Supporting Families Impacted by Addiction
Speaker Series featuring Jonathan Maxson. Interviewed by Lana Seiler, MSW, LCSW - Director of Trauma Services at All Points North Lodge:
Jonathan Maxson: My name is Jonathan Maxson, out of Washington, DC. I'm a Certified Recovery Coach and Life Coach.
Lana Seiler: Welcome.
Jonathan Maxson: Thank you.
Lana Seiler: It's wonderful to have you here.
Jonathan Maxson: It's great to be here.
Lana Seiler: I love, love, love what you do: recovery coaching and working with clients on that sort of wrap-around basis outside of therapy and treatment. I'm just so excited about having recovery coaches. I'm looking forward to our conversation.
Jonathan Maxson: Thank you. Yeah, so much of what I believe in - in terms of that phrase that is sort of overused "recovery coaching" or "peer support specialist," that sort of thing is either overused or underused - is that there's so much more to it than just being a bodyguard.
It is hours and hours of getting to know somebody and individualizing a plan, finding out what works for them, and what makes them work. What turns them on? What turns them off? How can we get to their heart and bypass their brain? That's my goal. I love the work.
Lana Seiler: Yeah, I love working with coaches. I think it's an integral, imperative, incredible part of the continuum of care. But let's start from the beginning. Where are you from? Where are you living now? What are you doing?
Jonathan Maxson: I'm a Washington DC guy. I've been in Washington since undergraduate and came to Washington for graduate school. I dropped out of graduate school after two years and said, "I want to start a business," and I did. I was in the seafood business for 22 years, importing and exporting seafood. I got clean and sober in November of 1987. It's been a long time. In 2010 (because I'm a good bad example is what I call myself), I had a terrible motorcycle accident followed by a brutal car accident. I broke everything on the right side of my body and got addicted to painkillers, prescription painkillers. So, I was one of the tragedies of the 2000s. I went out and got clean and sober about nine years ago out in Malibu, California. My life has just been an absolute magic show ever since. I got into this field about seven years ago.
Lana Seiler: So, what drew you to doing what you do now?
Jonathan Maxson: For so many years, my life was about profit margins, answering to a board, buying for one price, selling for another price. I really was getting no meaning out of life. A friend of mine came with me to a 12-step meeting that coincidentally they had asked me to lead. She said, "You have so much passion for this. Isn't there any way you can do something with it?" I started exploring and started doing a lot of course work and building up CEU's and doing college course work, etc. I started to build a name and reputation. I have aligned with a wonderful company, Recovery Care Partner, out of Washington, DC. There are only five of us. We act very quietly, very discreetly, and we do really quality work.
Lana Seiler: Has it been hard to find your way in that niche in the overall recovery community - in the treatment community? What are some challenges?
Jonathan Maxson: The biggest challenge was me being naïve going into it, thinking it was all going to be this "love and peace," "we're all in this thing together," and "we are all going to help each other." And it's not like that. It's like any other business that deals with human beings. So I always approach it first as dealing with a human being, and business has got to come second because there are lives on the line. There are psychosocial issues that come up all the time with people, so I've got to put that in front of the profit margin.
Lana Seiler: Yeah, so what would you say is your biggest passion? I mean, I know coaching, helping people, and recovery. But within the community of recovery and treatment centers, what are you really passionate about in the work?
Jonathan Maxson: I am passionate about working with the families from the first phone call, that anxious first phone call of, "What do I do with my son, my daughter, my husband, my wife?" They're scared to death. I love to give them hope, to calm them down, to give them a reason to keep listening and to keep asking questions. I use a lot of motivational interviewing techniques in order to get good answers so I can give the best advice.
I look at treatment centers. I've toured dozens and dozens of treatment centers to find out who does what kind of work. What do they do? What are they good at? How many people are they seeing? How busy are the therapists? What does their discharge team look like? There are so many questions that I have. I don't want to be a pain in anybody's butt, but I really need to be able to give good people good information to guide them and direct them the best I can.
Lana Seiler: Yeah, it's a maze out there in terms of finding good treatment.
Jonathan Maxson: Go online; you can get overwhelmed for a month. That's every treatment center in America. And forget about Europe, Central America, South America, which are getting big now. Central America is building treatment centers all over the place. Panama is going crazy building treatment centers.
Lana Seiler: Wow. So let's go back to talking about family work a little bit. How do you help families come up with a plan for themselves even? Because I know having a loved one who's struggling with addiction or even mental health issues, it's traumatic for the whole family system. How do you help families?
Jonathan Maxson: Sometimes, it's simple and pedantic as, "Maybe look at Family Anonymous, Al-Anon meetings, personal therapists, family therapists". These are some ways to begin looking at it. Or family education programs that any even halfway decent treatment center offers nowadays. Also, I work to be eyes and ears for the family, resisting every effort of a client to triangulate or of a parent to over-nurture or overcompensate. I fire parents, "Mom, you're fired."
Lana Seiler: I love that, I'm stealing it.
Jonathan Maxson: Steal it, it's all yours. "You're fired. Little Jonathan is my problem now. He's not yours anymore." Then I can help this man emerge or re-emerge, whether he be 22-years-old or 60-years-old, there's usually somebody in people's lives that is holding them back - families, principally.
Lana Seiler: Yeah, and we know underneath it all is fear and love. They are afraid that their loved one is going to suffer, and they love them.
Jonathan Maxson: They love them to death.
Lana Seiler: Yeah, they can love them to death. So, my next question is this. That's tough, right? So how do you work with families in navigating the territory of, "I need you to trust this because we need to help your loved one and there are no guarantees"?
Jonathan Maxson: Just like that - explaining it just like that. And what I also try to do is - I really am a strong believer in community. So I introduce parents of other successful clients that are open if they're in the same geographic territory to each other, and then they begin to bond. They go out to dinner together or have drinks or whatever they end up doing; they bond and support each other. So I try to help the parents understand that it is just as important for them to build a community as it is for their son or their daughter or their husband or wife.
Lana Seiler: Yeah, it's a big job.
Jonathan Maxson: It is, and the funny thing about it is that I would probably say of the hours I work a week, it's probably 50/50 parents and clients.
Lana Seiler: Oh, I bet.
Jonathan Maxson: Parents take probably 50/50. Parents take a lot of the time.
Lana Seiler: Sometimes, at other places I've worked but here too, with some client systems, the family is the bulk of the work.
Jonathan Maxson: Absolutely.
Lana Seiler: It really is.
Jonathan Maxson: Yeah, "Billy needs a new band for his iWatch." No, he doesn't. His band is fine. It will make it to the next week. It will be okay.
Lana Seiler: Yeah, what's the hardest part of your job do you think?
Jonathan Maxson: It's going to sound self-ingratiating, and it's not meant to sound that way, but over-delivering, to my own detriment, sometimes of my own health. I have to pull back and just be like, "I'm going off the air for a couple of days to regroup."
Lana Seiler: You mean being too available and giving too much of yourself? That kind of thing?
Jonathan Maxson: Having bad boundaries. I teach people boundaries all day, and I can't do it myself very well.
Lana Seiler: Relatable. What's your favorite part of the job?
Jonathan Maxson: Success. When some kid starts getting it, the lights come back on, and the family notices it, and their peers notice it. That's when you know, when their peers notice it, that they're getting better. That's (I think) the real litmus test. The family's not as angry anymore.
And even the failures, there's almost... You never want to see anyone fail, but you know it's part of the game of recovery. Between mental illness, substance use disorder, trauma, all these things we deal with everyday, whether we want to or not, there are some people that slip through the cracks no matter how hard you try. You have got to turn that into a positive for the family. You know, it's hard to talk about. I've lost a couple of family members in the last two years to this disease, adults.
Lana Seiler: I'm sorry. Yeah, I've lost people and clients, and it's just... it's heartbreaking.
Jonathan Maxson: We have to turn it into a positive, that you don't have to be that person. You don't.
Lana Seiler: We do, right. Well, it's been such a pleasure. We have so much more we could talk about, but we're low on time.
Jonathan Maxson: It's about time to go. Yes, thank you so very much. It's been an absolute pleasure.