Bridging the Gap Between Treatment and the Community

Recovery Unscripted banner image for episode 46

Episode #46 | December 12, 2017

Featured Guest: Scott Silverman

When he saw the great need in his community, Scott Silverman founded a non-profit that helps disrupt the cycle of incarceration and poverty by helping people find their own path to self-sufficiency. After devoting two decades of his life to that mission and being named a CNN hero in the process, Scott is now leading a charge to help connect people with addiction treatment through confidential care and sober coaching. He sat down with me at the Innovations in Recovery conference in California to share his own journey to sobriety and explain how he helps bridge the gap between treatment and the community.

Podcast Transcript

David Condos: Hello and welcome to another episode of Recovery Unscripted, a podcast powered by Foundations Recovery Network. I’m David Condos, and today’s guest is Scott Silverman. When he saw the great need in his community, Scott founded a non-profit that helps disrupt the cycle of incarceration and poverty by helping people find their own path to self-sufficiency.

After devoting two decades of his life to that mission and being named a CNN hero in the process, Scott is now leading the charge to help connect more people with addiction treatment through confidential care and sober coaching. He sat down with me at the Innovations in Recovery conference to share his own journey to sobriety and explain how he helps bridge the gap between treatment and the community. Now, here is Scott.

David: All right, we’re here with Scott Silverman. Thanks for being with us today, Scott.

Scott: David, thanks for having me here today. I really appreciate it. This is a great conference so far, and it’s only Monday morning.

David: I thought we’d begin today by having you tell us a little bit about your personal story and how you got into this business of addiction counseling and behavioral health.

Scott: Confidential Recovery is an outpatient program based right here in San Diego. We are going to our third year. I’m really new in the treatment world. Been a long-term sobriety in the lower 32 years. I’ve been in the helping people business I like to call it for decades and decided few years ago that I saw how many people were relapsing and resuscitating and just not getting and staying sober. I wanted to try to create a better portal and we were working on that and getting better at it. Our traditional outpatient program with a two year follow up.

The science says if you can stay with a program for up to a year you can reduce recidivism by 50% and if you do it for a second year, you can cut it in half again. The concept of what we are doing is solid and the industry needs to take a shift. I hope systemically more and more providers will do whatever they can.

David: Yes. I also have your book here called Tell Me No, I Dare You. That’s about your personal story right?

Scott: Yes, it’s not fiction and the idea of the book is to help promote health and help. Part of my story and many, many clients that I serve for decades. I worked in an organization non-profit that helped people coming out of prison and jail, get jobs and housing and we had 175 sober living beds. The model and the experience I have with helping people easily translates to the outpatient piece. Of course getting certified by the state, negotiating with insurance companies and I liken it to someone grabbing your nose with a pair of pliers and dragging you around the room. It’s all going to be worthwhile and if we can create ways to monetize what we do and help more people, that’s what I’m about and that’s what I get each morning for.

David: Yes, it’s worth all that other stuff if you get to help real people.

Scott: Exactly and then their families as well. 360 people die every day in our country right now and 94 of them from prescription drug medication that are prescribed by licensed professional docs. It just scares me what this pandemic right now, specifically around opioids that’s going on in our country that we are not doing a better job as providers. What foundations does is to bring us all together for a week is wonderful because now, we can talk to each other and hear about best practice. It’s a great opportunity and that’s why I’m just ready to cross the bridge. I am here because I want to learn from others who’ve been doing a lot longer than I am.

David: You touched on the opioid epidemic, because it seems like that is out of control. It seems like on a macro level it seems almost hopeless. What are some ways you see to combat that?

Scott: I used to be a homeless provider and then I worked with people returning from prison. Both of those industries have the same kind of unfortunately organic growth. Without problem solving is that really tend to diminish the issue or decrease the problem. This is something like I’ve never seen before. I don’t think there’s an easy answer but I do know this from what I’ve learned and I’m not a clinician. From a treatment perspective, one size does not fit all. I believe in MAT medications treatment, I’m a 12-Step guy from way back, abstinent space but I also know that if that model doesn’t work for you, I want to be able to provide one that does.

We’re trying to build different affinity groups, we’re trying to develop different tracks, we’re trying to find ways to really meet our customer where they are at. I didn’t believe it years ago, I was an old 12 Stepper, don’t take medication while I can’t sleep, don’t take medication, I’m depressed, don’t take medication when you just lost a loved one and sometimes people need a higher level of care.

Again back to your question, we need to look at it for what it is and there’s that young Opium addicted personality heroin user, there’s street drugs, there’s prescription addict if you will and now there’s a person who’s cock tailing the prescription with the street drugs and of course there’s the fentanyl-heroin combination that’s going on. It’s coming out of China and remember I was doing a television interview a couple of months back and somebody asked about the wall because we’re here in San Diego, we’re a border town.

David: Yeah, that’s right.

Scott: He asked, “Will that wall do anything about the drug trafficking?” and I said, “Absolutely not.” He got so upset with me and hurt my feelings for a couple of days and he was talking about how the wall is going to slow down drugs. I went to my DEA colleagues and I said, “What do you think?” they go, “Scott, we are seeing drones, we are seeing catapults, we are seeing boats. The wall is not going to stop the drug trafficking.” If people are getting it out of Canada and they are shipping things out of China that look like tile and all and Fentanyl. There’s a bigger, better business out there offshore because we’re the consumers.

David: The demand is there.

Scott: We want to blame big pharma, they make the product. We want to blame our parents because addiction is hereditary, we want to blame our colleagues, we want to blame our significant other, we want to blame our kids, we want to blame the atmosphere. I think we have to look inside and go, “Okay, what do I need to do to be part of a solution and how can I work towards that?” In this topic, I argue all the time with the media. I am a spokesperson for the cause. We talk more about lice and hair with kids at school. Then we do the kids that are dying from opioid overdoses. We are not creating an environment for change, we are creating an environment that continues to be punitive. This is a disease. People are picking up drugs and alcohol and anesthetize themselves because there’s an inability to process feelings effectively.

David: Yes, that’s not addressing the problem.

Scott: If you and I were talking about diabetes, we’d have solutions up and down the wall and we’d go on YouTube we’d see what to do. For some reason with this maladaptive behavior, we punish people, it’s punitive, we tell them to come back when they are ready and now we are going to punish people for overdosing. It’s just insane the way the criminal justice system looks at it. Let’s talk about change in reducing overcrowding. Drug courts and upgrade mechanism for it. When I talk to a couple of media colleagues to get some exposure for what we’re doing here and they kind of push back.

This is not a happy topic, it’s almost like one industry. Let’s take lawyers. The American Bar association declared two years ago publicly that 30% of the active attorneys in our country have an alcohol abuse problem. 30%. When you go and approach them they say, “Look, come talk about it”. They give you an hour and that’s it for the year to meet the education requirements.

Wait a minute, 30% of your workforce who are people who are advocating on someone else’s behalf are under the influence of the mood Opium? The science says if I was still under the influence and I’m impaired throughout my day, I’m going to impact seven people negatively. Then you add impaired driving. This should be a topic we talk about every day. Nothing’s taking more lives. Was it three years ago that drug addiction overdoses overtook car accidents. Right now we need to really put our foot down and make it a topic everyday like we do the weather but it’s never going to be like that.

David: You touched on earlier the non-profit that you were part of for a long time called Second Chance, and you were actually awarded a CNN hero award for that. Correct?

Scott: I was.

David: That was a big part of your life for a long time here in San Diego. What motivated you to found that organization and how did that work where you were empowering people in those situations?

Scott: It goes back to the example I used earlier about the resistance and the whole concept of Tell me no, I dare you. I was working at this charitable organization on Sundays. My people pray on Friday, last name Silverman. We were free on Sunday and I started doing the feeding program. I just loved it. Every Sunday morning, 800 people came through, saying thanks to Paul, big provider here in San Diego. I started seeing the same people every week and I asked a question, “Why are you here each week?” And they go, “Well, I want to really go to work but nobody wants to help me get a job and I said, “I’ll help you”. They are, “Really?” We went to the restroom we stood in front of a mirror. “Look at you, would you hire you?” It wasn’t to demean or denigrate or criticize.

I said, “Let’s do some things to make you look employable. Then we’ll talk about what you need to really be employable. We go through the process, I got him a free haircut, got him some free clothes, showed him how to interview, how to look someone in the eye. Here we are right now shake someone’s hand. He said, “How about my criminal history?”

Well, don’t bring it up in the first couple of minutes, easing in into the conversation. He got really good at doing that and each week more and more people would come around. One day he comes back around two months later, he’s got this great job at McDonald’s, he hadn’t work eight years, he’s been in jail for seven or eight and he was doing a great job. He said, “Scott, in three months, I just got into that management training program, it’s three years from now, we’re making close to 40 grand a year thanks to you.”

I said, “Wait a minute, I didn’t go on the interview, you did.” He says, “What can I do to help you?” I said “I want you to come back every Sunday and I want you to sit with these men and I want you to tell them what you did.” He did that. Six months later, we’re getting more and more people jobs so I thought, “How do I scale this up?” I went to all the non-profit leaders and I said, “Look, I’d like to partner with you, social service agencies, I want to help with the jobs in housing because you need an address to get a job and you need a job to keep an address”. We see with the homeless growth now without an address, you’re in trouble.

I went to this group, made a big presentation, they said, “Look, we’re very sorry, we took a vote we’re not going to be able to work with you” and I said, “Why not?” “Well, because if you get our clients jobs, what will we do?” I said “Shut up.”

David: Yes, that seems a little short-sided.

Scott: That night I went home. I had a real bad case of the ethics and I talked to my wife and I said “You know what, after a year and a half of feeding, I’ve seen enough I want to go start a non profit.” Being a good significant other, she looked at me, she says “Can I give you some feedback?” “Yes.” She says, “You have no idea what you’re talking about, do you?” I said, “No, I don’t.”

I went to the library, looked it up, started a non-profit, called a second chance, got my IRS51C3 determination in record time 60 days and ran that for 18 years and then decided it’s time for me to go into the next thing. Here I am, three years into a new business and trying to find ways to monetize what I do again to try to be effectual in the community. I want to be a spokesperson to help people get access to help. That’s my dream.

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David: You touched on the comparison of, say, diabetes or some other kind of medical disease. Why with all that we know, why is it still treated so differently from other medical diseases?

Scott: I think it’s a disease of denial. We don’t want to really believe we have it or we’re experiencing it or it’s in our family. Number two, I think the stigma. Because once you get labeled as somebody who has a drinking problem– Good example, I hear all the time from my colleagues in this industry that in Orange County in Los Angeles, people are running to treatment. Here in San Diego, they run away from it. I don’t even know what that is culturally or organically or it’s community-based maybe because we’re a military town, maybe because we have people such an eclectic population but so does LA.

I think there’s a real issue around that I don’t know how we’re ever going to get comfortable and say, “Hey, Johnny’s got an alcohol problem, let’s rally around Johnny and get him some help.” It’s kind of like, “Oh, my God. Again?” For some reason, we as a society don’t tackle this for what it is and what it is is a disease. Just last year the sergeant general for the first time in 50 years said it.

I think families need to know that it’s okay to ask for help. That’s what I tell them, it’s okay to ask. Let’s don’t go to a funeral, let’s go to someone’s graduation at a treatment center. When you put those two things in front of families, there’s only one choice to make but you got to get to the family they got to be on the phone with you, it’s got to happen one on one.

David: Then the other venture which you just mentioned is your crisis coach. What is your approach to crisis coaching and why is having a coach helpful to these people who are navigating these really high-stress situations?

Scott: When you think about it, if you want to learn how to rotate your tires you can go on YouTube but when it comes to getting access to treatment, there’s no real easy one size fits all. There are certain institutional characteristics that you could share with a family, but there are nuances that are different, someone’s a minor, someone’s a senior, someone’s got an alcohol, drug problem and it’s that combination of prescriptions of street drugs.

Someone has been consistently inappropriate with them brought in different things in their life. They’re a functioning alcoholic. They go into work, they have this career, they have a home, they have a mortgage but everything in their life is just ripped to shreds. It’s really listening to what they have to say, having the best understand what options they might have. I think options are really are important.

I have a friend of mine, once, who’s a psychiatrist used to be a hostage negotiator he says, “Whenever you’re talking to family or friends or individuals be sure to give them options. Part of my subtitle as life negotiator is when someone’s talking about a family member I say, “Look, we can get them into detox, we can get handcuffs on, we can call the county.

David: It’s not a dead end?

Scott: There’s no one size. What worked for me and my recovery may not work for somebody else. Part of what I try to do with the family, I call it reflective thinking. I use a lot of MI, Motivational Interviewing, in my conversations. Again, I’m not a clinician but what I have is 32 years of listening to it, watching it, facilitating it, I’ve worked with thousands of families and worked with people with all kinds of barriers and all kinds of impediment and all kinds of low-level excuse-making or even high-level excuse-making.

The goal is just to diffuse that and build a relationship create a level of trust and then try to give the best suggestions you can knowing that they have to own it. I tell people, “Don’t trust me, trust the process.” If you’re doing what you’re doing is working in your life, don’t change anything but if some things are not working and you want some help, let’s talk.

The reason that the crisis coaching was set up was to create this virtual storefront to remove and release some of that stigma so when people call, they’re not calling it a treatment center, they’re calling a crisis coach or a life coach. It helps disarm the family a little bit and the fact that I’m not a clinician exponentially I have some tools that are different some are better and in some ways is very effective.

David: You’re in recovery yourself? Would you like to tell us a little bit about that and about your journey?

Scott: I’ve been in recovery 32 years in sobriety. I stay continuous because I got lucky I have my family’s support, I went to a treatment center, I stay involved as a volunteer for four years and they hired me as their alumni coordinator. Then I continue to give back. I worked in staff and I did the things I’m supposed to do. I’m a sponsor and have for 33 years, I’m a sponsee and my wife supports my recovery and nothing’s more important than my recovery.

I’ve gone smart, I’ve seen life ring and I’ve experimented and I’ve talked to my rabbi. It’s funny because when I was in treatment my rabbi came to visit me. Cute story I think, he said “You know, Scott, Jewish people don’t have alcohol problems.” I said, “What do you mean?” he goes, “Well, they don’t have alcohol problems, the first thing we do when you’re born you put a little wine?” I said, “Rabbi, I have an alcohol problem.”

He says, “No, you don’t” I said, “Well, I got a wristband in my arm, I’m in a lockdown facility, there’s alarms at the door, and there are special trained people here that make sure that I don’t run away.” He says, “In the Jewish faith, we believe that God’s within us.” I said, “Well, rabbi, I was in New York last week I had six nights of black outs. If God’s within me, I’ll tell you right now, He’s a party animal because we were going at it all week.

Now I’m here in this rehab.” That was the first message I got, that particular rabbi actually ended up having his own addiction down the road and we reconnected recently. I did what everyone suggested I should do, but I’ve also sought outside support when I needed it. Lots of family. My wife and I have been lucky, but we’ve seen clinicians over the years to tighten our relationship and she works her program, I work mine.

Some days I work hers and she works mine. We find ways to support our kids and my kids have never seen me loaded. I have two lovely daughters 25 and 30. They never saw dad loaded. I’m excited about that. I do the things that I think I need to do each day to make sure they don’t. For example, at this conference, see the guides so I’m sure is not private.

There’s a meeting every morning and everyone’s welcome. I was there this morning to get inspired. It’s an exciting time. When you hear the fact that we’re sitting in this big conference and there’s a public announcement that there’s a recovery meeting at seven in the morning, there’s one at six on the afternoon. Good things like that are happening everywhere. One day we’re going to see offices in buildings where AA meetings are happening or recovery meetings are happening at lunch in morning and night.

David: That’s such a big part of it not being afraid to say I need help and then it’s ongoing for 32 years, still not being afraid to say, “No, I need to stay with this.”

Scott: No, I’m 63 years old, I’m married 35 years, I continued sobriety 32 and I’m still asking for help. I find the more I’m able to do that it makes me teachable and when you can stay teachable, you can learn new things.

David: All right. We’ll wrap up with this last question, you’ve devoted a lot of time to helping other people through counseling and training and now, in behavior health treatment and crisis coaching. Why is helping people find recovery important to you?

Scott: I think helping people for me is important. Become a firm believer if you don’t give it away, you can’t keep it number one. Number two, I don’t think there’s anything more fulfilling in life is when you can say that you’ve been able to be part of someone’s journey in a positive way.

David: All right, well thank you for your time, Scott.

Scott: Thank you, I appreciate the opportunity.

David: Thanks again to Scott for joining us. Now I get to welcome Will Hart form the Life Challenge team. He joins us each month to give us an update from their community which is the aftercare support network for those who have gone through foundations treatment programs and anyone else up for accepting the challenge of living life in recovery. Last month’s challenge was to give some extra thought to all that we’re thankful for. Now, Will’s back to share the new challenge for this month. Welcome, Will.

Will Hart: Thanks for having me.

David: All right absolutely, it’s a pleasure every time. How you doing today?

Will: I’m good. I’m happy it’s Friday, how about you?

David: Doing well. What have you got for us this month?

Will: We came up with a pretty simple challenge. It’s a create a list of New Year’s resolutions. We’re hoping for at least five. Just things you want to accomplish in 2018?

David: Nice, yes of course very timely for this month, with the new year coming up. What are some examples, what will be on your list?

Will: Health, dieting will be one for me, take a trip. I love traveling find a new hobby or interests is another one.

David: Yes. It’s always good to have new experiences, new travels like you are saying in the new year and then it’s a great time to give back as well. As a lot of need out there, specially this time of the year. You have some other examples?

Will: Yes. Talking to my team, we came up with learn to cook. We thought that is a good one, save some money.

David: Yes, those two can go right together. You save that restaurant money, learn some new recipes and healthy eating.

Will: Healthy eating sure.

David: All right, then a happy early new year to you.

Will: You too. Thanks.

David: This has been the Recovery Unscripted podcast. Today we’ve heard from Scott Silverman of Confidential Recovery. To learn more about his work, visit Thank you for listening today. If you like what you hear please leave us a rating on your podcast app. We’d love to hear what you think. See you next time.

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