Looking back at her days of substance abuse from the perspective of four years in recovery, Julie Tomlin remembers the moment that finally pushed her to seek treatment.
She was addicted to alcohol and marijuana. The personal cost had been great, she says, but up to this point she hadn’t gone too far, at least in her mind. She hadn’t been arrested. A lot of people still didn’t know about her problem.
“I knew how bad I was, but I didn’t want my children to suffer from that,” she recalls.
But one night, she got “really drunk” in front of her children.
“They had not seen me that way before,” she says. Usually she didn’t start until they were in bed. “It had gotten way out of control and I realized I couldn’t stop myself anymore.”
Today, Tomlin owns and operates a hair salon in Greenwood, Indiana, while she works on the side with others who need help as she has. “I cut hair and counsel people,” she says.
Last month she graduated from IWU with a degree in addictions counseling — a member of the very first cohort to receive a bachelor’s degree from this particular program in the IWU College of Adult and Professional Studies. Stewart Turner-Ball, director of the Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences in IWU’s College of Adult and Professional Studies, was very impressed by the drive he saw in every member of this cohort.
“We’re proud to have a group that really aspires to grow professionally,” Turner-Ball says.
“This is a group of people that really feel they have found their life’s calling,” says Donald Osborn, who directs the graduate addictions counseling program and occasionally taught this cohort at the undergrad level.
Tomlin plans to go on to study addictions counseling on the Master’s level through IWU’s graduate program. She intends to seek licensure and ultimately hopes to focus more on counseling, even full-time if the opportunity arises.
“It can be frustrating at times, because a lot of people don’t get better,” Tomlin says,” but the ones that do, I find a tremendous amount of satisfaction when I can help someone to get their life back.”
Tomlin’s classmate Vaughn Walker is also in recovery, from polysubstance abuse. He’s been clean for eight years, and he works as an assistant director at Sowers of Seeds Counseling in Anderson, Indiana.
“I wanted to volunteer to help some people out,” Walker says. “The more I got involved, the more I decided I needed to go get the education.”
Walker credits “the 12 steps and God” with putting him on the road to recovery. He had gone to counseling before and ultimately relapsed. “This time, I had the tools — the 12 steps — but I’ve seen it fail for so many people. I really got ahold of God, and that’s what helped me.”
Through the IWU addictions counseling program, he learned whole new dimensions of what has become his life’s calling. “I was a big book thumper. I knew the 12 steps inside and out.”
His professors took him beyond the 12 steps. In class, he learned about techniques like motivational interviewing, which focuses on asking questions and letting the clients find their own answers. “A lot of the clients are ambivalent, so we’re basically trying to tip the scales.”
He says he also learned the ethos of client-centered counseling. “I learned the idea of a program as a whole person [rather than] just the twelve steps.”
Walker and Tomlin both appreciated the Christian emphasis of IWU’s program. The two of them agree that the church sometimes turns a blind eye to the problems of addiction.
“I think the church is still kind of like, ‘well, let’s go to the altar,'” Walker says. “They don’t understand the disease behind the addictions.”
“I feel like most people in my area believe it’s a disease,” Tomlin said, “but I think that there’s definitely a lot of judgment with people who, if you say, ‘oh, they’re an addict’ — there’s a negative connotation to that word.”
Turner-Ball believes that the church can often be ineffective in dealing with addiction because many misunderstand the healing process. Based on statistics, he says, on any given Sunday, 10% of the congregation may be struggling with addictions.
“We know that God is perfectly capable of healing anyone of anything if He so chooses,” Turner-Ball said. “We also know that usually, in addictions and in relationships, God does not heal them in an episodic way. He heals them over time, through a process of recovery, a process of change.”
Walker wants to see the church build support networks for addicts coming out of treatment and reentering society.
“A lot of the people I deal with at work, they’re coming out of prison and they’re basically — I don’t know of a polite way to say this, so I’m just going to say it — they’re all tatted up, they walk in, people know they just got out of prison,” Walker says. “I think a lot of people in the church are just scared of them.”
“Addicts are sick just like somebody with cancer,” Tomlin says. “There are some churches that are reaching out, but there’s still a lot of them that tend to shun people that have addictions.”
Walker says acceptance means responding to souls rather than outward appearances — welcoming everyone who comes through the doors of a church, no matter what they look like.
“And let’s be honest — if we go out and we invite a bunch of strippers to church — when they come to church, they’re going to be dressed like strippers,” Walker says.
Addictions counseling is a growing field; all six students in IWU’s first cohort had a job or grad school placement in their field before they walked across the stage. Turner-Ball says that there has consistently been a shortage of about 5,000 counselors in the addictions counseling field every year over the past few years.
Part of the reason, Tomlin says, is that there are a lot of addictions now competing for counselors’ attention, like Internet addiction, gambling addiction, and sex addiction — not to mention the new chemical dependencies that continually crop up.
“Most people that I know that are in recovery are really awesome people,” Tomlin says. “I still have my group of AA friends that I run around with…the 12-step program isn’t just about not drinking or not using — it’s about becoming a better person. It’s a wellness program. And the people in recovery, the ones that are actually working a program, are a lot more put together than a lot of people.”
“I think that everybody could benefit from doing 12-step work,” Tomlin says.
As Tomlin and the others head for the next stage in their counseling careers, Osborn has high expectations for graduates of IWU’s addictions conseling program.
“We’re actually growing the next generation…not only therapists but professors, researchers, program directors, CEOs of treatment facilities will be born out of the Indiana Wesleyan program,” Osborn says.