A Lightbulb Moment
The thought rang through my head as clear as day. What would happen if we could just get people to take one step? It was August 2016, and I was in New York City, visiting friends and family, and not exactly sure why. I was 7 months sober, back at my job at a tech company, and following a new path of pursuing opportunities for connection, and listening to my heart. Thus, this somewhat unplanned trip. I did not envision what would follow as I sat in deep reflection on the very couch that had been the site of one of the lowest points in my addiction only 9 months earlier.
The thought came as a lightbulb, clear and bright. A floodlight of hope followed, hitting me like a Mack truck. My heart began to stir, thinking about the many struggling and in pain. Emotions swirled, as they still do whenever I think back to this morning. What if we could get people to just take one step? And then another, and another? What if we ran to people with hope and embraced them, and welcomed them home? What if love could lift the shame, denial, and discouragement, and start people on the pathway to healing sooner?
In the apartment, ideas rushed through my head. Experiences from my own journey and time in treatment flowed back into my brain. The power of story. The importance of feeling connected. The feeling of realizing that I wasn’t alone, and that the same value and beauty I saw in others existed in me. And some of the dark places, too. The stress and anxiety, the guilt and shame, the fear and uncertainty and paranoia of addiction.
But the love I experienced, and the freedom wrought in my life through the recovery process, far outweighed the dark places. Along the way, key people believed in me, and in my process, far more than I did. What if we could believe in people more than they did themselves? What if, instead of waiting for the bottom, we could run to people with hope and a loving embrace that lowered the depth of the bottom they have to hit before seeking help? What if we could inspire people to take just one step? No matter what one’s process ends up including — traditional treatment programs, twelve step support groups, faith or spiritual experiences, clinical care, lots of sweat and tears, or something else — starting the process sooner is a win for individuals, families, and communities.
Applying the Consumer Lifecycle to Recovery
Later that day, the ideas of inspiration, empowerment, and connection flashed through my mind, and became the building blocks of OneStep. In the coming days, they would align with something I knew a little about (and only a little) from business school. The “consumer lifecycle” describes how people hear about and begin to use a service or product. Typically, it flows from before someone is aware, all the way through repeated use of a good or service. I began to research how individuals heard about resources around recovery, and was stunned to learn that 85% of individuals struggling with addiction in the U.S. don’t receive care. That’s 17 million Americans with untreated addiction. And millions more are affected. Children whose parents cannot raise them, parents and siblings racked in grief and depression from the loss and struggle of their loved one. Missing co-workers, struggling teachers, addicted doctors, coping bankers, many individuals that have lost their homes and their livelihoods in the battle against addiction. Addressing the barriers in this consumer lifecycle could save lives and greatly impact families and communities.
Research also revealed that denial, likely influenced by stigma and shame, is the greatest reason why people don’t seek help. And story — the right kind of story — can play a powerful role in motivating change. Over the coming months, we found a range of marketing efforts already focused on targeting individuals “ready for help.” That is, people searching for support, services or treatment. But, what about the others, who either were not seeking help or couldn’t find a resource for them? Messages about the value of sobriety and seeking help don’t resonate with the vast majority of addicts, unless they’re tied to something else. Hope. Purpose. Passion.
The Building (Learning) Process
For a little over the last year, we have built OneStep, a platform that uses story and other content to inspire and empower people toward recovery and growth earlier in their process. I have been blessed to work with a team of talented individuals to build not only this platform, but an independent, 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization to steer its mission and operation. We’ve had talented designers, developers, marketers, social media experts, filmmakers, analysts, advisors, and more. Dozens of practitioners, clinicians, social impact and organizational structure experts, and many others, have contributed to this work. Individuals affected by addiction or other mental health challenges in themselves or their families have opened their hearts and their lives, and for that we are incredibly grateful.
What we’ve launched now is just the beginning. Our current version of OneStep isn’t perfect, and neither are we. Our voice of hope and belief in recovery and healing may not resonate with everyone. But we commit to doing our best to create a solution that addresses challenges faced by individuals and families looking for help and hope, and aligns with the values we hold dear: hope, excellence, growth, clarity, and love. Along the way, one maxim — for a team that includes several people in recovery — has been the following: “What are we doing creating a platform for wellness if we’re not experiencing that ourselves?” Our journey as a team is the product of our journeys individually, and we’re approaching it as we would encourage anyone in the process of growth – in life, recovery, or wherever — one step at a time. Whether we reach ten people, or ten thousand, or ten million, it’s always been, and always will be, about the one in front of us.
March 15, 2018
If you’d like to hear more about Chris’ recovery story, keep reading. The story below is adapted from a personal Facebook post celebrating two years of recovery and growth. Its content represents his personal viewpoint and experience.
A Personal Story from the Founder
I celebrate February 13 like a second birthday. On that date in 2016, as life felt dark and like it was spinning out of control, I caught a glimpse of hope and heaved a desperate prayer: “If You’re real, here’s everything: my stubborn resistance to treatment for addiction, my questions and my need to fully understand or control You, and my future.” I did not anticipate the immediate breakthrough, hope or peace I would experience. That night, everything began to change as I experienced grace, unconditional love, and acceptance in an entirely new way.
My journey hasn’t been perfect. But life for me is no longer about perfection, but connection, both Divine and Brené Brown-style: deep, meaningful connection with others. That’s what made the two months I spent in an outpatient program the happiest of my life to that point, even though I was doing nothing I previously thought I needed to in order to be happy. That night, I never could have anticipated that I would be able to feel alive again in such a profound way, or understand or appreciate my value and worth free from guilt and shame. I didn’t foresee the adventures and rebirth of creativity that would ensue, or the healing in my family. I had no expectation for the opportunity to reconnect with dozens and dozens of individuals from past years from when my life was much more of a mess– or a tightly controlled image I tried to portray to the world, only for the brokenness to eventually seep out. The possibilities of brokenness redeemed were not only far off, but non-existent in my mind. But it all started that night, in the (re)discovery of hope, and the letting go.
I’m so thankful for those that walked with me through the process, both early on and to this day. It has become clear that each day is a gift, both through my own experience and through the lives of friends lost in the fight against addiction and mental illness, or other tragedies. And it’s the recognition of how much of a gift life is that makes it easy to give it away.
I’ve been fortunate to have experiences that have reinforced that foundational belief. I grew up in Seattle, and came from a background of many opportunities. I have experienced a lot of things that I thought would scratch the itch — education at Princeton and Harvard, travel to dozens of countries, “sexy” jobs in tech, even the opportunity to do meaningful work around social impact . But nothing ultimately could fill the gap, and confirm to me that I had value and worth. It was this gap that I tried to fill with academic, social and religious performance, and then, eventually, the bottle.
Nothing did, until that night. I experienced the unconditional love that a parent has for their child, no matter their mess. It was an aspect of God unfamiliar to me in my previous experience of Christian faith: a God who just wanted to hold me, and for me to know that I was loved and had value, no matter the wreck that my life was quickly becoming. Life became fresh and new again in such a way that guilt and shame from years of addiction and broken choices faded away. I saw how the pain, the blackouts, the injuries, the heaviness that I had experienced, and even the poor choices I had made, had positioned me to be willing to let go. Receiving love and knowing my value empowered me to share love, to pursue creative dreams and passions free of the fear of failure, and to prioritize meaningful, life-giving connection. Two years in, the adventure continues.
This is why I see recovery as potential gift, no matter our age. We can find freedom to be more fully ourselves, to handle our thoughts and emotions in more productive ways, to experience deep connection, and to pursue dreams that have felt beyond our reach. I feel incredibly privileged to have received this gift, because I also know many who have lost the fight. And I know another pathway that I could have gone down, chasing the hamster wheel of success throughout life only to discover in old age that key components life had been missed.
Every day, I’m inspired to again receive love and remember my value. It’s from that place that I can love others. The Jesus I know loved and spent time with the outcasts, the addicts of his day— both those cast out on the streets, and those trapped in the vestiges of money and power but still desperately unsatisfied. He loved freely, and did not seek to control people. He was not intimidated by their different understandings of the world, but embraced them and spoke to their value.
I think that everyone should care about mental and emotional health, because the costs to individuals, families, and society are immense. The potential for growth and transformation for communities through recovery is even greater. These are issues that affect people across all backgrounds and life experiences, and the recovery ecosystem is full of different perspectives and closely-held beliefs, just like the world. I believe it’s possible and important to genuinely respect and love others, regardless of whether we agree or have shared perspectives. No matter what your background, worldview, or life experience may be, or where you are in your own journey, I hope that you would know that you’re loved and valued.