• Hazelden Renewal CenterNUWAY Annual Picnic 2019

4 Powerful Stories of Transformation – From Addiction to Agents of Change

powerful stories of transformation

Recovery is one of the most painful yet transformative processes a person can go through. More often than not, the depths of despair is our catalyst for change: when the weight of being is more painful that the prospect of becoming.

Like Rumi says, it is from the bough of our hearts that we find the joy of recovery. But that process requires shedding our rotten roots, learning how to live in our bodies and learning how to weather life’s storms, so that we can live fully. Recovery isn’t just about not using drugs and alcohol — it’s about learning how to thrive so much that using drugs is unappealing.

Sharing stories of recovery gives us a sense of hope. They inspire us, showing us that not only is it possible for us to change, but that we can go on to live a life of meaning and of purpose.

We have featured four incredible people who embody everything it means to become an agent of change. From the depths of addiction — featuring methamphetamines, crack cocaine, alcohol, felony charges and prison sentences — these stories of transformation come from people who have not only recovered, but who have gone on to help other people in recovery lead their best lives and shape the way the nation deals with substance use disorder.

1. Janie Gullickson

Recently featured in Now This video, Goodwill and Janie Gullickson Are Helping Women Rebuild Their Lives After Jail, Janie shared her powerful story. Once addicted to methamphetamine, Janie’s substance use disorder spanned a couple of decades. Drugs were everything to her — the way she functioned and her means of getting through the day. Eventually, her addiction became a very public struggle impacting all areas of her life, including her mental health. “I was the mother of five children, a teenage mom,” Janie says. “I tried to function, and then eventually I became more of that stereotypical image that folks may have of an IV user on the streets.”

Janie has been convicted of more than 12 felonies. She spent five years in and out of county jails before serving two years in prison. It was there she was given a second chance. Janie enrolled in the job readiness program run by Goodwill. The program helped her get back on her feet, but more than that, it changed her life. Today, Janie is now the executive director of the Mental Health and Addiction Association of Oregon (MHAAO), a peer-led organization that is committed to promoting self-directed recovery and wellness for all individuals.

“At MHAAO, we believe that all individuals who experience mental health and/or addiction challenges can recover and that recovery, its journey and process, is unique to the individual,” Janie says. “We honor lived experiences. We support people wherever they are on their journey, free from judgment, or agenda. We support these aims through education, advocacy, recovery, peer services, training, technical assistance, community collaboration, and through developing peer workforce and leadership.”

Janie encourages other women to share their story. “When women share their story — even when it’s hard, it’s vulnerable, it’s scary — there’s magic in sharing that. It’ll change someone’s life,” she says.

2. Brent Canode

Even though Brent led a successful professional life, excelled in sports, and was accepted to honors programs in school, he ultimately was asked to leave these programs because of his substance use disorder. His troubles came to a head in 2004 when he was arrested on charges of buying drugs. Brent was given a second chance by Oregon’s Statistical Transparency of Policing (STOP) program. “Honestly, I owe my life to Oregon’s drug court program,” he says.

While initially recovering in the court-mandated 12-Step program, Brent later took an unconventional and self-directed path — one that heavily influenced his incredible work today. He became the director of the Alano Club of Portland, where for the past decade he has made expanding recovery support services at the club a top priority.

“I knew personally, anecdotally and most importantly empirically, that most people require more than a 12-step meeting to stay sober and experience optimal health and wellness outcomes,”
Brent says.

Today the club is the largest non-clinical recovery support center in the United States. It receives more than 10,000 visitors each month and serves as a national model for a modern, multi-dimensional recovery community organization. Alano applies the latest evidence-based support system called the Recovery Toolkit Series, an extensive program of alternative recovery supports that is free to visitors. The program includes mindfulness-based meditation groups, yoga, aromatherapy, nutrition and wellness classes, recovery CrossFit, financial sobriety, and self-care workshops. In 2017, recognition of the innovative contribution that the club makes to the local recovery community, Brent was awarded the Joel M Hernandez Award at the America Honors Recovery Gala in Washington, D.C.

That same year, Brent co-founded the only statewide recovery advocacy organization of its kind, Oregon Recovers. In just 12 months, they have successfully secured key legislation declaring addiction to be a public health crisis in Oregon and requiring the state to produce its first-ever strategic plan to address it.

His work didn’t stop there. In 2018, Brent partnered with leading national recovery scientist Robert Ashford. Together they secured commitment from the state of Oregon to begin tracking rates of recovery in order to plan appropriately for recovery programming — making Oregon the first state in the nation to do so.

Brent has also influenced the recovery landscape nationally, holding leadership positions with the organizations Facing Addiction (a national action council and legislation committee), Faces and Voices of Recovery (a public policy committee) and the Association of Recovery Community Organizations (a recovery research committee.)

The accomplishment Brent is proudest of, however, is simply being an individual and father in long-term recovery.

3. Lissa Franklin

An accomplished athlete and academically gifted from a young age, Lissa’s life held great promise. But an eating disorder that started in third grade and the beginnings of alcohol use disorder starting in sixth grade started to take their toll on her childhood. Even though she initially earned excellent grades, by her senior year of high school, she had stopped all sports as her problematic drinking progressed.

With a few attempts at recovery, Lissa found lasting sobriety in 2012, which she attributes to making it the most important part of her life. From that solid foundation, she went on to graduate with highest honors from two schools. She also founded the U Recovery, the collegiate recovery community at the University of Miami.

College was just the beginning of Lissa’s accomplishments in recovery. She went on to hold a number of leadership positions in South Florida that contributed to shaping the treatment industry. Lissa is vice president of Southeast Florida Recovery Advocates, assistant executive director of Delray Beach Drug Taskforce, director of education and community outreach at Life of Purpose, and vice president for Ethics Now. She is also actively involved in the Palm Beach County Sober Home Taskforce.

While in the midst of her incredible work, Lissa discovered she had thyroid cancer. But she didn’t let that stop her. She showed her tenacious spirit by overcoming this obstacle, continuing her incredible professional work, and becoming a qualified National Physique Committee (NPC) bikini competitor.

As a reward for her gargantuan efforts in increasing patient protection and implementing recovery-oriented systems of care within south Florida, in 2016 Lissa received the prestigious Sierra Tucson Gratitude for Giving annual award.

Lissa believes that she could not have maintained her recovery on her own. “Teamwork makes the dream work,” she says. “It is maintaining my recovery that keeps hope alive for the next person.”

4. Lisa Mclaughlin

Lisa describes her life before recovery as small. “I was barely holding on to a waitressing job at a breakfast cafe I had acquired in an effort to rein in my nighttime routine. By this point in my use, I had cut out bars, socialization, friendships, and romantic relationships,” she says.

She continues, “Most visioning was focused on how and where to acquire substances with the smallest amount of interaction with others.”

In contrast, she describes her experience today as “an expansive, Technicolor life.” A social entrepreneur, Lisa has actualized many of her former pipe dreams. “I’ve been able to channel the dogged ambition with which I sought drugs and alcohol into building new worlds of wellness in recovery,” she says.

As the co-founder and co-CEO of Workit Health, Lisa has led a team that developed an innovative self-led online addiction care company backed by the National Science Foundation. She has held several leadership positions in some of the world’s most respected digital health and learning companies, and has served as an Innovation Fellow at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. But her service doesn’t stop there: Lisa also mentors women in startups and recovery. She is also a writer, and a biohacker in training. “I have a glorious family and network of friends who inspire me,” Lisa says.


Olivia Pennelle is the founder of Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, a site dedicated to helping people flourish in their recovery. Liv is passionate about challenging limiting mentalities and empowering others to direct their own lives, health, and recovery.

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