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Executive Q&A: Chris Dickie

5 min read

After experiencing addiction firsthand, Chris Dickie founded Natural State Recovery Center in 2018. Since then, he has co-founded ThinkShift Branding, a business consulting service aiming to assist treatment centers in achieving their mission without losing their healing touch.

What did your addiction look like?

Chris Dickie

I was in a football play as a freshman in high school. We scrimmaged varsity, and my ankle got run over, and it was a hairline fracture. I got prescribed Vicodin, and it fractured something inside of me. So that kind of set me off on this trajectory. I ended up getting drunk and smoking marijuana, and it was instant. I wanted to do it every day, all day, and spent most of my time thinking about how I was going to get it. In five years, from 15 to 20, I had overdosed and wound up in the hospital my mom worked at. I didn’t finish high school, and the judge ordered me to get a GED.

I tried to turn my life around a few times from 20 to 25 and would find some success, but then something would happen, and I’d go back to what was familiar. When I turned 25, I really made that turning point. Where I just realized that I am the problem — I can’t blame it on anybody. I’m not a victim of my circumstances. Fast forward, my whole record has been expunged and pardoned by the governor of Oregon. I have two master’s degrees. I’ve started a successful treatment center. My whole life has been dedicated to helping build systems that people can go through to find a strong foundation that sustains their longevity and recovery.

What, exactly, constitutes an addiction?

The basic, fundamental definition of addiction is continuing to do a substance despite the consequences — knowing full well there are consequences and continuing to do it no matter how painful they become. Personally, I’ve always had an abnormal reaction to alcohol, which is ‘more.’ Addiction is a family disease — we talk about how it impacts everybody. But for the person afflicted, it centers on the mind. It is a brain disease that also impacts every area of a person’s life, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

In what ways can an addiction be mentally harmful?

For example, for someone who has cancer, we’re going to have empathy and compassion. By the time someone is diagnosed with alcoholism or drug addiction… there’s a lot of resentment. Because of all of the other behaviors, it’s hard to separate that from the illness, right? I’m in your purse, stealing money to support my habit. It’s going to be hard to say, ‘Well, Chris, I’m so sorry that you’re struggling with addiction’ when I’m taking your rent money. It’s difficult to separate the addiction from the person, and that’s where stigma and shame are born.

What consequences did you experience within your workplace?

It was a game. I would always quit before I would be fired. At my early points, I was really suffering and out of control. I was unemployable. I could not function, and it ended up making me have between 23 and 24 jobs in five years. I was a menace, but I didn’t want to be.

What are some telltale signs of an addiction?

If you’re seeing these things, there’s a much-needed discussion. Mood swings or changes in behavior, isolation or withdrawing. If you have somebody that’s been a certain way for a period of time, and they start to have really extreme changes in their moods and behaviors, that should warrant a discussion. Secrecy. Lying. Missed work. There are physiological signs: glassy eyes, zoning out, nodding off.

How long does it take for an addiction to form?

It really is person-to-person. For me, I was instant. It was an instant, that downward spiral. Some people take years to cross that invisible line into addiction where you have the power of choice and how much intake you do. And then all of a sudden, you don’t have choice anymore. It’s like an invisible field.

At what point should someone seek help? What’s the first step?

If it’s coming from the family, they’re most likely seeing some things that aren’t normal in their loved one. And if a person’s confronted, a lot of time they’ll become defensive and then resistant to help because the denial is like ‘I don’t have a problem; you’re the problem.’

Unfortunately, pain is a great motivator. So when there’s pain, maybe a write-up at work, some event that can get the person’s attention, will get them to have an open mind and have a discussion about possible help.

What can be expected during treatment?

We look at dismantling all of the walls that are up. We start to dive into trauma. We look into the client’s past and start the healing process, and then at what I call the wreckage because, if they’re in treatment, it’s pretty bad. There are lost relationships, lost jobs, lost trust and betrayals that if they don’t face and start to focus on, they’re not going to make it because it becomes too overwhelming. The pain becomes too great, and they’re going to try to numb the pain. So a lot of what happens is internal work because, most likely, during addiction or alcoholism, the person has been focused on the external…they haven’t really tried to look inward to unravel some of those tangles they’ve found themselves in.

What is ThinkShift Branding?

We help treatment centers and employers provide better care and identify the signs in their workforce. When I ran a treatment center, the hardest thing for us to do was work with the families because there were just not a lot of resources. So I’m developing an online course about what we’re talking about. It can be scaled for the workforce too, for HR departments. [Covering] What is addiction? What help exists in terms of families, like how do we cope, how do we move boundaries? How do we look at not losing ourselves trying to help our loved ones?

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