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When Sobriety and Recovery Meet the Professional World

July 20th, 2021
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From working with professionals as a psychotherapist and executive coach to actively continuing his own recovery, guest Jeff Chervenak offers both a professional and personal perspective about addiction and sobriety in this episode. Jeff and Zach discuss co-occurring disorders, navigating how to treat mental health and substance use disorders, and more.


Welcome to Recovery Radio by Landmark Recovery with your host, Zach Crouch. In this program, we’ll discuss the root causes and treatments of alcohol and substance addiction, speak with experts in related fields and help navigate the road to recovery. Now, here’s the host of Recovery Radio, Zach Crouch.

Zach: Everybody, Zach Crouch is here and you’re listening to Landmark Recovery Radio, your source for addiction and recovery news and knowledge. You can find us online wherever you get your podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe. We always love to get new people on the show, both listening and also guests. We have new content coming out each week. We have a guest, Jeff Chervenak, on the show today.

Jeff is an executive coach. He’s also a psychotherapist. He works with sober professionals using his expert training and life experience, combined with his unique approach to helping executives reach their next level of growth. He’s been sober and active in his own recovery since 1988. Good stuff. Jeff was also in the mortgage banking and brokerage business for over 30 years. He co-founded a company called Guaranteed Federal in 1989, where he served as president. Jeff Chervenak, welcome to the show.

Jeff: Hey, Zack. It’s great to be here.

Zach: I’m glad you’re on. It’s such an interesting topic, this whole thing with executives, mental health, and substance use. You are in the middle of this. From your perspective, what is a co-occurring disorder?

Jeff: It’s really a great question. A co-occurring disorder is an individual who has one or more mental health disorders in addition to SUD or substance use disorder. So, in addition to the addiction issue, you have these other underlying mental health issues. Many times, the SUD becomes the first item that they need to address. The other one and sometimes they’re just running in the background that is causing all kinds of problems but hasn’t risen to the level of looking for intervention. So, the issue is that when we get someone with a SUD, I’m talking to someone with a substance use problem, we’re immediately looking for other co-occurring disorders.

It used to be called dual diagnosis but now we’ve switched right to co-occurring as one that, in case people have heard that expression at the same time. Other kinds of things I’m talking about were anxiety disorders, depression, OCD, bipolar, in some rare cases of schizophrenia, and things like that. There are also items that aren’t really considered co-occurring per se, as a co-occurring disorder but have a similar impact to trauma. Pain is a really difficult issue that is co-occurring with SUD. So, all of these things sort of fall into the same kind of bucket.

Zach: If you’ve got co-occurring disorders going on, one’s obviously going to play off the other. As a professional, do you decide to kind of like, “Okay, we really need to address this bipolar disorder first.”? Or the issue is they’re using heroin and it’s a lethal substance, obviously. There’s a lot of people who have overdosed from that. Is each case different and you just sort of determined based on the presentation of the person that’s coming forward to you? How do you make that determination?

Jeff: First of all, it used to be believed that you treated the mental levels first and then the issue date. It was learned to be effective. So, the key is to treat them concurrently. You need to treat them both at the same time. One is informed by the other. You may emphasize one over the other depending on the severity initially but you cannot ignore either.

What’s important to know is that unless someone is asked in it, you can’t do anything. It’s very hard to get any work done that’s going to be productive. Abstinence and sobriety, I’m not relating them as being the same thing but at least abstinent for some period of time so that we can start to separate what came first, the chicken or the egg? And where the sobriety is and how much the drug use is impacting the mental illness and vice versa. Does that answer that question?

Zach: It does. One of the things that I was thinking about too is when someone is high or on drugs of any kind illicitly or even prescribed in alcohol for that matter and they’ve been on it for a long time, is it more appropriate to make a formal diagnostic call on a person’s mental health issues once they’re sober?

Jeff: It’s going to depend on the environment that you’re working in. Some environments are going to require that more than others as far as what the best treatment position is. I’m not a big performance proponent like boxing it in and following it to a specific protocol for that. If you’re treating the whole person, you need to be aware of what you’re dealing with but I don’t know if a real diagnosis is that helpful.

Zach: Jeff, talk to us about your time and working with this population. Is there some assessment that you do that will help out and maybe even for clinicians that are listening to this to sort of nail down what’s the best treatment for someone who has a coding disorder?

Jeff: There are standardized tests like the BDI, depression inventory, that is helpful and abused to help also getting a better history of what’s happened and how it’s formed in them. It helps people sort out what the experience they’re having with this disorder is. How is it playing out? It’s less amorphous. It also makes it a lot easier for the press to quantify it in terms of sobriety. There’s no question. Those are a big help. That’s part of the initial intake. It’s part of the initial interviews. It’s part of that whole process. So, yes.

Zach: Tell us a bit more about working with executives. How are they a different sort of breed than working with people who are not at that level?

Jeff: They have different pressures. They have different kinds of restrictions but they still have them. Everybody deals with very similar things. They’re less financially challenged to engage in treatment. I’ve worked with all types, at every stage of the recovery process. I have a number of clients that are 30 years old.

It’s hard to find differences in people because of where they are financial. It’s very difficult to define differences. I think we all sort of suffering from the same things. Yesterday, I had to be mindful because I’m dealing with somebody who has a different orientation to the world. So, how do I approach them? I would be true with anybody I’ve dealt with. I have to try to be cognizant of that. But as far as a class, how do they differ, I struggled to think of something that really sticks out for me on that.

Zach: How is your life experience? As admission, the intro helped you sort of navigating through working just with the various populations that you do.

Jeff: I’m not a spring chicken. I’ve had a lot of life and I came to this profession later in life. I came up through the trenches the more conventional way. I wasn’t really plugged into this industry early on and many are disdain for it because of all the stuff that goes that you struggle with in early sobriety. I’ve done many things and worked with many people. I’ve managed a lot of people.

I’ve had to deal with their personal issues, their strengths, and their weaknesses and tried to support them. Those are some of the skills that I bring to executive coaching. How is that? I’ve been sober for a long time. When you keep your nose to the grindstone and just keep doing the next thing, you accumulate skills and insights like you can almost cope by accident. That’s something that’s deliberate. So, I’m able to draw on those really opportune times.

Zach: What would you say to people who are in recovery who are working on their own sort of profession or skill set or whatever that looks like to focus on? Would it be a balance of recovery, family, and work? Or would it be just like, “Hey, you might go through a season in life where work is really hard and challenging and the same holds true with family.”? I mean, finding that balance is really important. Do you find that to be true with the folks that you work with, as well?

Jeff: No questions about what’s important and not forgetting where your weaknesses are and where your strengths are so you don’t lose touch with your program, whatever program you’re on that you’re doing to fix sober. I rarely see people lose their balance going to more meetings or working harder on the program. It turns out the balance always shifts to one of these other things that pull you away from your family or your work. Balance has to do really with making certain. You’ve got the counterweight still there. Through bio personal experience, I’ve learned the hard way not to do that or thinking that you’re not focusing on that just knowing it is insufficient.

Zach: I was going to say there is a guy like you who has a tremendous amount of sobriety. Do you still find meetings, sponsorship, and all the sort of things that go along with recovery valuable? How has that changed when you first started to where you are now?

Jeff: It’s a cornerstone of my life. It’s hard hearing me say that is interesting. In the beginning, I could never imagine that to be true. How is it? It’s an ongoing process. Yes, I still have meetings and I still work with people. It’s a process. I’ll tell you that I had no idea a 10-year sober, that 20 years sober was going to be so much better or the challenges that have between those two and come out the other side.

In 25 years, I had no idea that 30 years would be better. And in 33 years, I had no idea that this would be so much better than it was when I was 30 in spite of the challenges because there have been lots of very difficult life challenges along the way. Despite that, it keeps getting better. I could never have believed that I heard what I was by yourself.

Zach: Do you look at things like your relationship with people with a higher power is like that’s been one of the big things that stuck out on how good it’s gotten?

Jeff: I can’t follow your question exactly. Belief is reliant. Someone greater and greater than myself relies on God is reliant on a higher power. Is that an important feature in my life? The answer is yes. My ego wants to take over. It always wants to be in charge. It’s a fear-based structure that I used to face the world. It constantly wants to take over and take charge. That generally leads me down the wrong path pretty consistently.

If I turn it over, it allows me to separate a bit from that force inside me that is valuable that I need, that it serves me well but gets out of cathartic control. By relying on God, in the way I was present, gives me the power to separate from that in a way that settles me. At this point, it happened. I do it as I think. When I’m dealing with clients, I could kind of see inside them their own relationship with that essence inside them. I try to see that in them to connect with them.

Zach: Sure. Fantastic, man. I’m glad that a lot of people are now asking for help. I hate that it took a pandemic to do that. It seems that that’s been a pretty consistent theme and pleased with guests that I’ve talked to that mental health pieces are much more real now. Do you find that also to be true with the people that you work with during the past year?

Jeff: It helps for the bottom to be hit with the mental health issues because they become more acute. For that reason, they weren’t able to distract them easily. So, yes. The long-simmering items are suddenly on the front burner now and causing a problem in a more obvious way for them. That’s true. The pressure cooker of the COVID in the house in [Inaudible][17:15] working.

The kids are all the time. It’s just to get like being thrown into some sort of boot camp or something for your mental health. We’ll see how you come out the other side. People need help. I hope that they really don’t hesitate to do that because health isn’t always a lifetime commitment. The struggle and suffering with whatever’s going on for you are sad for me.

Zach: You don’t have to. There’s a choice. That’s a simple way to put it. Jeff, how do people find out about your services and what you do? Do you have a website?

Jeff: Actually, it was being rebuilt right now. It should be in the next couple of days. JeffChervenak.com, J-E-F-F-C-H-E-R- V like Victor E-N-A-K.com.

Zach: Fantastic. Thank you, Jeff, for taking the time to come to the show today. I always end by saying, if you know someone who’s struggling with an addiction and you’re searching for answers, you can also visit us at landmarkrecovery.com. You’re going to learn more about substance abuse programs that are both saving lives and empowering families. And until next week, I’m Zack Crouch with Landmark Recovery Radio. Wishing you well.

Thank you for tuning in to Recovery Radio. New content for this program is available every Tuesday at 12 noon Eastern Time and 9 am Pacific time, with all episodes available on-demand on The Voice America Health and Wellness Channel and through our content partners iTunes, Stitcher, Tune in, and Google Play Podcasts. Please remember to subscribe, rate, and review so we can continue to create quality content to help save 1 million lives in the next 100 years. You don’t need to struggle through addiction alone. Live the life you’ve dreamed on the road to recovery.

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Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.

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