December 6, 2007


Kelly Madigan Erlandson

Your work with addiction is very brave because in many cases it takes someone a few times or more before they really get a handle on it, how do you deal with setbacks?
I must politely disagree with you. My work with people who are on the threshold of recovery doesn’t feel brave—it is exquisitely rewarding. I am in a position to watch people with broken spirits transform themselves, and so far I have not tired of it. I am repeatedly encouraged and inspired by their courage and ingenuity. The changes they make in those initial weeks of recovery make me feel I’m like working in a Miracle Factory. I am not na├»ve—I realize some people fail—but I have quite a bit of hope, and I expect they’ll come back around at some point and take another stab at it. I don’t view the time they spent in treatment as wasted—in spite of their continued use, they have a little more information about addiction and recovery, and they will know where to turn when they are ready to try again. I tell people there is no such thing as a hopeless case, as long as they’re breathing.

What is one of your best concepts when assisting an addicted person once they have decided to recover?
I don’t have one “best” concept to offer in response to your question, because I don’t think there is one solution for everyone. I do think that in general, people who engage in a 12-Step support program tend to do better than those who don’t. Much of my work in recent years has been focused on helping people overcome the barriers that prevent them from attending 12-Step meetings. Sometimes the things that are stopping them are actually misconceptions, or unfounded fears, such as the idea that one must be religious or believe in God in order to participate. In Getting Sober: A Practical Guide to Making it Through the First 30 Days, I discuss those common misconceptions, and also offer a wide variety of other techniques that might help someone through those early days and weeks—from the Banned-From-Your-Hand Rule, to a technique called Triggerlocks. It isn’t as simple as just quitting. There are many lifestyle changes to be made, and new skills to learn, in early recovery.

How long have you been writing?
I’ve always written letters. The way letters slow time down—the long pauses in the conversation—is part of the appeal for me.

I’ve been writing poetry since childhood, with the exception of one long break from it in my twenties. I began writing essays, or creative nonfiction, in 2000. I wrote my first book, Getting Sober: A Practical Guide to Making it Through the First 30 Days (McGraw-Hill), in 2005.

Currently I am experimenting with fiction.

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