Learning to Embrace Vulnerability

iStock_000036632626LargeBy Marcia Smith, LPC, NCC
Director, Right Side Up

There seems to be a misconception when people think or talk about someone being vulnerable. Most of the messages that the majority of us have received throughout our lives have led us to associate the word vulnerable with being weak. Society reinforces this negative concept through messages like “don’t let them see you sweat” or “never allow anyone to see you cry.” Advertising and social media take it a step further by promoting various medications that allegedly elevate the pain or mental suffering a person may be enduring. Consequently, many individuals travel down the path of addiction as a solution to their problems.

During my time with MARR’s Right Side Up (RSU) program, I have seen how detrimental this concept can be on a person’s journey of recovery. Most clients’ defenses are already up the moment they contact us for help or walk through the door for admission. The ability to acknowledge their shortcomings or vulnerabilities is greatly minimized.

When the treatment process begins, a client’s ideas of what it means to be vulnerable are challenged. She gains new insight about the importance of embracing vulnerability—how it leads to living an abundant life versus merely surviving from day to day. Learning to be vulnerable means having the capability of being physically and emotionally wounded or hurt. All of the women we serve at Right Side Up have experienced some type of emotional and/or physical abuse. They struggle with disclosing these experiences and acknowledging the impact they have had on their lives. Yet, the 12-Step process asks them to share their experiences with one another. Embracing vulnerability may be a foreign concept, but it can aid clients in discovering how their unhealthy coping strategies and defenses have stunted their emotional and spiritual growth.

The willingness to put oneself out there can also bring about healing, growth and the ability to overcome life’s challenges or struggles. This helps prevent past experiences from keeping the individual ‘stuck’ in addictive behaviors; instead, she recognizes that exploring healthier solutions and living a more prosperous life is a choice. She becomes empowered through her own vulnerability.

Rather than looking at vulnerability as something that should be avoided, the staff at RSU embraces, promotes and utilizes it as a tool to help clients live in a place of authenticity. In the words of Brene’ Brown, PhD, LMSW, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”


Marcia Smith, LPC, NCC graduated from Argosy University in 2007, earning her master’s degree in Professional Counseling. She is a licensed professional counselor in the state of Georgia and a member of the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC). She started her career in the field of addiction treatment while completing her internship at Café 458, where she serviced disabled homeless men and women dealing with mental health and chemical dependency issues. Soon after completing her internship, Marcia joined MARR’s Right Side Up program as an Employment Specialist. Over the past five years, Marcia has held other positions with Right Side Up, including Intake Coordinator and Primary Counselor. In 2013, she accepted the position as Program Director.

The Importance of Detachment

iStock_000009616841SmallBy Patrice Alexander, MS, LPC
Clinical Coordinator, Family Recovery Center

At face value, the word detachment has a negative connotation and conveys a sense of loss. It is hard to imagine being “detached” or “separated” from someone we love. It is human nature when we see a loved one hurting to want to offer help to comfort and ease his or her pain. This is especially true for family members whose loved one struggles with the disease of addiction.

Addiction is a family disease that traps every member of the family. As the disease progresses, it starts to govern the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of every family member. The natural human responses of showing love through generosity, support and compassion become unhealthy responses in addiction. I have witnessed the disease of addiction turn the most loving bond between family members into a very dysfunctional and unhealthy relationship. Detachment is not easy; however, in order for the family to learn healthier ways to show their love and support without enabling the disease to continue to wreak havoc in their relationship, it is necessary. Through detachment, family members discover how to trust and open their hearts in safer ways. Detachment helps each member move toward personal growth, which can prepare him or her for healthy relationships.

I encourage family members to consider detachment as a decision to avoid participating in negative emotional connections, rather than a decision to abandon their loved one. In this sense, it can allow them to maintain boundaries, protect their values, preserve their integrity and steer clear of the undesired impact. As such, it becomes a deliberate mental attitude which can help them avert engaging in the emotions of others.

Detachment is choosing to allow other people to live their lives without giving them advice, even when there is a great degree of difficulty and possible danger involved. Most of us are not taught how to detach; it feels counterintuitive. Detachment is embracing our individuality and taking responsibility for our own lives instead of waiting for someone else to do something different so that our lives can be okay.

Admitting and accepting that we are powerless over other people and their decisions allows us to practice detachment. The Al-Anon book, Courage to Change, states, “Detachment with love means that I stop depending upon what others do, say or feel to determine my own well-being or to make my decisions.” Without detachment, it is much harder—if not impossible—to create an atmosphere for healing so that the gift of recovery can be discovered and passed on/shared with others.


Patrice Alexander, MS, LPC began her career in 1995 working with adolescents as a mental health technician for the Deveraux Center of Georgia. In 1996, she went on to pursue a master’s degree in Counseling from Georgia State University and has since worked in a variety of capacities related to counseling and addiction treatment. Her background includes individual, group and family counseling, facilitating parenting education groups, conducting research, developing professional presentations for local and national conferences, and providing training and supervision to interning students and other clinicians.

The Process of Hope

White Dogwood BloomsBy Sarah Brookings, MA, LPC
Admissions Coordinator

It is hope that gives life meaning. And hope is based on the prospect of being able one day to turn the actual world into a possible one that looks better.  —Francois Jacob

The word hope typically brings with it an emotional connotation, a visceral response that, for most, brings peace and relief. For families with a loved one who is struggling with the disease of addiction, hope sometimes feels like a far-and-away concept that will never come close. The seemingly endless cycle of addiction can perpetuate feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that often paralyze a families’ progress in pointing their loved one toward the hope of recovery.

As a trained and licensed therapist, I am well aware of the life-changing impact that hope has on an individual seeking treatment, or a burned-out family trying to find one more treatment program. Instilling hope, particularly when the road ahead seems dark, can be the most healing and significant piece of the recovery process, for both families and individuals. For me, hope is best defined as putting my belief into something greater than myself, daring to believe that change is possible. Hope is having confidence in the belief that, despite current circumstances or situations, something greater and better exists.

During the admissions process at MARR, I walk with wounded parents, spouses and individuals who have gained and lost hope countless times in their lives. They are desperate to believe in recovery, yet terrified to vocalize their fear of the disease. Each day I work with clients, it is becoming increasingly apparent that mental illness issues and addictions are more complex, more deadly, and more prevalent than ever. Each day, I read statistics, research and journal articles touting information that espouses the belief that long-term recovery, statistically speaking, is not possible for everyone. And each day that I come to work at MARR, I choose to believe otherwise.

I choose to believe in the men, women and families I assess who represent the hope of recovery and sobriety, and each day I diligently point hurting people toward that same hope.


Sarah Brookings, MA, LPC earned her master’s degree in Professional Counseling, with a concentration in child and adolescent therapy, from Richmont Graduate University in 2010. Upon the completion of her degree, Sarah worked with adolescents and their families as a part of an inpatient/outpatient hospital program at a metro Atlanta psychiatric hospital. Additionally, Sarah has provided community-based therapy services for at-risk adolescents and their families in school settings. It was during Sarah’s time in working with families who had an adolescent with a co-occurring disorder that she began to develop a passion for providing therapeutic support, education, and information about addiction and recovery for families in the midst of crisis. Sarah joined MARR as an admissions coordinator in 2012.


Enabling: It’s not just for families

iStock_000022766750SmallCounselors must avoid crossing the line into controlling behavior 
by William D. Anderson, Jr., LCSW, MSW

Over the last eight years, I have offered education, support and training to families struggling with addiction via the 1-Day Family Seminar at MARR, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Atlanta. In my presentation, family members are exposed to ways in which they enable, rescue and ultimately try to control their addicted loved ones. The more I delivered this lecture, however, the more I realized that counselors in the addiction field—myself included—often exhibit the very same behaviors they encourage families to stop, change or think about. Read more.

A Heart for People

love; beautiful hands of children holding green heart shapeKeeping the spirit of volunteerism alive at MARR

There is an article on Facebook that has recently gone viral: 37 Things You’ll Regret When You’re Old by Mike Spohr. In the twentieth spot: ‘Not Volunteering Enough.’ Spohr writes that “nearing the end of one’s life without having helped to make the world a better place is a great source of sadness for many.” In fact, many people believe the best way to serve God is by serving others.

In the Beginning
Since its humble beginnings nearly 40 years ago, MARR has remained close to the core values on which the organization was founded. One of MARR’s six guiding principles, People Come First, promotes a healthy and strong recovery community from within, including clients, families, alumni, staff and volunteers. Every person plays an important role in bringing lasting recovery to drug- and alcohol-addicted individuals. It’s a team effort.

Volunteers Make a Difference
From the time MARR came into existence in 1975, to where it stands today, volunteers have always been a vital part of the program. “Early on, MARR recognized the benefit of having volunteers join our clients in group therapy,” says CEO Guerry Dyes. “It’s a way for community members to understand the disease of addiction and for clients to break out of isolation.” The Junior League of Atlanta (JLA), an organization of women committed to promoting volunteer work, helped launch the volunteer division of MARR’s treatment facility. These individuals devoted themselves to offering love, tolerance and acceptance to the clients of MARR. They helped bring chemically dependent men and women out of seclusion and into connection with others.

While MARR strives to stay ahead of the curve in the educational arena of addiction treatment, the organization also stays true to its traditions and the recovery methods that have been proven effective for many years. This not only includes the 12-Step Program, the importance of spirituality and the value of the therapeutic community, but also the volunteers who have been such an integral part of MARR since the beginning. “Our volunteers are more than just individuals who give their time to help those who are struggling with addiction,” says Dyes. “They have a true heart for people. They keep the spirit of MARR alive.”

If you would like more information about how to become a volunteer, as well as our next volunteer training, please visit our Volunteers at MARR page. We appreciate your willingness to serve our recovery community!

MARR was named ‘Top 10 Places to Volunteer in Atlanta’ by! Read more.


From Our Volunteers

Stacee F.
My name is Stacee and I have been a volunteer at MARR since May 2008. I participate in the Men’s Spiritual Group at Peachtree Presbyterian Church on Monday evenings; Family Support Group and Family Spiritual Group, both on Tuesday evenings; and Men’s Spiritual Group at Tucker First United Methodist Church on Wednesday nights.

My son, Skylar, came to MARR as a client in October 2007. Because the organization had done so much for him, my husband and I wanted to give back; volunteering seemed the perfect thing to do. Then, Skylar overdosed and died just two weeks before volunteer training was to begin. I wasn’t sure if I should continue pursuing the volunteer path, but something gave me the courage to go. I now know that ‘something’ was God and Skylar.

Spending time with the clients, especially in the beginning but even today, helps me find answers to my son’s struggles that I would not have found otherwise. I better understand the disease of addiction and, more importantly, the loving souls within each of these tortured men and women. I also experienced my own recovery, though not a drug or alcohol addict. I learned how to live life on life’s terms and come to a place of acceptance. Clients allow me to share such an intimate part of their struggles and nurture their recovery in a way that satisfies my maternal instincts.

Aside from being a loving mother and wife, volunteering is the most important thing I have ever done. I have gained so much from my time at MARR and the extraordinary people I’ve met (staff and clients), including peace and serenity no matter what life may bring.


Terry F.
My name is Terry and I have been a MARR volunteer for more than four years. I participate primarily in Wednesday groups and activities, when the clients of the Men’s Recovery Center visit Camp Donnie Brown. When time permits, I also join the Men’s Spiritual Group at Peachtree Presbyterian Church on Monday evenings; Family Support Group and Family Spiritual Group on Tuesday nights; Men’s Spiritual Group at Tucker First United Methodist Church on Wednesday evenings; and the Grief Group at the Men’s Recovery Center on Thursday nights. I am also present during Family Week at MARR, when my wife, Stacee, shares her own story of family recovery.

The most unexpected thing to emerge from volunteering at MARR was the awareness of my own brokenness and culpability. When I read the AA Promises for the first time, I realized just how flawed my own life had become. I wanted the Promises for myself. Through this process, I have received the gift of honesty. I never imagined I could regain some sense of honor in my life.

I would recommend volunteerism to any and all individuals who express an interest, be it through MARR or wherever. The experience of giving back the gift you received yourself is priceless.

Service Work in Recovery
Bill W. and Dr. Bob, founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), created the entire Program of AA around service work, in addition to the 12 Steps, meetings, sponsorship and a connection with a Higher Power. Page 102 of the Big Book of AA states, “Your job now is to be at the place where you may be of maximum helpfulness to others, so never hesitate to go anywhere if you can be helpful.” Thankfully, for those who suffer from the disease of addiction, there is a solution; recovering alcoholics/addicts are encouraged to give back that which has been so freely given to them by sharing their experience, strength and hope to the alcoholic/addict who still suffers. To AA’ers and other members of related fellowships, service work is more than just volunteerism—it’s their lifeline.

MARR’s Volunteer Program is made up of people who are both in recovery and others who are not. The purpose of having volunteers is to help create a loving environment in which clients feel safe and accepted as they reconnect and recover from addiction. MARR believes lending a hand to another human being—and expecting nothing in return—is the true meaning of joy.

Establishing a Healing Environment for the Addicted Woman

iStock_000019373920SmallBy Jessica Schmoll, MS, LPC
Director, Women’s Recovery Center

When it comes to treating a chemically dependent woman, it is helpful to first consider creating a healthy, safe community in which she can explore a genuine sense of love and belonging, as well as practice new relationship and self-care skills. In order to create that space, she and her treatment family (staff and peers) are encouraged to embrace authenticity as a cornerstone on which to build.

Authenticity requires emotional honesty, vulnerability, perseverance, empathy and compassion toward self and others. It is no small feat. As the woman lets go of who she “should” be and allows herself to be seen for who she really is, she is more able to accept her strengths and imperfections, and practice boundary-setting by asking for what she needs—and has always deserved. No longer isolated and ashamed, she has a voice; she is known. Negative core beliefs can be explored and no longer dictate using behavior. She doesn’t regulate herself to meet outside expectations. She can be free.

Gender-specific and separate treatment allows addicted women to tell their stories, practice forgiveness for self and others, and honor their evolving faith without the distraction of trying to fit in by being someone they are not. Even when the therapeutic community is unsteady and in turmoil, community members can experience healthy conflict resolution rather than alienation and heartbreak. Using effective communication, the community model allows for women to hold each other up in gratitude and respect, and learn that they are strong enough to withstand the urge to use despite the stress of being in relationships that are complex and sometimes messy. They can resist falling back into old behaviors by acquiring a new sense of self that allows for life to be hard.

These are the skills that prepare women to integrate back into life post-treatment and carry on with relationships that will demand their energy and attention.

They say the journey of recovery is a “WE” program. At MARR’s Women’s Recovery Center, this philosophy is held to the highest standard. A “sisterhood” is created and nurtured, allowing the individual to flourish like never before.

MARR Celebrates National Recovery Month

MARR celebrates National Recovery MonthThe Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous describes alcoholism as “cunning, baffling, powerful.” For nearly 40 years, MARR’s seasoned professionals and committed staff members have seen the insidiousness of addiction — cunning, baffling and powerful indeed. This devastating and often deadly disease rips families apart and ruins relationships.

But we have also bore witness to the hope that lies in recovery.

This September marks the 24th annual National Recovery Month — celebrating individuals in recovery; promoting the benefits of prevention, treatment and recovery for mental and chemical dependency; lauding the contributions of treatment and service providers; and sharing the message that recovery, in all its forms, is possible. So, what does the month of September mean to the dedicated staff at MARR?

National Recovery Month is a reminder of how far we have come in the field of addiction treatment. Today, the medical community recognizes addiction as a disease and not a moral flaw. Women, once haunted by the stigma of addiction, can now discover their voice and their freedom in gender-specific treatment. Many recovery centers encourage the addict and his or her loved ones to embrace a program of recovery because addiction impacts the entire family system. Individuals with co-occurring disorders are no longer turned away; instead, they receive specialized attention in a safe environment. And there is increased awareness and education about chemical dependency in communities than ever before. These are just a few of the many positive changes that have taken place over the last several decades.

Although we celebrate recovery 365 days a year, MARR joyfully commemorates National Recovery Month. This September — and every month thereafter — it is our mission to bring lasting recovery to alcohol- and drug-addicted individuals. The Big Book of AA may describe alcoholism as “cunning, baffling, powerful,” but it also gives hope to the struggling addict that “there is a solution!”

Considerations in Treating Women with Addiction

Treating women with addictionBy Jessica Schmoll, MS, LPC

In 2013, as recent research continues to emerge and data are reviewed, the issues surrounding women and addiction are becoming progressively more understood and evermore concerning. The ramifications of the disease of addiction span beyond just a woman’s personal health and wellness; they impact families, communities, and society overall. While still very much a caregiver for family and friends, today’s woman may also be a student, a teacher, a doctor, or a lawmaker. She is everywhere, and the roles she plays impact many. As such, when the disease of addiction develops in a woman’s life, the attention and efforts of her community must engage to combat the catastrophic consequences that not only befall her, but them as well.

One must consider some of the reasons why women use drugs or alcohol initially.  Socially and psychologically, the use and behaviors of addicted women often begin in response to internal questions that are relational in nature: “Will this help me feel less depressed? Anxious? Alone?” “Will this help me lose weight?” “Will this help me be more productive?” Using substances can even be a way to cope with unresolved trauma and subsequent difficulty achieving the much-desired intimacy on which women are wired to thrive. “Will this help me forget?”

It is also critical to contemplate the real physiological dangers women face in the addictive process that started as a way to self-medicate or belong. Biologically, women become intoxicated faster and get addicted sooner than men. Like their male counterparts, but at an accelerated pace, women face health challenges like heart damage and cirrhosis of the liver, compounded by an increase of occurrences of osteoporosis, brain atrophy, and pregnancy and infertility concerns (to name a few).  As such, women are likely to be found requiring medical help years before their fellow male alcoholics and addicts.

Addiction is a biopsychosocial disease. To address it, one must remember that more than just the body requires treatment. In order to adequately acknowledge a partial interpersonal/relational cause, treatment must include a social intervention. In other words, to combat the lonely and shame-based nature of the disease, healthy relationships are critical in the healing process. Helping women learn to steer effectively through relationships with boundaries and self-care sets them up to leave behind the chaos and toxicity that occurs when substances serve as their companions, their lifeline.

How to Maintain a Healthy Relationship with a Recovering Addict

Maintaining a healthy relationship with a person in recoveryDrug and alcohol addiction is a serious problem that can put a major strain on an addicted person’s relationships. If you are a friend or family member of an addict, your relationship with him or her has likely experienced its fair share of ups and downs. But here’s the good news: Once the addicted loved one seeks help for his or her addiction and gets on the road to recovery, there is hope for the relationship.

To maintain a healthy relationship with the recovering addict in your life, check out these helpful tips to ensure you’re reinforcing his or her recovery.

Show Support. When an addict is in recovery—especially early on—your ongoing support is essential to his or her success. Attend 12-Step family recovery meetings in your community (i.e. Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, CoDA, etc.); ask him or her how you can help; and just listen when needed. Let the recovering addict know you support him or her in this endeavor, physically, emotionally and mentally.

Maintain Boundaries. While it is important for you to show support to an addicted friend or family member who is in recovery, you must also maintain healthy boundaries if you want to your relationship with him or her to improve. Rule number 1: Your life should not revolve around the recovering addict. It is perfectly OK to be concerned about him or her, but always take time out for yourself. Otherwise resentment may build up.

Communicate. As with any relationship, communication is vital to enjoying a healthy relationship with an addicted loved one who is in recovery. While a life in recovery is the better way, it isn’t always easy. Sometimes an addict needs someone with whom they can talk openly and honestly. Be that person. (Of course, always encourage the individual to talk with his or her sponsor as well.)

Be Present. Emotional support is certainly a fundamental part of a healthy relationship, but physical support is just as important. Make the time to be available for the recovering addict in your life. Have a coffee date, go for a walk or enjoy some quiet reading time in the same room. Togetherness is what matters most. Your presence is another way to let your loved one know you care about his or her recovery.

A recovering addict has a greater chance at recovery when his or her relationships encourage recovery and not hinder it. Get involved in this new way of life, and you’ll reap the benefits of recovery, too. Be a part of the solution!

Author Jason Harter, CAC is an addiction counselor who strives to maintain relationships between affected family members. He enjoys blogging and is a contributing writer for