Changing the Way We Talk About Recovery with Jesse Heffernan

Our words matter!

Jesse Heffernan probably has the coolest job title in the world. He is the new National Outreach and Empowerment Coordinator with Faces and Voices in Recovery, an organization dedicated to mobilizing the over 23 million Americans in recovery to promote the right and resources to recover through advocacy, education and demonstrating the power and proof of long-term recovery.

You might have seen the live video we did in the private Facebook group. We want to dive into the new culture surrounding recovery and bring you up to par on how we talk about recovery and how the language we use can destigmatize addiction.

CLEAN DATE: January 1st, 2009

Listen to Jesse’s story now!

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Here are a few highlights from our interview. To get the full story please join us on the podcast now!

About Jesse Heffernan

“After surviving early childhood trauma and not knowing how to open to those close to him, Jesse turned to active substance abuse for many years which quickly became his whole life and lead to jail, many burnt bridges and totally selling out any values and hope for life. This all changed in Jan of 2001 while in treatment and deciding to shut up, listen and make a commitment to continue to work on himself on all levels so that he can help others.”

Now I’m in a mindset for solutions.

The Power of Words

What is the difference between saying I’m an addict, or I’m a person in recovery?

Jesse Heffernan is part of a movement trying to bring awareness to the way we talk about addiction and how we need to change it. People identify with their stories, how society labels them, and how they view themselves. He’s going to talk about how to skillfully navigate the elements we bring into our addiction recovery stories to use them as change agents and allows for multiple pathways.

It is difficult to get past the shame and the negative associations when the focus is put on the addiction. It’s that much more difficult to change the way the rest of society views those in recovery when they identify with negative labels like addict and alcoholic.

Hi, I’m ________ and I am a person in long-term recovery.

 A few simple changes make a huge difference and puts the spotlight on the positive outcome of recovery instead of the trauma of addiction.

Jesse was a director of a mental health facility and he says that mental health world is ahead of addiction recovery when it comes to destimgatization.

We’ve had this cloak of anonymity since 1935, and we feel comfortable there.

Though anonymity has protected those in recovery through the years, it also has its hand in perpetuating stigma by creating a veil of shame. Jesse believes we can move out of the raw shame-based perspective where we are looking to be a victim in our own lives, and move toward embracing gratitude, appreciation, and potential, while accepting and living with all the stuff between the dark and light of our experience

A positive message doesn’t negate the pain you’ve been through.

Jesse is a huge comic book fan and compares addiction recovery stories to the origin stories of comic book superheroes. These characters go through a tragedy and must decide whether they will go down the path of evil or good. They turn their pain into power and use it to help others

When we set ourselves up for success, success happens.

What kept Jesse from getting clean?

Jesse puts it very simply.

I didn’t f*cking want to.

He went to treatment outpatient his first time. He got better hookups and everyone treated being there as a joke. Above all, Jesse says he didn’t feel like he deserved recovery.

Spiritual Awakening

Jesse recalls a time he was in county jail in an open cell block and subject to a horrible flu going through the inmate population. There was a moment when he knew the PO was coming to talk to him. He thought his life couldn’t get any worse than it was. He was looking at 35 years in prison and all hope was lost. He finally got humble and honest. Somehow, whatever he said that day to his PO made a huge impression, and Jesse was given a second chance at life on the outside and recovery.

In spite of the misery, I’m going to do what is really true to me in this moment.

Favorite books

Besides comic books, Jesse recommends:

The Four Agreements

One Breath at a Time

Books By Noah Levine

Best suggestion

The best words Jesse ever heard, and he admits that they still piss him off to this day were from one of his sponsors who said:

You know the thing about recovery? The longer you’re in it, the more you find out you need to work on.

This keeps Jesse humble.

Suggestion for the newcomers

Jesse commits to loving endlessly, and to giving that love to people so they can learn to do it for themselves.

You mean so much to this world. You are so valuable. Let us prove that to you.


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Disclaimer – The opinions shared on this show reflect those of the individual speaker and not of any 12 step fellowship as a whole and though we discuss 12 step recovery and the impact it has had in our lives we do not promote or endorse any 12 step anonymous program.