Micheal Sedjo, or Mike, a Canton Ohio native, used his first drug when he was 12 years old. This was the start of 22 years of drug use and 5 unsuccessful attempts at treatment and long-term recovery, until finally in October of 2017, Mike says he was ready to surrender. By that time, Mike had lost everything. His home, his job, his son, and his family support were all gone and he was bankrupt, spiritually, mentally, and physically.
When Mike entered treatment the for the 6th time, things were different, but he had no idea that the path he was on would lead him to where he is now. Before Mike was in recovery, he worked construction and other odd jobs. He assumed that after this time in treatment, he would return to that work, but clearly there was a different plan in place for Mike’s life.
Today, Mike works for a treatment center in West Virginia and runs a faith-based sober living program for men, but this didn’t happen overnight. When Mike completed treatment and entered a long-term sober living program that’s when he began to really change. He learned “a different definition of the word love”, that love has no conditions, and no judgments. I asked Mike what experiences during that time stuck with him. He shared a story with me that he said really “changed his outlook on everything”.
“It sparked something inside me, of how to treat people and what it meant to love someone with no conditions.”
When Mike was in the sober living program with 15 other guys, there was one man who had been divorced from his wife, but they had both recently found recovery and gotten back together. Mike shared “we had a great conversation in the basement one night about them remarrying and picking out wedding rings.” The morning after that hopeful conversation though, the man woke up to a phone call from her father saying that she had relapsed that night and passed away. Mike said that “it was really hard to deal with”.
That day another man in the program took off work to stay with the man who lost his wife. Later that night he even slept on the basement steps to be near the man, so that someone would be there with him if he woke up. Mike said seeing the man’s selfless actions really showed him what it meant to love and care about people. The man who slept on the steps had only known the man who lost his wife for a few days. To see someone show that kind of love to a practical stranger gave Mike a whole new perspective on how he wanted to live. He said “it sparked something inside me, of how to treat people and what it meant to love someone with no conditions.”
As his time went on in the program, Mike himself fell in love with helping people. He became the go-to guy for those who needed help in early recovery. Then in August, 2018 the owner of the sober living program he was a part of relapsed, leaving Mike and 15 others on their own. When this happened, Mike stepped up to lead the program in his place and still runs the program today. This is actually how Mike and I first met, because soon after taking over the sober living program, Mike added it to the relink.org database so more people could find out about their services.
“I wouldn’t be here if someone didn’t take a chance on me, so I’ve got to give everyone the same chance.”
Mike’s entry into working for a local treatment center seemed to happen just as naturally as it did for leading the sober living program. As people started calling Mike to come to his sober living home, he realized that some had needs that were different from what he could fulfill. He developed relationships with many local treatment providers to refer people and eventually one offered him a job as an outreach coordinator. Today, Mike gets 20-35 calls every week from people seeking help and through the networks he has built locally and nationally, Mike seeks to connect each person with the right program for them, whether it is the one he works for or not. “I wouldn’t be here if someone didn’t take a chance on me, so I’ve got to give everyone the same chance” Mike said.
As a person in recovery, working to help others struggling with addiction, Mike said one of the most beautiful things about his job is seeing people get their lives back. From things like getting to see children again that were taken away, to something simple like getting a new drivers license, he is always fulfilled to see the joy and excitement of those he helps. “It only takes one person to accept your advice and get their life together and that’s it. There’s no high on the planet that compares to seeing the light come back on in somebody’s eyes” Mike said.
“As rewarding as it is, you definitely go through times where you question: is this really the line of work that you really want to be in?”
Even though Mike can’t see himself doing anything else, the work of helping others struggling with addiction is far from easy, especially during this time when relapses and overdoses are on the rise from the effects of COVID-19. When I talked to Mike he mentioned the sort of numbness that people in recovery experience when they lose those around them to addiction. He said when you get into recovery and learn that the success rate is typically about 10%. Then you sit in a room with 10 people and realize that 9 out of 10 people aren’t going to make it, you start to accept that as a reality you can’t fully control. He said that it definitely effects those in recovery, but it just happens so much that you become desensitized.
One of the biggest challenges of working in the addiction recovery field, Mike shared, is compassion fatigue. When he’s trying to help someone get into a treatment program it sometimes takes a couple weeks or so of working with the families and individuals before someone is really ready to go. Mike tries to build a relationship with the people he helps and follow them throughout the recovery process. So when people decide to leave treatment, or they complete treatment and overdose a couple days later and pass away, “it starts to take a little bit with you” Mike said. Mike spends 6 months to a year with the men in his sober living home and shared that it can take a lot out of him if they relapse. He said that “as rewarding as it is, you definitely go through times where you question: is this really the line of work that you really want to be in?”
So I asked Mike what he does for self-care to combat his own compassion fatigue. At first, he said that he was the wrong person to ask stating: “I’m like a robot… I don’t know what days off mean, I don’t know any of that. My entire life since I got into recovery until now is recovery. Every conversation I have is recovery, or church, or sober house, or treatment, or meetings.” He did say though that church and his bible studies really help. When he drives to work at the recovery center two hours away he loves to listen to worship music the whole way and that works for him.
I asked Mike what advice he has for those starting to work in the recovery field who are recovering from addiction themselves. He said that addiction medicine is constantly changing so it’s good to continue to learn to not only better help others, but help you understand more about yourself. Becoming a certified peer recovery coach, or chemical dependency counselor assistant (CDCA) are a couple educational steps people can take. He recommended that those who are new to the field should surround themselves with people who have been working for a while and can push them to be better.
Lastly, I asked Mike what he’s most passionate about in his work. He said that he thinks aftercare is really important. That treatment is the first step, but things like sober living are where the real work starts. As far as his own work in aftercare, Mike said that he would like to expand it, but he trusts that God will work things out in the way they should happen. He’s “just here for the ride”.
If you would like to learn more about Mike and his work, or would like to get in touch with him, you can visit his program Reckless Recovery’s website or Facebook page where Mike seeks to offer help, and show people the love of Jesus and that being clean doesn’t have to be boring!
Did you know that there are many people working in the addiction recovery field that are recovering from addiction themselves? These dedicated and unsung heroes are often working behind the scenes, but on the front lines of the addiction crisis. To honor them and share some of their unique insights, this interview with Mike is going to be a part of a series. To make sure you don’t miss next week’s article, like and follow us on Facebook today!
About the Author
Bethany Friedrichsen is the Statewide Coordinator for relink.org. She has a background in psychology and has been working for the past three years in the addiction recovery and reentry space to create connections for people in need to the caring resources in their community.