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Eleven years ago everything changed for Lars Leafblad when he reached out for help to stop drinking … and someone answered. Ever since, the holidays have become a season of recovery advocacy for Leafblad, a Twin Cities civic leader and co-founder of St. Paul-based executive search-and-selection firm Ballinger|Leafblad. Many times now, he has experienced the powerful impact of simply sharing his recovery story with others — and never more so than on Dec. 31, 2017, when his 201-word recovery reflection on LinkedIn went viral, attracting well over 1 million views.
Q: Knowing your recovery began on New Year’s, what is the holiday season like for you?
Every New Year’s Eve presents an opportunity to practice gratitude for the re-birthday I experienced on 1.1.11.
It’s an opportunity to conduct an inner “gratitude audit” and be fully mindful of the collective set of relationships and resources around me that have supported my recovery journey.
It’s also an opportunity to let the people in my life know the role or impact they had on me and my recovery in the prior year whether they realized it or not.
Q: How did your recovery story going viral affect you, and your recovery?
I made the conscious decision to be transparent and open in sharing my recovery from day one. I found that sharing publicly helped support me and my own commitment to recovery. The act of sharing our own journey invites others to offer support, encouragement and space to ask questions for themselves or for people they care about relative to addiction. When my LinkedIn post began to go viral I was stunned by the number of messages I received from people thanking me for sharing my story.
It was incredible to receive messages from people across the globe. Recovery is a universal story. It’s one that resonates across countries, cultures and continents. We are hardwired for empathy and connection as human beings, and sharing with others activates that hardwiring.
Q: What does it mean for you to continue sharing your recovery story with others?
I recognize that sharing our recovery publicly is a very personal decision. Before I found sobriety I was influenced by the public recovery of leaders in Minnesota like the late U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad, former Gov. Mark Dayton, former Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and food ambassador Andrew Zimmern. Their decisions to share their journeys publicly planted seeds in me that took root as I found myself in early recovery. It takes vulnerability to be open, and seeing others model this gave me courage to make the decision for myself. When others reach out to me with their own questions about addiction or recovery, it’s an opportunity to be of service to them and to those they care about. That helps strengthen me in my own recovery. It keeps the focus on others. It supports our desire to live each day with honesty, empathy, humility and the mindset to be of service to others.
Q: How does your job as a highly successful executive recruiter and professional connector intersect with your recovery?
I think of my work as being in the “career serendipity acceleration” business. We are hired by our client organizations to seek to connect with leaders who are not actively seeking to make a career change until our phone call, email or direct message arrives. What do folks do when a stranger contacts them with an invitation to learn more about a career opportunity? They Google the stranger before responding. If you Google “Lars Leafblad” you’ll find my recovery story on the first page of the search results, so my recovery and I are inextricably linked. This has led to many conversations with prospective candidates about being in recovery and why I’m so thankful to live in a state like Minnesota, aka “Minnesober,” with such a strong recovery community anchored by Hazelden Betty Ford.
Q: How has recovery helped you cope with other life challenges?
Recovery has been a counterbalance in many ways to my innate strengths. For those familiar with StrengthsFinder, two of my top-five strengths are futuristic and strategic, which are both forward-looking. Being in recovery has meant that I need to push back at times on my own orientation to focus on “what if?” or “what next?” and focus on “what now?” It doesn’t take away the life challenges we have to navigate, but it’s provided me with a daily roadmap to move through them.
Q: What would you like more people to understand about recovery?
That addiction is not a moral failure. Addiction is a disease. Disease requires treatment. Treatment leads to recovery. Recovery leads to life.
Recovery is longitudinal. It’s about focusing on a light on the horizon and navigating toward it 24-hours at a time. There are days, weeks, even months when life’s winds blow you backwards or sideways, but recovery is about re-orienting back toward a light on the horizon.
Recovery is communal. When we are of service to others, it strengthens our recovery. When we share with others, it invites them to share with us.
Recovery is renewable. Relapses are part of recovery for many. Two steps forward, one step back is still forward progress. We need to destigmatize not just addiction but relapse.
Recovery is accessible. We live in an era where resources for those seeking help are truly abundant. We need to continue to eliminate any barriers to anyone asking for help.