the calendar, you see a bunch of normal-looking, healthy people who were brave enough to come out and talk about their addictions,” Lagrou said.

Lagrou said the various individuals’ stories show recovery is a tangible effort, and that health and wellness is an attainable goal. He mentioned how a patient once told him that it was easier to come out to his parents as a homosexual than it was to disclose his alcohol addiction.

“This hopefully normalizes that addiction is prevalent in our society and many normal people have gone through it and recovered,” he said.

One of those people who recovered is 40-year-old Mitchell Allen, who works as an assistant manager at Men’s Warehouse.

A recovering alcoholic, Allen has been sober since Feb. 1, 2009. He started drinking heavily in his late 20’s, and when he was arrested for his second DUI, a message became clear.

“I never really thought I had a problem,” Allen said. 

He now volunteers at Macomb County Jail. When he was told about the calendar, he decided to participate in the effort as a means of revealing the true state of what people with addictions go through on a day-to-day basis.

“I think it’s very important that along with sobriety comes good things,” Allen said. “Not everyone who drinks or does drugs is a bad person.”

Allen was never a bad person; he was just consumed by alcohol as a means of dealing with his own personal issues. Growing up in a Lebanese Catholic family, he originally found that dealing with his sexuality led him down a path of self-destruction.

Katie Sewick, 32, of Mount Clemens, dealt with 17 years of alcohol and opiate addiction in a similar manner. Finally, a mini intervention with her sister and parents opened her eyes — especially when her family said she wasn’t the same person she used to be.

She took drugs and drank alcohol one night, fell asleep, woke up and told her parents she wanted help. After calling a help line, she attended her first meeting.

That was 3 1/2 years ago, and she has never looked back.

“One thing I was taught in recovery was if something good comes up, don’t say no,” Sewick said. “You never know where opportunities will take you. I reached a point where I was probably going to kill myself with the life I was leading.”

When she found out about the calendar, she became excited. Her cycle of addiction became a cycle of hope, and her friends and family cheered her celebration of sobriety through being featured in the calendar.

Family and friends told Sewick, who is now a waitress, that they are proud of her. She said she wasn’t used to hearing someone say that about her because she didn’t do good enough things in her life to deserve such recognition.

“I knew I was an addict for a long time,” she said. “It’s not really the drugs, but it’s how I think and how I feel. I really focus on the positives and try to find the good in every situation.

“When you see someone you know on the street, a wink and a smile makes you realize you’re not alone. An addict can feel alone in a room with 100 people.”

Lagrou said he wants the calendar to keep going because addiction isn’t going away. In some instances, addiction rates are increasing or staying consistent.

He said opiate prescription pill addictions have gone up in the past 10 years — it’s more accessible because “Grandma might have a bottle of Vicodin in a closet” and that snowballs into something bigger — and the user often moves on to another substance. He said it’s up to experts to not over-prescribe and not yield to pain being such a strong complaint.

Trends show that alcohol and marijuana use is consistent, with a rise in marijuana taking place over the past 20-30 years. Methamphetamines and cocaine tend to have geographical variations. Cocaine and crack products are usually found in the inner city, while opiates, alcohol and meth are more prevalent in the suburbs. Marijuana is consistent everywhere.

Lagrou said that admitting to having an addiction and going to recovery presents a therapeutic element, with someone making their “last stand” and taking pride in that.

Allen said it is “invigorating” to see others on the calendar and hear their stories. Besides not wanting to return to jail, he said he lost 150 of his 450 pounds from gastric bypass surgery in 2001. Then, he lost another 125 pounds in sobriety.

“It’s been a blessing in disguise,” Allen said. “I have a great background of people in recovery that I’m friends with; I have a great sponsor. I just got myself very involved. I’m an all-in kind of guy.

“I’m a completely different person than I was drinking. I’m more comfortable in my own skin. I’m the me that I grew up with.”