For this addition of Peer Support IRL, we had the pleasure of talking with Richard Falls, Peer Recovery Coach/Instructor at The Phoenix Colorado. Rich went through CMWN Peer Support training and applies those learning in his work at the Phoenix!
Can you tell us about the Phoenix?
The Phoenix is a non-profit sober active community. We put on all types of events, both indoor and outdoor – free to anyone who has 48 hours of continuous sobriety. The idea is to bring people together to build community, to help people on their road to recovery, whatever that may mean to each individual. We are a nationwide organization that is constantly expanding and growing both with physical locations and launching more and more virtual programing. We offer awesome virtual programing, that is happening every day! (phoenix.org and then at the top there is find a class for local and live stream and on demand!)
What is your role at the Phoenix?
I was hired as a Peer Recovery Coach to help develop Peer Recovery Coaching within the organization. When it comes to peer support, we do less 1 on 1 appointments, but rather, it happens more organically at the events we offer. My role involves using those skills to develop relationships with people at events I’m attending and instructing. One of my biggest roles in life, even before the Phoenix, is connecting people to each other. For example, if someone is going through something, that I’ve never been through, it’s not my job to always know what to say and do, but rather connect them with someone who has been through what they are going through. I don’t always have the answers, but I’m good at connecting people who can support one another.
The best part of this job is I get to help people do what makes them happy and create community which makes me happy.
How are Peer Supporters used at Phoenix? What are your goals for using Peer Support to benefit the folks in this program?
Peer Coaching at The Phoenix happens organically. For example, at our open gym events I am there, and I talk with someone who may just ask me to help with bench press and as I’m instructing them, they can open up about their life, and I can share about what is going on in mine. That is how we create a connection. There are a lot of reasons people come into The Phoenix: to workout, to talk to someone, to get away from life for a bit, whatever the reason: that’s an opportunity to create a connection.
That’s what is great about being a Peer Supporter: we are the same. We are both bench pressing, and both going through the same things in life. That’s the cool thing about the Phoenix, these relationships are organic and not forced.
How has peer support made a difference in the lives of other folks you’ve worked with previously?
During one of our events, a run/walk run event at Sloan’s Lake, the turnout was not great… but being me, I just talked to people who were there and around. I got to talking with a guy and his daughter who just moved here from DC and they were experiencing homelessness, living in a hotel. We were just casually talking, and he mentioned he needed a hand moving from their hotel to the Samaritan house. I said of course and helped transport them and get arranged. A week or two later he reached out to me, saying he loved it there, and he said he wanted to sober up and asked for some tips. I didn’t have to talk about my work, or force the conversation, it just happened naturally.
Another story I like to tell is when I started working at The Phoenix helping with SDOP (Specialized Drug Offenders’ Program). This program is designed for people who need extra support. While working with this program, I’ve seen Probation Officers who care for their clients in ways I’ve never seen in the past: spending time with them, working out with them, and creating real human connection. One day, we were doing an icebreaker and I asked what people want to be when they grow up. In response, one probation officer said, ‘I want to be a therapist’ and almost immediately, the client said, ‘you’re already the best therapist I’ve ever had.’ It was a such a magical moment between the probation officer and client to see true human connection between them. We had no intention to help develop this relationship the way it did, this is one of those “Phoenix Moments.”
How has being a Peer Support Specialist impacted you and your life personally?
I came from South Florida working at a treatment center, I had my CAC, was a group facilitator and case manager. You see, where I came from in South Florida there was sort of a stigma around ‘recovery was this way, or no way.’ I knew this idea for recovery was killing people and there had to be another way, other ways. So, when I heard about the ideas of multiple pathways to recovery I was excited and wanted to learn more. I started expanding my ideas of recovery, and then Phoenix hired me as a peer recovery coach. That was when I went to Colorado Mental Wellness Network Peer Support Training. If I can be honest, at the time, I thought I was going just for the certificate, it wasn’t because I was expecting to learn much. I went in with an open mind and I was shocked by how much I learned from the CMWN Peer Support Training. For example, I learned about the strength perspective and people first language which are 2 of the things that have helped me help people, and with my personal views of the world. I regularly use both of these tools when working with folks at The Phoenix.