One of Farris Barakat’s favorite parts of the Light House: A plaque depicting the silhouettes of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha made by a company started by North Carolina State undergraduate students is one of Farris’ favorite parts of the house. (Cole del Charco/NextGenRadio)

Using A ‘Doctorate in Life’ To Aid In Recovery

by | Jun 27, 2017

Kirk Parsons has always been an all-or-nothing person. Today, he’s immersed in his work as a recovery specialist. In the past, his energy was put towards his addiction.  

“[Now] I am able to take really what is a ‘doctorate in life’, my 8 years of using, and use it to help other people,” said Parsons.

Parsons battled an addiction to methamphetamines before seeking treatment at a facility in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia. Now he works as a Certified Recovery Specialist at the Mazzoni Center in South Philly, where they are developing a new type of intensive outpatient therapy to combat rising rates of people battling addiction in the LGBTQ community.

According to a 2008 study from the Society for the Study of Addiction, lesbian, gay and bisexual youth have a 190 percent higher chance of developing an addiction than heterosexual youth. And 10 years ago, most of the reasons for this remained unknown.

For Parsons, however, the roots of his addiction are closely tied to the pressures most gay men experience in a “hetero-dominant” world.

“I just finished reading ‘The Velvet Rage’ by Dr. [Alan] Downs,” said Parsons. “It deals with a lot of the invalidation that gay men experience and therefore a lot of shame, a lot of guilt, growing up and living in a hetero-dominant society. While I did not seek out drugs to cope with any of my problems, I knew that I had enough problems and challenges as it was.”

Using a "Doctorate in Life" to Aid in Recovery

by Jon Dowding | Next Generation Radio

Randall Faulkner, who serves as the Manager of Addictive Services at the Mazzoni Center, is crafting the plans for the new Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) at the Center.

Drugs were an escape from the pressures of the world explained Parsons. Their use was also intimately associated with “socializing, being out with people, sex, [and] music”.

Randall Faulkner, the Manager of Addictive Services at Mazzoni, also believes shame has a major role in why people in the LGBTQ community exhibit more addictive behaviors.

“Certainly a lot of folks come in feeling that they have been ‘othered’ by their families, by their religious community, their culture,” said Faulkner. “And then they come into the LGBTQ community and find that they’re also being ‘othered’, being disrespected, being judged.”

“I’ve talked to other folks in other cities and it’s not uncommon,” said Faulkner. “It’s certainly been something I’ve heard in other treatment centers across the country.”

In response to this, the Mazzoni Center will be launching the region’s first Intensive Outpatient Program this fall, providing recovery services specifically crafted for those in the LGBTQ community who are dealing with addiction.

In recent years, Faulkner has seen an increase of patients seeking help with addiction. This is a result of the prevalence of drugs and alcohol in many gay “safe spaces,” as well as a general lack of specialized addiction services for LGBTQ people.

“While it’s hard to reach out and show yourself, trust that you can be met by somebody else.”

Randall Faulkner

Manager of Addictive Services, Mazzoni Center

“It’s going to be three days a week, for three hours a day of intensive treatment that’s going to focus on maintaining their recovery [and] relapse prevention,” said Faulkner. The program will also examine the inception of one’s addiction as a way to create new coping tools for any challenges they may face while in recovery.

Now in his seventh year of recovery, Parsons admits to facing challenges most people in recovery would experience, especially the pressure to never make a mistake again.

“I think that’s unfortunate, I think that’s punitive to think like that and it certainly doesn’t help folks,” said Parsons. “So as I assist people, I work to support them in a very validating manner. There is no one pathway to recovery, there is multiple ways.”

Once renovation is complete, the Mazzoni Center will begin holding group therapy, as well as other events in these break-out rooms.

We are finding, coaching and training public media’s next generation. This #nextgenradio project is created in partnership with WHYY-FM Philadelphia. Learn more about Next Generation Radio and upcoming programs.

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