Meet Javier Ley, a leader living a gift
This was originally published for Hazelden Betty Ford’s monthly Recovery Advocacy Update. If you’d like to receive our advocacy emails, subscribe today.
Javier Ley, DPC, MSHCT, MA, is the executive director at Arcadia Trails INTEGRIS Center for Addiction Recovery in Edmond, Oklahoma. Employed by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, he leads Arcadia Trails under a three-year affiliation agreement between the two organizations. Ley has led clinical innovations throughout the United States and Central America and holds a doctorate in professional counseling and master’s degrees in health care transformation and clinical mental health counseling.
He’s also a person in long-term recovery from addiction, who shares his story to help others know there is hope and find their own paths to the limitless possibilities of recovery.
Q: What does recovery look like for you, and how has it empowered different aspects of your life?
Recovery is the most essential component of who I am today. It is the cornerstone from which all else flows. As I reflect on my recovery journey, I have the opportunity to appreciate all the blessings in my life, including my family, my friends, and the privilege of working in a field that allows me to help others. Overall, one of the greatest gifts of recovery has been freedom. The long-sought freedom of choosing not to use, the freedom to live life on my terms, the freedom to live up to my potential, the freedom to be the person I was meant to be. Recovery has helped me become connected to a higher purpose and to give positive meaning to challenging experiences that have made me the person I am proud to be today. It is from this foundation of recovery, that I find freedom from the shackles of addiction and I am allowed to grow into a good father and good husband, an inspired professional, and a responsible, contributing member of society.
Q: What does it mean for you to share your recovery with others?
Sharing my recovery with others means the world to me. Circumstances led me to meet many people who shared about hope at a time when I did not feel much hope myself. I remember the life-changing impact of listening to others in my time of greatest need. Reflecting on the first time I heard someone share their story of recovery with me, I remember honesty at a level I had never experienced before. I remember connection to another human being in such a powerful way that is so difficult to describe. All of a sudden, I did not feel alone. There was at least one other person on this planet with whom I could truly identify. I felt less shame. I also felt that recovery was possible. And, that it was possible for ME! And then, recovery found me. Today, I hope not to forget where I came from while solidifying my commitment to share my story and keep an open heart to those who still live their struggle. I am living a promise. I am living a gift. They told me I could live a life that could be better that anything I could imagine. It was difficult to fathom. But they were right.
Q: How has your cultural background interwoven with your recovery experience and your professional experience as an addiction treatment leader?
I was born in the Central American country of Nicaragua at a time of much conflict and violence. Because of that situation, I started traveling to the U.S. as a child, before staying as an 11-year-old. At that time, I was separated from my immediate family. At some point, I found my refuge in substances and that became the way I dealt with challenging emotions. In my mid-20s, I returned to Nicaragua and my relationship with substances eventually led me to find help in neighboring Costa Rica. It was at a treatment center there that I was first introduced to Hazelden. The books I read were emblazoned with the Hazelden Publishing logo, and so too were many translated worksheets. It turns out the treatment center had received training from Hazelden sometime in the 1980s. (Talk about reach!) It was there in the mountains of Costa Rica that I discovered I wanted to know more about Hazelden and ultimately dedicate my life to helping others recover from addiction. This is my WHY.
Years later, I started my academic preparation, earning two master’s degrees and a doctorate. Professionally, I had the opportunity to develop the first treatment center in Nicaragua that utilized evidence-based practices such as Motivational Interviewing and Seeking Safety, and that became a Certified Site by the Matrix Institute of Addictions. Our counselors were also the first in the region to become internationally certified by the IC&RC. I was also able to collaborate in the clinical program development at a facility in Honduras that wanted to adopt our evidence-based approach. In 2015, my family and I decided to return to the U.S. after 17 years back in Nicaragua. That journey led me to establishing my professional relationship with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in 2016 and working in eight states.
Q: What should we do as a society to help more people establish and sustain recovery?
Year after year, we hear the oft-cited statistic that only 10% of those who need help for a substance use disorder receive the help they need. Unfortunately, we have not moved the needle forward. In my view, we still need to forge a deeper public understanding of this disease so that we can articulate, design, and execute better solutions and help more people initiate and sustain recovery. I think it will take more than just speaking about expanded access and more treatment. The reality is most people in need of treatment are not seeking it because they do not perceive a need for it. We need to bridge gaps in the entire sequence of needing treatment, perceiving the need for it, and accessing to it.
Also essential to helping more people: deepening our understanding of stigma and the factors that influence it. For example, there is growing evidence that the words we use to describe a substance use disorder, or addiction, can influence people’s view of someone’s ability to recover, their level of dangerousness, and the blame they assign to the person who is struggling. Should we call it a brain disease, a disease, a disorder, a problem, condition? The evidence suggests there is not one single term, or set of terms, that reduces all types of stigma. But we can tailor our message based on the audience and objective of the communication to limit stigma. We also know we can overcome stigma in many powerful ways by sharing stories of recovery and exposing people who do not have a substance use disorder to those who are in recovery. That’s the heart of recovery advocacy.