RAW sat with its Clinical Director Josh New to talk about his role, his life, and his passion heading into a brand new year of helping people into recovery.
(Editor’s note: We are enormously blessed to have this man in our lives.)
RAW: Tell me about your clinical background.
Josh New: I had been sober probably about six years and then was in the financial industry doing financial planning. I had my stockbroker’s license and everything, and it wasn’t filling me up. There wasn’t a lot of meaning going on in my life, or so I thought. It just didn’t feel rewarding to me. I remember my team leader saying I spent too much time on phone calls with people and wasn’t really efficient because I wasn’t really making them any money. And he was like, “You’re not their counselor!” And I started thinking about that stuff and I was seeing a mentor of mine who was in recovery, and we were kind of going back and forth — I was at a crossroads in my life and he was like, “Well I told you, go be a counselor!” So he helped me get into school.
I went to the University of New England and got a Master’s Degree in Clinical Social Work, with both a micro and macro focus, and a graduate certification in Addiction Studies. I had been paying my way through school working in the Social Work field mainly with at-risk youth in the foster care system and group homes where foster kids had run the gamut — either had been in a ton of foster care homes, had been in and out of the Youth Center — and it was really hard to place these kids into the foster homes because they had kind of gotten a name for themselves. So at the time, in Maine, they had set up these places similar to residential sober living programs and that’s where I started working while I was going to graduate school. It gave me a good idea into how all that stuff blends together — running a program, starting out as an overnight tech, and learning the clinical side of it in the mornings at school.
So right when I got out of school the place I’d been working hired me to do mobile outreach in the rural areas of Maine because they didn’t have a lot of access to services. I’d go into the homes and start working an hour and a half with the kid and an hour and a half with the family. I saw a lot of trauma, and recognized some things as a person in recovery myself — it was obvious there were a lot of substance abuse issues in waiting if they weren’t already there. I started to realize that even if I wasn’t going into these homes to deal with substance abuse issues, I was certainly working with people with substance abuse issues. And I saw in the community mental health and social work fields — it was really draining, and I just didn’t see a lot of productivity being done or people helped. I wanted to expand on helping people specifically with substance abuse, not only because that was in my personal background but because I saw the need.
I had a conversation with a guy who was running a treatment center in Texas, and he said, “Why don’t you come be a clinician down here?” And I said, “That’s in Texas, man! I’m up here in Maine! I’d have to have my whole family buy into that.” I told my wife and she said, “Absolutely. You’ve kind of burnt out with what you’re doing here.” And I said “Yeah, these will be people going in and wanting treatment.” I had rose-colored glasses and thinking that people wanting treatment would be easy to work with — I was young. I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into!
I went [to Texas], and it was a great experience. I learned a lot of what I’ve built myself clinically on at Burning Tree. It was long-term residential treatment center and heavily based on the 12 Steps, but allowing the clinicians to put in their clinical modalities and do their work. So that’s where it all started for me. I was at Burning Tree for about three and a half years.
That friend of mine who helped me get hired in Texas flew me up to New Hampshire to talk about me becoming the Clinical Director, which became more of an Executive Director role for his sober living and outpatient program while I helped with his licensing and programs for his new residential treatment services. In 2015 I was looking for something new again and helped start Riverbend’s Intensive Outpatient Program. It started tiny, and turned into two daytime groups and a nighttime program. Then a friend in Laconia needed help starting Riverbank’s program, and then Ryan [Gagne, RAW owner/RAW Chief Operating Officer] pulled me in. I’ve known Ryan for what feels like a long time, and I couldn’t resist partnering with him.
RAW: How do you feel starting at RAW?
Josh New: Awesome. Knowing Ryan well, and knowing his philosophy behind recovery matching mine … I’m a guy that got sober using the 12 Steps [of Alcoholics Anonymous], and in my experience in recovery, being sober 17 years now, my recovery looks a lot different than it did when I got sober in the ‘halls’ of AA. Step 11 has really been one of the major steps for me, in expanding my conscious contact with God and his will for me. It’s always been a constant pursuit. When you hear people comparing Bill [Wilson, AA cofounder] and Bob [Smith, AA cofounder] — Bill was a big Step 12 guy and Bob was a big Step 11 guy, and I can relate to Bob’s experience. My spirituality has expanded out past the 12 Steps and I’ve stayed sober, I’m actively engaged in a spiritual process and the action that I take in my chosen fellowship. So Ryan and I would always talk about this stuff. His experience was similar in the paths he’s gone down, and operating from a place that demonstrates that the principles of the 12 Steps can be found in a lot of different areas. We can really help people who might not be open to the 12 Steps at first and help them find ways to work those principles through other avenues.
And then I got to go down and meet the Amethyst Recovery team in Florida, and they were just super people. I’m an intuitive guy — I like to think that my gut directs me in the right way. I don’t always listen to it, and I’ve ignored it sometimes and ended up in some situations, like, “Man!” But when it feels right, I just know. And they’re just a great bunch of people. They care a lot. A lot of people in the treatment industry say they care but I think a sometimes it can be lip service. But with this guys I can see it in their actions, not just their words. I love being here. Everyone asks me back home, “Geez, it seems like you’re putting in a lot of hours,” but it just doesn’t feel like it. It’s just exciting to be a part of it, always trying to figure out how we can do something better. It’s an exciting place to be.
RAW: Can you describe your role here?
Josh New: My role is the Clinical Director, so ultimately what I’m responsible for is developing with our Program Director the clinical curriculum and programming of the facility and overseeing the clinicians and their clinical process, the intake process — making sure everything is done in compliance not only with insurance rules and regulations but also State requirements. That’s the administrative role I play. The more fun role I play is really getting in with the clients and making sure that in those groups they’re getting something out of it. I’ve seen from my own experience personally and in my work, there can be these cookie-cutter groups that just don’t connect for people. I know they’re in the [text]books and the material is presented in different ways, which is important. But there’s definitely a better way of taking that information that isn’t so boring that can keep people engaged and connected. So that’s the part I really like — helping clinicians and group facilitators that might be new at running groups to learn how to do it.
RAW: Tell me about your experience in recovery.
Josh New: I was one of these guys that … drugs and alcohol worked for me for a small period of time and then it just stopped working pretty quickly. I started using at 13 — it was alcohol that I first got introduced to — it was one of those like, dances that you went to with kids drinking before the dance. I drank and it immediately did for me what I needed it to. It got rid of my anxiety, my fear, my insecurities, and I fell in love with it. I knew for sure that this was something I had to do every day. I just wanted to — that obsession was turned on immediately and didn’t shut off for a decade. My mission in life was about how often I could get drunk or smoke weed. It’s kind of that youthful pride of how good I could get at it. The straight-A student athlete — all that stuff started to go by the wayside incrementally. All these things that I was really proud of — good grades, playing basketball and football, going to the Naval Academy — that stuff was no longer my focus. My grades started to slip, attendance at school started to slip, to where I was a top athlete in my peer group and then in my senior year I wasn’t even into sports anymore. I was smoking crack, taking LSD, and it was just a complete 180 from what my goals were at the start of high school. I missed my finals week because I was in jail, my parents didn’t know what to do with me. They had sent me to treatment when I was 17 and I was discharged within a couple days. I was getting into a lot of fights, getting OUI’s.
I had started going to a junior college here in Manchester. I had actually been accepted into Northeastern University and didn’t want to go because I knew it was going to be too much work and it would interfere with my goal, which was to continue my drinking and drug use. Ironically, I was studying criminal justice. Because this is the distorted thinking of the person with addiction — I thought I could get into undercover work so I could steal the drugs and use them myself. And somehow it would work. I could be the junk** police officer, just playing that role. Just distorted thinking. But early in my second semester I got introduced to — because unfortunately, I was a violent alcoholic, and I’d get arrested for drunken disorderly and just breaking stuff — and I ended up getting introduced to heroin. A friend said, “I’ve got the perfect thing for you.” Because by that time nobody wanted to be around me, I was just a headache, family members didn’t want me around. When I got introduced to heroin it was like that experience at age 13 again, where it was like, “Ahhh … this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. My life works again.” The alcohol had stopped working when I was 18 years old. It just didn’t shut off the pain and the insecurities anymore. But at age 20, heroin helped me find new legs again. But then it ripped me apart a lot faster than alcohol had. Alcohol took me 5 or 6 years to break me down. Heroin brought me all the way down within two years. I’d go to treatment for 28 days, thought I could go back to drinking or smoking weed, and it never worked out.
I always loved poetry and writing and songwriting. All my heroes did heroin. So I thought that was appropriate for me, and I followed that mentality that I could get ‘in touch’ with that stuff.
I got into a bad car accident and all my teeth fell out, that’s how I got that *clicks denture*. It was one of those things that put my life back into perspective. I was drinking out of a straw to get drunk, and the depression of my life came over me again and I wanted to end my life. An intuitive thought, which I attribute to my higher power today, came in and said, “It’s not time for you to die. And you need to get help.” That was just foreign to me. And when I look back, I know that wasn’t from me; that was something looking after me. I called up a taxi, went over to my father’s house, and they got me back into treatment. But when I got to the treatment center — this was way before the Affordable Care Act — they said “he’s exhausted all of his lifetime benefits for drugs and alcohol treatment.” My dad was like, “What are you talking about? My son’s gonna die!” And they were like, “We’ll try to work with the insurance company but the most we’re going to be able to keep him is a couple days.”
So after a short stay at treatment my dad payed cash for me to stay in a sober living house out in California. I was there for 10 months, did well, I worked for them as a house manager, did the 12 Steps, felt really good — and at about 16 months sober I stopped ‘doing the deal’. And we all know what happens when you stop doing the deal. You think you’re God again, and you forget Step 1. And I found myself at a liquor store holding two bottles of Bacardi 151. And the whole time it was in slow motion, like, “What the hell am I doing?” My sponsor had let me use his truck because I didn’t have a car. So I sat out in the truck in front of the liquor store and cracked a bottle and I started drinking with tears coming down my face because I knew what was going to happen. Long story, short — it was a pretty crazy two weeks. And then I hit a bottom. Having nowhere to go in Southern California when you’re from Portland, Maine — I had no business trying to navigate those streets and the places I ended up. My brother was stationed in San Diego, he came up and found me but he couldn’t keep me from drinking. He put me on a plane back to Maine, and I had had some friends in AA in Portland. My parents took me from the plane to an AA meeting and I got back into the Steps. I’ve been sober since. That was 1999.
What that whole relapse made me understand was that recovery is something that I have to work on for the rest of my life. That I need a higher power and a spiritual program in my life forever. It’s not that the 12 Steps are something where you start at one and end at 12 and that’s it. That’s part of the ignorance I had initially. I’d had an experience that first time but I failed to maintain. Again, I don’t think I really had a belief that I was powerless over alcohol but my relapse showed me that I am.
So my first two years in recovery this time were solidly based in the action of Alcoholics Anonymous, and then I switched over to … hey, I’m long-winded! I mean, a man’s favorite topic — do you know what it is?
Josh New: That’s right! I’m shameless about that.
RAW: So in your experience as a clinician, where do you see … how do I phrase this? So we have lots of options in the treatment system and industry for people who are going to hit the ground running with a 12-Step track, but I’m sure that in your clinical experience you see that modality not working for everyone. How does RAW differ?
Josh New: I think the biggest thing about how we operate is about offering people — again, if we look at anything, if we’re talking about the 12 Steps and other spiritual pathways, there’s some fundamental principles that intertwine through all of it. I don’t think anyone at AA or NA has a monopoly on spiritual principles. So instead of sitting there and telling people ‘This is the only way you can learn these principles and implement them in your life’ is false. For me, it’s about teaching people those principles no matter how I get there. There’s a million ways to bake a cake. You’re still going to get the cake. Mary might make it a different way, I might make it another, but at the end it’s still a cake, right? For me what’s important, because it’s a promise I made to God while I was on my knees completely desperate, I said, “I feel completely alone. I’ve felt alone for a long time. If you change my life so I’m not alone anymore, I promise I’ll make sure that no one else feels alone, either.” And I’ve tried to honor that promise. I think from my own experience, and from my experience working with other people, it doesn’t matter if the person with addiction has a loving and supportive family and is surrounded by tons of sober, supportive friends … they can still feel so alone in an abyss of emptiness. And if I can help connect with them in some way, then I think it makes it easier to get them out of where they are and to ‘do the deal’ — whatever that is. So I think if a guy comes in and he’s resistant to the 12 Steps, if I continually push him into 12 Steps then I’m doing nothing to foster that connection. Kind of going against that promise that I made to God … I’m becoming a source of contention rather than I am of a place of connection. And that’s always been where I try to operate out of. Like, “Josh…are you building a connection here or are you pushing someone away?” Ultimately for me it’s about ‘How do I connect with this person?’. Because if I can connect with that person and they feel that, then they get hope. They can say, ‘Oh, I’m not alone! I can trust this guy.’ It’s less about, to me, whether it’s SMART Recovery, 12 Steps, faith-based — it’s always about ‘What am I doing to establish a connection with this person?’
RAW: Would you say that that’s a difference between treatment and recovery?
Josh New: Yes. Absolutely. Because sometimes you can go into treatment, and there are a bunch of great people and talents, but they get so caught up in the mechanics of things that they fail to allow the humanness of themselves shine through in their role. And it’s no fault of their own … that’s what the treatment industry has always perpetuated — that the therapists and professionals are blank slates who just have to go through the motions. And I disagree. I think people want to feel a part of and connected to. What better way are they going to do that than with the first people they’re trying to connect to in treatment. If I’m just going through the motions of what treatment has to look like, they’re just not going to pick up on it. They won’t trust you or think you understand who they are. I’m very transparent about myself and my recovery. I don’t try to make people think that because I’m a clinician or because I’ve been 17 years sober that I’m perfect in recovery at all. I’ll come in when it’s therapeutically appropriate to give examples of how in my own recovery I’ve made mistakes. The thing I always tell them is, you’re going to be imperfect. People come into treatment with a lot of shame. It’s a shame-based disease. It’s different for everyone where that comes from. But working through a lot of that for me … once I accepted the fact that I’m going to make mistakes, it made recovery a lot easier for me.
RAW: So you feel vulnerability has a role in treatment.
Josh New: 100%. I don’t know any other way to do it. And I know a lot of colleagues of mine look at some of the groups I’ve run and are confused. But I go by not the feedback I get from my peers but by the people receiving the service. And a lot of people I counseled 7 years ago, 10 years ago, they still keep in touch with me about how effective that was for them. And I only do that because that’s what was effective for me. It was this group facilitator, this skateboarder. He was 26, I was 21. And I was so resistant to anyone else until he got on my level. I learned that he was just like me, but he wasn’t using drugs anymore. And suddenly recovery became real and attainable for me.
RAW: What clinical services do you specialize in?
Josh New: Mainly from a modalities perspective it’s motivational interviewing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), positive psychology … I like to come from a strengths-based perspective. I don’t think shaming someone with addiction and beating them up about their character defects is useful or helpful because, hell, that person has been doing that for years anyway. They’re pretty clear on what it is that they need to change. They may just need help. I don’t think we’re making them aware of some of those things. I think why clients can become so defensive is that they don’t want to feel what they know is broken. And when you can hold them in that pain when it comes up and walk through that with them, and help them understand that they’re OK, they let the wall down. So I try to be less focused on the negative aspects of somebody’s life and personality and try to shift the conversations over to the strengths that will carry them out of those states. Because mindset is huge. If someone is always going to be bombarded and reinforced in a negative mindset, that continually will be their emotional mindset and where they stay. And I don’t want people to stay there, I want people to be in a mindset that’s more positive and loving and kind. If that stuff can be reinforced in their mind, then that will be the outcome of their life.
I’m also trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which is a form of treatment for people with trauma.
RAW: Can you describe the treatment someone receives at RAW’s Partial Hospitalization (PHP) level of care?
Josh New: We want to address mind, body, spirit, relationship and social dynamics, and relapse prevention. In any of those five areas you’re going to get a good education around how addiction affects those areas as well as some solutions for how to heal those areas. ‘I want to heal the mind, I want to heal the spirit, and I want to heal my relationships, and I want to prevent relapse’. We want to identify problems people have in those areas and then identify strengths and tools that they can use to address those areas. And that’s where the different roads to recovery come in — mindfulness, meditation, art therapy, the Thrive Outdoors team helping clients to develop a strong mindset and attitude (which are incredibly important in recovery, but does it in a way that’s interactive and fun). We go over those topics every day. Each day is assigned a different area of healing. Monday is Mind, Tuesday is body, Wednesday is Spirit, Thursday is Relationships, Friday is Relapse Prevention. Clients have their clinical services in the morning — individual meetings, process and psychoeducational groups — and in the afternoons they have 12 Step and other recovery track facilitation, holistic healing groups like art therapy, Native American healing, meditation, etc. We give people different ways to connect, ways to communicate what, spiritually, they need to heal from and express. I’m open to the idea that we’re still not done yet! But we’re on the right track. We’ve only scratched the surface of all we can do to help people to heal and connect, and to clean out a lot of that stuff that has blocked them off from life.
RAW: What can a client expect upon admission?
Josh New: Clients will arrive at our PHP facility and do an intake with an Intake Coordinator. They will be assigned a primary therapist, and they will stay with that therapist throughout their stay at the PHP level and their small groups will consist of that therapist’s case load. In the afternoon programming, there are more community-based groups so clients can interact with people from other therapists’ case loads. We have a family program run by a family therapist who works hand-in-hand with our clients’ primary therapists. Once a month she facilitates a family workshop held over the weekend that families can participate in. She keeps in contact by phone and webinar with the families throughout the client’s stay at RAW, as well as with the clients’ primary therapists to coordinate care between the families and the clients. We focus on bringing the families together with the clients whenever possible, in a clinically managed way.
RAW: How do you see your role changing the role addiction has in our community?
Josh New: I’m not that big! I just hope I change individuals’ lives by giving them the opportunity to see that life can be different and that recovery is possible. I’m not grandiose to think that I’m going to change the whole industry, even in Concord. I just focus on helping the individual that comes through the door. I just try to keep it there.
RAW: What would you say to someone who feels alone and hopeless in their addiction?
Josh New: I come from a good family, a great family that was always supportive, loving, gave me everything I wanted. I didn’t go without. I didn’t have the hardships that a lot of the people I’ve counseled or been friends with had. But I always felt alone in my insecurities and detached from other people, even before I picked up a drink. I don’t think there’s anything I can say — I think it’s more about what can I show them. If I can figure out how to build a connection with someone — anyone can come up with some one-liner that’s going to sound good but it won’t make someone feel less alone. Over time, the connection I build with that person, how much I invest in my action with them, and getting creative — not just working out of these books *points to textbooks* but figuring out how to connect. It’s more about, ‘Hey, stay here long enough and I can show you a way of living that’s going to be better than the way you’re living now. And I always think words are 10% of what affects people in our relationships with them, but 90% is our behavior and our actions, the unsaid. So even though I’m a therapist and words are important — words are useless!
RAW: So what would you say to somebody before they make it to your office? Somebody out there...
Josh New: Everybody’s experiences are different, but they’re not. It’s different when I’m talking with people in groups, when they want to focus on like, ‘I’m not like this guy, I’m not like that guy.’ I get it. Addiction, on the exterior, looks different on a lot of people. There are consequences of a life of addiction that make people look different. Some people have never been to prison, some people have never overdosed, or gotten an OUI, or used needles. That all looks different. But the similarity? That’s all the internal stuff. What do we experience emotionally and how do we manage those emotions? So what I try to share with people is my experience of that. What I’ve seen resonate with people is sharing that spiritual malady, and how I got out of that. And people seem to tune in. I know that if you give someone with addiction one option on the table, it can make someone feel pretty bleak. But if you can show them multiple options, it can give someone a sense of hope that like, ‘OK. I can connect to something here.’ So I know what’s worked for me and a lot of other people, but you’re going to have your own journey. And having that process of discovery facilitated … it’s what we’re here to do.
RAW: I would feel lucky to be under your care. In a sentence or less, what is addiction?
Josh New: For me, addiction felt like an inescapable prison. It was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced. It gives you the illusion of control and freedom, but it’s just the opposite. Without my addiction in my life, I’m not bound to anything. Don’t get me wrong, there’s tons of stuff I need to work on and problems coming into my life. What was that thing someone said to me? ‘The biggest lie you can tell yourself is that you shouldn’t have problems.’ We all have problems. That’s just life. But I’ve never felt hopeless or chained to those problems ever in my recovery. That’s why I think addiction is so brutal because you just feel like you’re chained to that sucker forever. And it’s exhausting to try to figure out, ‘Can I even make it? Every day with this thing?’ It wasn’t that I was scared to die. I was afraid to live much longer chained to [my addiction]. But recovery? Man. I was fortunate enough to get sober at 23, and I’ve had some pretty significant things happen in my life — I have a family now — and I just don’t feel imprisoned by those things. I don’t feel a victim to any of it because recovery has given me that freedom. Because there’s a solution out there, I just have to have some faith, put out my hand, ask for help when I need it, and I don’t have to do anything alone. A solution will be by eventually. It’s freeing.
RAW: So addiction is bondage. And recovery is…?
Josh New: Freedom … There’s my one sentence!