Home » Jacki Hillios: Transcending Addiction and Redefining Recovery at TEDxBoulder (Transcript)

Jacki Hillios: Transcending Addiction and Redefining Recovery at TEDxBoulder (Transcript)

Jacki Hillios

Jacki Hillios, founder of Phoenix Multisport, presents: Transcending Addiction and Redefining Recovery at TEDxBoulder Conference. Read through the transcript of the TEDx Talk presentation below.

Listen to the MP3 Audio: Transcending addiction and redefining recovery by Jacki Hillios at TEDxBoulder


I work with people who many of you stereotypically love. They’re alcoholics. They’re boozers and they’re drunks. They’re addicts. They’re pill poppers and they’re junkies.

You see, I’ve always wanted to understand why people do what they do. Because I believe if I can figure out the why, then I can find ways to help them. Help them find a better life and heal.

So I worked as a clinician for probably about 15 years, and I watched as drugs and alcohol destroyed people’s lives. So I made the decision to go back to school and I got my PhD. Because I thought, maybe, through research I can find some of the answers to the questions that I couldn’t answer as a clinician.

And what is really exciting is I’m finding some of those answers, and I’m going to share some of those answers with you here tonight.

You see, when I was a clinician, I watched so many people who wanted to get sober, work really hard to try and get sober but they just couldn’t. And then again, it wasn’t because they didn’t want to, but because things just got in their way.

So let me tell you a little bit about Anna. When I met Anna, she was trying to get clean from meth. She’d probably been in treatment maybe five or six times, and she burned all of her bridges. But she told me she wanted to get clean and so we found her a program where she could go. And this particular program was going to be a little bit tough for Anna, because well, it’s a no smoking program, and Anna smokes cigarettes in addition to the meth.

And she was there for maybe a couple hours before she lit up. There were no second chances. They kicked her out. They actually drove her down the road to the 7-11 and dropped her off. She had no money and no phone. And really her only opportunity at that moment, her only choice, was to hitchhike back to the meth house. And that’s what she did.

I heard from Anna a couple of weeks later and she wanted to try again. But this time, in order for her to get into treatment, she was going to have to go through a detox program.

She went to three detox programs before she actually found one that would take her. The first one she went to was a medical detox. And well, if you’re not going to die, they don’t want to admit you to the program. There’s no risk, why bother? And when you come off meth, it really hurts, but you don’t die.

The second program she went to, was cash only. She had no money. You can’t pay, you can’t stay. But she found this third program and they finally admitted her.

Ten hours after she was admitted to the program, my cell phone rang. It was 4 o’clock in the morning. The nurse on the other line told me that she was done. She had completed her detox treatment. And now they wanted me to come and get her. It’s 4 o’clock in the morning. But you see if I didn’t come and get her, they also said, they were going to make her just leave. And I knew where she was going to end up.

So I went and I got her, and this is where things actually got really hard. Because, now she is on a waitlist for treatment. And we didn’t know if it was going to take a day, a week or a month for her to get in. And she had no idea what to do next.

Anna is not alone. In America today, there’s 23 million people struggling with addiction. Of those, 10% are able to get treatment. And of the people who get treatment, 40% to 60% of them relapse within the first year. So after a year, only about half of the people are still sober. And the question remains, even they’ve gotten treatment, what will they do when they get home. What’s next?

And what about that 90% of people who don’t get treatment at all? What are they supposed to do? You see, chances are, their cell phones are filled with phone numbers of people who they drink and they used with. They can’t go back to the bars and the parties. And they really just don’t know what to do, because they burned all of their bridges.

So think about it for a moment. If you were one of these people, what would you do? Can you even imagine what tomorrow might be like?

About 10 years ago, I was climbing at the Rock Gym in Boston, Massachusetts, and I met this guy named Scott Strode. And we became friends and climbing partners. Scott! And he told me he’s on recovery. But I didn’t really think anything of it because the truth is we were climbing and we were having so much fun. And there was this one New year’s Eve weekend, where we got a whole group of people together and we went ice climbing. And again, knock it out of the park, we had so much fun.

A few weeks after that holiday weekend, Scott told me that it was the first time that holiday had come and gone, and he hadn’t thought about drinking. And he shared with me this idea he had for doing things different. He wanted to take what he had learned from his personal experience in recovery and give it to other people. And me, I thought it was a no-brainer.

You see, Scott got sober after years of binge drinking and lot of cocaine. And lucky for him, he wandered into a boxing gym. And then, mountaineering, and then triathlon. And with every mountain he climbed, and with every finish line he crossed his recovery was stronger. But what he struggled with was the stigma and the shame. And telling people he was on recovery was really hard, and he often felt alone.

When I met Scott, it changed my life because I realized something from spending time with him. And that was that people are not their disease. So not long after this great weekend, Scott was very inspired and he decided he wanted to make this happen. So he moved here, to Boulder, Colorado, and he started a program called Phoenix Multisport, and he asked me to help him.

So we created this program, where addicts were no longer defined by their addiction, instead, shoulders to shoulders they climbed mountains and they inspired others.

And in 2006, Phoenix Multisport was born. Phoenix Multisport is a sober-active community for people who are on recovery from drugs and alcohol and gets them involved in an active lifestyle. And through things such as climbing and hiking and running and cycling and strength training, people are finding the strength and the support they need to recover.

In Colorado, right now, in Front Range, Phoenix has served over 8000 people. And in case anybody is wondering, we have goals of taking over the world. Our instructors facilitate probably 45 events a week, which is really amazing, because what it means is that, every day of the week there’s something for people to do and there’s some way for them to connect. They don’t have to be alone.

The other thing that is really unique about Phoenix Multisport, is that all of our instructors, are what we call peer professionals. Which means, they’re in recovery themselves. Because we believe that they’re in this unique position of knowing what really works and what doesn’t, and what matters most. And they can also connect people into a broader sober community that as a clinician, I just could never do. It’s pretty amazing!

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