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Featured Guest: Lauren Slivinski, Director of Programming, Phoenix Multisport

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For today’s show, I’m joined by Lauren Slivinski, manager of the Orange County chapter of Phoenix Multisport, a nonprofit that helps people discover healthy, fulfilling sober lives through activity and community. She joined me at the Innovations in Recovery conference in San Diego to share her journey from addiction to recovery to her current role helping others develop and maintain the emotional strength they need to stay sober.

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Podcast Transcript: David Condos with Lauren Slivinski

David Condos: Welcome to another episode of Recovery Unscripted. a podcast powered by Foundation’s Recovery Network. I’m David Condos and today’s guest is Lauren Slivinski, manager of the Orange County chapter of Phoenix Multisport, a non-profit that helps people discover healthy sober lives through activity and community.

She joined me at the Innovations in Recovery conference in San Diego to share her journey from addiction to recovery, to her current role helping others develop and maintain the emotional strength they need to stay sober. Also, be sure to stick around after the interview when we’ll hear from Heroes in Recovery 6K’s national race director about the sober, active events they have coming up this summer. But first, here’s Lauren.

All right I am here with Lauren Slivinski, thank you for being with us today.

Lauren: Thank you for having me David.

David: Let’s start off by having you tell us a little bit about your personal story and what motivated you to serve in the sober community?

Lauren: While I’m in recovery myself. I didn’t really start drinking until I was about 17 when I was a senior in high school. When I got to college, I went to college at Boston University which is right in the middle of a city. You don’t need a car which was great. It probably saved my life but we didn’t have to worry about drinking and driving so we drink and I did manage to graduate. I got a degree in biochemistry and molecular biology but I was continuing on my path of abnormal drinking. I didn’t have a very good relationship with food either. I was what I call “drunkorexic.”

I wouldn’t eat and I would go drink after not eating and probably after having gone to the gym. I would go to the gym do a spinning class and then I would go out and get extremely drunk off with just a couple of drinks and that really messes with what’s going on in your body biochemically.

After college, I moved back out to California and I discovered cocaine. It very rapidly progressed over the course of a year to the time where I was doing cocaine and couldn’t really function very well at my job, couldn’t really function very well in any of my relationships, my family was getting further and further away from me and I just didn’t have any normal relationships in my life.

I figured out, “Well, cocaine’s ruining my life I’ll just quit doing that and I’ll be okay” and I quit my job about five minutes before I got fired. I quit cocaine and I moved back in with my mother and what happened is a very severe depression set in. When you use cocaine like I did for a year straight, it messes with your brain’s levels of normal.

David: Biochemistry, you know all about it.

Lauren: Well, it’s weird because it’s like I forgot everything I learned in college. Because it didn’t apply to me so I had a very severe depression and my solution to that was to self-medicate with alcohol, see some psychiatry who prescribed antidepressants while I was drinking because of course I wasn’t honest with them about how much I was drinking. It just got to the point where I couldn’t sleep without alcohol, I couldn’t wake up in the morning without alcohol, I was having a drink every four hours, I was hiding it. It got to a point where I had a grand mal seizure from alcohol withdrawal. I didn’t know that that could happen. I was completely uneducated about what alcoholism was, my family was uneducated about it.

My mom didn’t want me to be one of “those people.” It took a long time before I was able or willing to accept some help, but finally a couple months after I had that grand mal seizure, I was in my bathroom at about three in the morning in my mom’s house. I had run out of alcohol. I couldn’t sleep my mind was racing. I was having anxiety and I was looking at all the anti-depressants that I had and I had several bottles. I was just wondering if those would work.

If I swallowed all of those, would that work and would it end it all? I don’t know. But that was what I was sitting there wondering and I realized I couldn’t do that. That was the first time I’d ever had any suicidal thoughts but that was enough for me the next morning to tell my family that I wanted to go to treatment and I needed help. Then I went off to detox, then I went to treatment and then I went to aftercare of treatment, then I went to aftercare of the aftercare and I didn’t stay sober. I did what I like to do which was just go escape and go drink alone.

It was that for a little while. I really struggled with getting sober in the beginning but I have always been into fitness and I was going to 24-hour fitness. I got a job at the gym selling memberships as one of those pesky membership sales people that calls you two hundred times after you go try a free pass and it was a good environment for me. I was surrounded by personal trainers and people who are making healthy positive choices in their lives. Exercise for me, helped me get off the antidepressants, helped me start to feel better and a little bit more esteem in my life.

But I still wasn’t quite doing it right meaning I was over exercising. I was still eating a ton of sugar to try to cope with alcohol cravings. I just wasn’t feeling like I was truly in recovery meaning, I felt something was missing. I was still having anxiety. I still was having some stuff going on just because my life wasn’t balanced but I kept working my way through in the fitness business and I got certified as a personal trainer and I was very interested in nutrition because of my background in biochemistry. I got certified as a holistic health practitioner at the same time as when I got my personal training certificate.

That school taught me a lot of things. They taught me about bio-individuality which means that no one diet works for everyone. hey taught me about balance, they taught me about true body-mind-spirit connection. I went through this program to try to my clients and what happened was it changed my life to a point where I could start living a healthy lifestyle. I started looking at other avenues and I had an opportunity to go open an Orangetheory Fitness.

Something was happening and it was building a community. People were coming in and working out together and they were forming bonds. I had never seen that before. It was like people who didn’t know each other were grunting it out on the treadmill next to each other and then all of a sudden they’re hanging out on the weekend or joining a five K together and just find it’s really cohesive community. I thought it was really cool.

I hung out with Orangetheory for a couple more years. They opened a couple more studios. I became a regional manager and it was really great but I still wanted to do something a little bit more. I wanted to move into recovery and I didn’t know what that looked like. I just knew I had to help people in recovery because it was helping me so much.

I started looking for a new job and I found this job posting for a chapter manager of a non-profit which works with people in recovery called Phoenix Multisport and I went, “Hmm what’s that?” I clicked on it and I looked on their website and it was the job had been written for me it was this non-profit was what I had always dreamed of. I got a job with them about six months ago and it’s just been life altering.

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David: For people who don’t know what Phoenix is, can you describe their mission and what it offers, the communities that they serve?

Lauren: Absolutely. Phoenix Multisport fosters a safe sober active community for people recovering from substance use disorder and those who choose to live sober. We provide free fitness programming, outdoor activities and social events, all for free for anybody with 48 hours or more of sobriety. We’ve served over 20,000 individuals in six chapters in four different states. It started about 10 years ago. Our founder Is an amazing man named Scott Strode. He’s going to be 20 years sober this Saturday.

He started it because when he got sober, he joined a boxing gym and he picked up a couple of hobbies like ice climbing. What he found and what a lot of us find when we go to Phoenix Multisport is that we’re no longer identifying as an addict or an alcoholic but we’re able to find a new way to identify ourselves as either a climber, an athlete rather than just as an addict. There’s something magical that happens just like I saw it in Orangetheory when people are on the floor together grunting zero work out.

I’m going through the similar things. Bonds are forming and this community is just arising and it started 10 years ago, almost like a meet up group. A guy with a bike and there was a hiking group and a cycling group, they didn’t have a gym or anything. It just kept growing and they opened our first brick and mortar gym in Denver about five or six years ago. We partnered with Cross Fit and Cross Fit provides a way for us to help tap into that community and create that in the gym.

When people are at a Phoenix event, they’re not talking about how awesome they were when they were using or how horrible their life is now or anything like that. They’re not focusing on the past, they’re focusing on what lift they accomplished yesterday or what new rock climbing place they went to and they’re talking about their future goals or talking about what five K race is coming up.

We’re talking about goals, we’re talking about achievements and those things are really estimable for people in recovery to be able to find that piece of self-esteem and it just really provides that foundation of emotional support that we need to get sober.

David: What might a usual day at Phoenix look like?

Lauren: That’s an awesome question. We provide a bunch of different modalities and points of entry for people, so many may not really need to do cross fit and that’s okay. We do yoga, we do boxing, we have open gym where people can just use our facility, we partner with a rock climbing gym and then we out to do outdoor stuff like hiking, we do surf days in Orange County. I’m lucky.

David: They can’t do that in Colorado.

Lauren: Not much but they get a lot of ski days which is pretty cool. But anyway, a typical day we have anywhere from three to six hours of this free community programming a day. We might have two hours of open gym then across to class and then yoga class in the evening. When we’re not providing that community programming, we are partnering with treatment centers. They can bring their clients over to us we train them, we work out with them. What happens when these people are in treatment is a lot of times, they may not want to work out, they may not be drawn to that.

But when we take them as a group and they’re being trained by people in recovery, there’s magic that’s happening and it’s that peer to peer approach. So, they’re creating bonds with each other, they’re creating bonds with the person that they share a room with, and then they’re creating bonds with the Phoenix instructor and it’s providing a bridge to a support network for when they leave treatment.

David: As you mentioned Phoenix doesn’t charge for this. Why did they decide to use that type of membership model?

Lauren: Well, we wanted to be accessible. I just sat in another lecture where they said only 17% of people who need treatment are getting it, 20 point something million people and 17% are getting it and it’s how can we provide free services? Treatment is not free. How can people find ways to access things without having to pay? We didn’t want to eliminate any potential population for not having an ability to pay.

I remember when I lived in a sober living that cost $900 a month and my two pay checks a month were $900 each. I couldn’t afford much at all let alone a gym member. Fortunately, I worked at a gym, so I didn’t need a gym membership [laughs]. But those in the communities we’re trying to serve are these people that are living in suburbs or might be homeless or a returning vet that is struggling. We need to be able to help those people.

David: Talking about the financial side being a barrier, you’re removing another big barrier that keeps people from getting the help they need is the stigma associated with addiction. How does Phoenix work to break that stigma and show people all that sober life can be?

Lauren: I love that question because one of our main missions is how do we break this stigma? How do we change the mental models that surround addiction and recovery? How do we forge our own path? We are very open with our own recovery. We’re posting on social media and things like that. We don’t feel we need to hide anything about our addiction or our past because we’re leading these awesome fulfilling lives now. Again, we’re providing a platform for people to come in and find something to do, find that empowerment and be able to live with their past and continue to move forward.

David: Related to this people who are in recovery need to really remake their whole lives and putting their friends, their hobbies. Why is it so important to remove the barriers that often keep people in isolation and how does Phoenix work to build that healthy community at each of their chapters?

Lauren: One of the things is that we are welcoming all recovery pathways. I mention that because a lot of places where you go, it’s one way or no way. We don’t mean to be any a replacement for anybody’s spiritual past or recovery path that they might have or their therapy but that social network is so important. A lot of addiction stems from the inability to connect with others.

We have a code of conduct that really helps us create a safe and nurturing environment to where if any behavior isn’t safe or nurturing, it’s not welcome at Phoenix. Despite doing that, people want to come back, people feel safe, people want to bring their friends.

David: In addition to building a new community by those in recovery often also need to discover their own new healthy identity for themselves. How are you seeing the fitness and wellness help people build new lives and achieve long term recovery?

Lauren: I see it all the time. Somebody who has never lifted a barbell in their lives and they come to Phoenix, this is big scary barbell but there’s also somebody to welcome them and bring them in and hold their hands, maybe not hold their hand proverbial, help introduce them to somebody else. The next thing you know, they’re lifting that barbell over their head and they’re few empowered and fast forward a couple months, they’re signing up for their first Cross Fit competition and they’re participating and achieving something that they never thought they would.

I’ve encountered people who didn’t think that they could run into a whole mile. Even down the block, let’s say when they came in and then next thing, they are going on a hike with us and conquering this whole mountain, looking back and just feeling like, “Wow, I can’t believe I just did that” or they’re signing up for a race and they’re crossing that finish line. I can’t tell you how amazing it was that we did a five K in October when it was a bunch of kids just straight out of treatment. There was a handful of them that were straight out of treatment that signed up, they had no idea like five K just seemed so huge to them.

They had no idea how far it was or anything like that. We ran together as a group, we didn’t try to run super fast or anything like that and at the end they were just on top of the world, they couldn’t believe that they had run five K and how amazing that was to cross the finish line. People are creating new identities every day and when we create these relationships with people around us at the community, we’re able to then go and create healthy relationships outside with Phoenix as well to help us in our day to day life.

David: Yes and just giving everyone those tangible milestones and successes that they can point to like I can do this.

Lauren: We make progress in therapy but it’s hard to pinpoint. I’ve come this far but when you like that previous example when you climb a mountain, you can really see what you’ve done and that esteem just bleeds into all areas of your life. If it’s possible for me to do that, maybe it’s possible for me to stay sober too.

David: You’re in recovery yourself you mentioned. How do you feel that personal experience you’ve had has helped shape your perspective and help you help other people better?

Lauren: Well, there’s nothing like saying “I’ve been there” to help people feel a little bit more at ease. For me, when I was here in recovery, when I heard people talking about things that I went through, that I thought I was the only one, it was really hard. Now, I’m able to share my experience with other people. For me I didn’t stay sober after my first stint of treatment.

I struggled with what people told me I needed to do and I struggled with different pathways. I just kept exploring, I just kept learning, I just kept remaining teachable, I just kept exploring to find a path that would work for me. In doing that, I have created this foundation that really allows me to speak to that and speak a little bit differently than maybe some others to people who are struggling.

David: Now with authenticity. All right we’ll just wrap up by asking you this last question. You devoted a lot of time and effort to strengthen this sober community through what you’re doing here at Phoenix. Why is helping people improve their lives in recovery important to you?

Lauren: I don’t even know if I can articulate that appropriately because it’s unbelievably important to me. As I mentioned, I struggled a lot, having found something that works for me, being able to give that to other people and to be able to provide a safe space. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like if Phoenix hadn’t been around 10 ten years ago when I was first getting sober. My story would look a little bit different if that was.

I want nothing more than to be able to provide this for people. I feel treatment is essential for people but there are some things missing, there’s some pieces missing and Phoenix can fill some of those voids for people. So, for me to be able to watch people] just get healthy and start to feel better about themselves both physically and emotionally is just the most rewarding going in the world.

David: Absolutely, all right well thank you for being with us today Lauren.

Lauren: Thank you dear.

David: Thanks again to Lauren for sharing that with us, now I’m happy to introduce you to Stephanie Spann national race director for the six K series put on by Heroes in Recovery, a grassroots movement that brings together communities across the country to celebrate life in recovery. Welcome Stephanie.

Stephanie Spann: Thank you,

David: How you doing today doing?

Stephanie: Doing good thank you. How are you?

David: Doing well. Thanks for being here. For anyone who’s not for familiar, what is the mission of the Heroes 6K series?

Stephanie: Our mission is to break this stigma associated with those needing to seek treatment. We do put on a 6K series, most people are familiar with a 5K and we’re excited to offer a 6K which that extra kilometer celebrates the extra distance that people have to go to lead a life of clean and sober living.

David: Nice all right and I know you have a lot of races. putting on every year, you’re adding new ones. And you have three big races coming up this summer over the next couple months, starting with the race in South Florida this weekend, so could you tell us about that?

Stephanie: The South Florida race is in Huizenga Plaza in Fort Lauderdale. It’s Saturday, June the 3rd, at 7:30 in the morning, presented by Medivance Billing Services. And that race benefits fellowship foundation.

David: Nice. So, is that, like, righte on the coast, or what’s the kind of landscape? I imagine South Florida could be really beautiful.

Stephanie: It is, downtown Fort Lauderdale, and it finishes right on the riverwalk, which is an absolutely gorgeous course.

David: Awesome. Yes. And so, then, the week right after that, you dive back in for another race in North Carolina, right?

Stephanie: We do have the Charlotte race coming up June the 10th, and that’ at the McAlpine Creek Park.

David: Cool. And then, later on the summer in July you’ll have the Atlanta race. Could you tell us a little bit about that one?

Stephanie: So, our July 22nd race is in Atlanta at Brooklyn Park.

David: So, is that a forest-y, wooded kind of feel?

Stephanie: It is. Yes, the landscaping and everything is just absolutely gorgeous, so anybody that likes to run a little bit more off road, not quite all pavement, so that would be a great course for them to come check out.

David: Okay. And you said that one is dog-friendly?

Stephanie: It is dog-friendly, yes. So, you can bring your dogs out to any of the three races that I’ve mentioned this morning. And all three of those, if you want to bring your dog out, we do have some cute little bandanas that you can buy for the wagon run participants that they can show their support as well.

David: Well, yes. That sounds great. Sounds like it’s going to be a good summer. I know you’ll have more events coming up all year round. So where can people find out more information about these three races and all the other events that Heroes is putting on?

Stephanie: So, you can go to Heroes6K.com and we do have 12 races around the United States, so definitely check that out for all those races on Heroes6K.com.

David: Awesome. Well, thanks for being with us today, Stephanie.

Stephanie: Thank you so much for having me.

David: This has been the recovery unscripted podcast. Today we’ve heard from Lauren Slivinski, manager of the Orange County Chapter of Phoenix Multisport. To find out more about what they do, visit phoenixmultisport.org. And thank you for listening today. Please take a few seconds to leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast app. We’d love to hear from you. See you next time.