Road to Recovery Starts With One Step. . .Then Another

“I don’t have a problem.” “I don’t need help.” “I’m strong enough to handle this by myself.” These are sorts of swirls of rationalizations and denials that can line the slippery slope into the crater of acute and chronic substance abuse and mental trauma.

IBEW 11 brother Zac Solomon has heard them all before because he hit that bottom. But he’s bounced back and is launching a new mental health and substance abuse recovery program to make sure his fellow members know they don’t have to fall that far – that there are brothers and sisters who have been where they are now ready to pull them up – and that they are never alone.

Solomon, an Inside Wireman and IBEW 11 member since 2015, partnered with Local 11 Safety Officer Mike Costigan in 2022, and together they created and launched the local’s first-ever, district-by-district substance abuse and mental health recovery program. In these open forums members who may be struggling can come together and share and learn from those who have overcome those same physical and psychological battles.

“Construction workers, especially electricians, tend to be strong men and women who don’t talk about our feelings and don’t discuss our private issues, and that can’t be further from what needs to happen,” Solomon said. “We need to be able to openly discuss these sorts of issues if we need help.”

Starting this month Solomon will begin hosting meetings at each Local 11 district meeting hall, where he will help members set up a template he spent the last six months developing (based on the 12-step addiction recovery model) that members can then run themselves.

“We’re working to develop an internal group of people who have experienced these issues or are currently going through them so they can connect and talk with one another and help each other out, because for me what I found is that my recovery comes from working with others who are suffering the same thing and helping them,” Solomon said.

Solomon’s recovery program is already building momentum even before it begins.

“We already have quite a few members who are ready to show up who have had success with recovery and are interested in getting this program going,” Solomon said. “Hopefully, over time people who were maybe afraid to come forward or afraid to say something will start peeking their heads into these rooms and say, ‘Hey, I heard about this and now I see there are people going and maybe I’ll come and check it out and get some help.””

Solomon, who is recovering from drug and alcohol addiction and has been sober for the last 11-and-a-half years, said the journey back from the abyss of addiction and psychological trauma like depression and panic attacks is a series of steps.

Admitting a problem is one; asking for help is another. A third is breaking down the stubborn stereotypes among workers in the construction and electrical industries that equate asking for help with weakness.

“I think the largest hurdle will be stigma,” Costigan said. “But I also think members in need will realize that they are not alone in this fight. Where else but with your sisters and brothers would you rather fight this battle?”

“We’re kind of raised not to talk about these sorts of things. Construction and electrical workers tend to want to feel like we’re impenetrable and invincible and we can do whatever we need to and we don’t need to talk about our feelings. We just kind of hold it all in and think we can get through whatever we’re going through – whether it’s issues with substances or issues with mental health, or financial issues – on our own.”

Often, simply speaking to someone who shares your same thoughts and anxieties – or just sitting in that same room listening to others tell their stories – can initiate the path to recovery.

“True recovery comes from opening up and sharing these feeling with others who are going through these same things,” Solomon said. “A big part of my recovery from substance abuse was finding out that I wasn’t alone – that there are other people out there who struggled with the same things and somehow they found a way to get through it.”

That recognition of shared struggle, Solomon said, is a key step to recovery.

“Being able to discuss that opened me up from being someone who wasn’t interested in another man telling me how to run my life to hearing someone who struggled with the same things and got through it, and from there I was able to take suggestions and make some changes that completely changed my life,” Solomon said.

First Meeting is September 6

For Solomon, the final ingredient in his ongoing recovery was the camaraderie and fraternity he immediately found among Local 11 members as well as the logistical support the union is providing to help launch and sustain his outreach campaign.

“IBEW 11 is so important to me,” Solomon said. “The whole point of the union is that we all succeed together – when one of us thrives we all thrive. And Local 11 has given me all the support I need to help another member out.”

The first IBEW Local 11 AA meeting will be held Sept. 6 at 5 pm at the District 4 Hall, 400 Chatsworth Drive, San Fernando.

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