2018 Community Benefit Report: Recover Alaska helps reshape the conversation surrounding substance misuse

June 03, 2019

Terry Holloway’s Day 1 was Feb. 18, 2006. It’s been 13 years since she has used drugs or alcohol, and she says now she is living a more meaningful and productive life.

She is not alone. Across Alaska, and across the country, substance-free success stories are growing. Tiffany Hall, executive director of Recover Alaska, says that a movement is happening, and the signs are encouraging.

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“We work to reduce excessive alcohol use across the state,” said Hall, whose Day 1 was Sept. 29, 2009. “We aren’t an abstinence-only group, we are not a provider of services, and we don't run a treatment program. The main things we focus on are advocacy, improving social norms and access to care.”

Recover Alaska’s platform is a positive-culture framework – it celebrates the success stories of those like Holloway, who have discovered how full their lives can be without being under the influence. And they are on to something. The hashtag “#sobercurious” is gaining momentum on social media. Alcohol-free bars have popped up across the country. Even restaurants are making changes. In a January article in Forbes magazine, the trend, it said, is growing: The percentage of alcohol-free drinks on restaurant menus increased by 13 percent from 2016 to 2017.

“One of the things about alcohol is that it is so accepted and normalized,” Hall said. “People often ask why I’m not having a glass of wine with dinner, but no one ever asks why a person is having a glass of wine. Recover Alaska tries to elevate the conversation, to change the narrative so that it’s not even an issue.”

Recover Alaska’s work has not gone unnoticed. Its Day 1 video and radio series can be heard throughout the state, spreading the message that there is indeed life after drugs and alcohol.

Everyday Alaskans from all over the state share the story of their “Day 1,” when they decided to change their habits. Lawyers, doctors, mothers, athletes – people from across the state and from all professions are represented, all with their own stories to tell. The powerful two-minute clips can be seen on Recover Alaska’s website and are aired on TV and played on the radio.

Recover Alaska’s mission to help the vulnerable and spread messages of hope resonated with Providence Health & Services Alaska, which provided $100,000 to help the nonprofit do its work. That’s a sixth of the organization’s local funding, Hall said.

“It’s amazing to have Providence because they really empower us to do our work, and they believe in our mission,” Hall said. “Without them, we could not do what we do.”

Holloway agreed to be part of the Day 1 series because she said her heart overflows when she sees others overcome substance misuse.

“When people have the light come on, I just love to see that,” said Holloway, who counsels those struggling with substance misuse. As a person who used to struggle with substances herself, she remembers how hard it is in the beginning, when the overriding challenge is a daily battle to simply not use.

“You get robotic – you just keep thinking about what you can’t do,” she said of the early days of recovery. “But when that light comes on and you see a genuine smile, it is so good, you realize what you can do. People realize they can actually start living now.”

Recover Alaska has received national attention for its positive approach to a healthier lifestyle. It also celebrates and respects the individual path that each person must take to find a healthy relationship with alcohol. But that doesn’t mean the group is blind to the scarier side of alcoholism in Alaska.

“We’re dying at a rate nearly three times as high as the national average, so it’s definitely a huge problem here,” Hall said.

“But with a positive approach we can give people hope.”

Each Day 1 video ends with this simple line – which pretty much sums up the work of Recover Alaska: “Recovery is a different path for everyone but it all starts with Day 1.”