I began working at Northbound in January. It was my first time working in the recovery field, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had spent nearly 10 years as a casting director in the reality TV world; and in an effort to change careers, I came across this position. It appeared to perfectly meld my media background with my newfound passion for recovery, but I was afraid that a resume full of credits as “casting director” and “segment producer” was going to keep me from landing any job in a new field; so I was surprised when Northbound’s HR coordinator called me immediately after I submitted my resume. As it turns out, they had been looking for someone like me all while I was looking for an organization like them. When they spoke of organizational health and the way the staff truly cares for one another, I knew that Northbound was where I belonged. After nearly a decade of pouring myself into my passion with little return of fulfillment, I was ready for a ca reer where I no longer had to work in a constant state of exhaustion, and where I could retain a healthy lifestyle. My own sobriety depended on me finding a healthier career path; and for once in my life, my priorities were finally in order. The idea of working for people who sincerely cared about their work was simply icing on the cake. This job was a far cry from reality TV, and I was ready. What I found was more than a job, it was a new family. As I watched a series of professionals jump on the Northbound train right behind me, I learned that the employees who are drawn to Northbound seem to easily fit the culture. Our CEO Mike Neatherton is the one responsible for bringing the concept of organizational health to Northbound. He considers it a sacred responsibility to make sure that there are like-minded people and solid talent for the next generation working in our industry. And it seems like we’re on the right track. The new leadership hires of 2015 are a group of people I enjoy seeing every day at work, and I consider myself a very lucky young lady. If you have to be at your desk 40+ hours a week, liking the people you work with is half the battle, no?
Around the same time that I started, Ilana Zivkovich signed on as our Chief Clinical Officer. One of my first responsibilities as referral relations coordinator was to write and send out a press release announcing Ilana’s addition to the clinical and executive teams. As someone who had never worked in the treatment world before, I still recognized Promises when I saw it on her bio, and was impressed that she had been their executive director in Austin. I was in the midst of learning the who’s who of my new field, but her resume stood alone as being impressive. And with a line of credentials that followed her name which included Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC), and Certified Daring Way Facilitator (CDWF), her education certainly matched up with her experience. On paper, she seemed like the ideal individual to lead our clinical team. I’m not sure why I was surprised when I finally met Ilana in person, however. Maybe I expected someone as accomplished as her to have an air of stuffiness, or maybe entitlement, but I definitely wasn’t expecting the friendly and stylish woman who walked into my office with a sparkling smile. She has one of those magnetic personalities and a positive aura that makes her a joy to encounter in any workspace. I found myself completely at ease and eager to befriend her, and when she happened to be around on a day when I had had one of those “office embarrassing moments,” I pulled her into my office and shared my hysterical story. Immediately we busted out into a storm of giggles like two middle schoolers at a sleepover party. I enjoy having intelligent friendships, but finding someone you can also laugh with is a precious find. Later that year, I was asked to coordinate a CE event for local professionals focused on The Daring Way™ (a curriculum and training program based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown in which Ilana is a Certified Facilitator (CDWF)). I love event planning, so I got lost in the frenzy of pulling together the logistics that morning. Once the venue, catering, and A/V needs were all straightened out, I was able to relax and enjoy the three hour workshop. I was blown away by Ilana’s presentation, and found myself captivated as she spoke of shame resiliency and vulnerability, nodding in agreement as I related to the subject matter. She gives these presentations around the country all year round, but it’s easy to forget that she’s constantly jet-setting. A few days ago, I asked her how her week was going, and she somehow managed to tell me without an ounce of jetlag or traveler’s fatigue that she had just hopped on a plane in Austin to present The Daring Way in Portland and then again in Seattle, only to hop right back on a plane returning to Newport Beach. With a background in positive psychology, I suppose it’s no surprise that she has brought with her a bright beacon of positivity to light the way for Northbound’s future clinical endeavors.
One of Ilana’s first initiatives as our CCO was to bring aboard Ari Drosman, who is now our Clinical Director. At that point in time, I was slowly learning the names and faces of our clinical team and realizing that I had become a part of a small family of sorts. Ari fit right in. When he is at our corporate office on Tuesdays, I often find him striding into my office and plopping down for a chat. I was happy on one occasion to hear his ideas for our website, and am happy to see them finally making their way into the Livingsober.com infrastructure. They were fantastic ideas, after all, and Ari’s unassuming demeanor made it a cinch to collaborate with him! With over a decade of experience in the addiction field as an experienced therapist and case manager, serving as program director for all levels of treatment, and founding programs focused on helping young men achieve autonomous healthy living, Ari is a versatile addition to the Northbound family. One afternoon, this seasoned therapist happened to peek into my office while I was having a tearful moment; and being the raging co-dependent that I am, I later apologized for my tears. He sincerely took a breath and warmly told me that I never have to apologize for my emotions, that they’re what make me human. Once again, I was reminded how nice it is to work with caring colleagues. Ari carries with him the air of the big brother, always happy to be a goofball with anyone who is game, telling surf stories about his weekends catching waves, while also making it apparent that his heart is deeply rooted in the right place. And he really lights up when he’s talking about his nine year old son Gavin. There is no wonder that he is as nurturing as he is, once you know that he has spent time teaching aspiring counselors at the Training Institute for Addiction Counselors; after all, teaching takes a special kind of caring individual. And knowing the contribution of Dr. Kevin McCauley’s research in the addiction field, it is a testament that Ari was the professional asked to take over this teaching position when Dr. McCauley was ready to move onto his next adventure. It’s Ari’s dedicated compassion for clients that really won me over, however. He once shared with me that two former clients who had met while in treatment asked him to officiate their wedding. They met under Ari’s care nearly a decade ago and were guided to wait before beginning a romantic relationship until further into their sobriety. They spent their early recovery really getting to know each other, and remembered Ari’s words of wisdom 10 years later as they walked down the aisle. He told me that he felt blessed to be the one to join them in matrimony having been with them since the beginning. These two newlyweds recognized Ari’s heart and the part he played in their happiness… and so do we.
When I started at Northbound, I was on a mission to create organized systems to make the Referral Relations department run smoothly. I spent months coordinating the department, and making slight changes to our collateral and brand. I loved breathing life into a brand that I was growing to love; but being new in the industry, I eventually reached a point where I didn’t know how to help the department grow. Sometimes you just don’t know what you just don’t know. So when I was told that Emily Orrick would be returning to Northbound as Director of Referral Relations, I was ecstatic. I knew Emily from outside the walls of Northbound, and had been a fan for a while. I was excited to work with someone who had a working knowledge of how Referral Relations worked best, and I knew she’d do it all paired with her wicked sense of humor. Emily was no stranger to Northbound. She had worked here in the past both on the clinical end as well as in the referral relations department, and had a hand in creating what is today our Collegebound program. And before that, she was the Director of Academic Development at Sober Living By the Sea where she revamped the TEACH Program (which Paul Alexander had originally created only a few years earlier). Throw her Ivy League education into the mix, and it’s clear that Emily is one smart and savvy cookie! I was excited to sponge up all she had to teach me, but with three kids at home and one more on the way, I was kind of curious how she was going to balance it all. I definitely didn’t doubt her though, she’s just one of those people you assume will get it all done, and get it done well. Months into working together, sharing an office with a very pregnant Emily is one of the highlights of my workday. Most mornings, she flies into my office, drops her bags in the corner, and opens her laptop on the opposite end of my desk. We clack away on our computers quietly until something strikes one of us as funny. Taking a break to enjoy life is always encouraged when it comes to Emily, and the marketing office is normally filled with laughter and compelling conversation. Just yesterday she was showing all of us footage on her phone of her youngest daughter Eleanor adorably uttering her first word. Who doesn’t love seeing a video of an adorable youngster spit out the word “ball” and proudly giggling at her accomplishment? Emily is a mom on a mission. Her signature blazer-clad business casual look and east coast edge exude an air of relaxed confidence. And her dry humor creates the perfect mix of “work hard, play hard.” I’ve become her right hand person, and I have to admit, I’m having a blast. Things can get busy sometimes, but if I’m having a particularly stressful day, I’ll get a random Emily-text dabbled with emoticons reminding me that she’s here to support me in all that I do. It’s a rare occasion that you can consider your manager a friend, but I’m proud to think of her as part of my tribe. I may be a bit jaded, after all, but I personally think we make a fantastic team.
When Emily told me that Dustin Frei was coming aboard as our Director of Business Development, I have to admit that I panicked a bit. I had corresponded with him a few times over the months I had worked at Northbound; and usually, it was because I had made some kind of mistake at my new job. I was aware that he had helped rebrand Pacific Hills into today’s Covenant Hills, and that he was a wiz with anything internet-related, but I had also convinced myself that this guy (whom I had yet to meet) thought I was a moron. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong! What I have found instead is an inspirational mentor of sorts. He has a management style that is full of positive reinforcement mixed with humility, and a way of empowering people to accomplish tasks even when they’re busy doubting themselves. His distinctive voice can be heard down the hall, and I’ll often pop my head out to throw a question at him. Did I mention he’s my boss too? Somehow, he always manages to address questions with positivity and a can-do attitude, even if he’s in the middle of ten other thoughts and appointments. Somehow, this guy is always smiling! I’m not really sure how, but it’s the truth. I’ve learned one very important thing about Dustin, however. I’ve learned that I “like” the San Francisco Giants. In reality, I know nothing about major league baseball, but I’ve learned that if I remind him of my lack of knowledge, I’d better have a good 30 minutes to sit and learn about the history of how the Giants ended up in California. Being the native New Yorker that I am only adds fuel to this particular flame. I could tell you why, but maybe you should give Dustin a call instead; I’m sure he’d relish the opportunity to fill you in about the majestic Giants and their past with New York. But that’s the thing, Dustin’s not afraid to be himself, and not afraid to show you who he is. Perhaps that’s why he and Emily have such a strong long-running friendship. I ran into them both having lunch with a referent one afternoon who was visiting from Texas. They waved me over and invited me to join the table. It was such a delight, because I got to watch as they interacted with our visitor, and see how at ease they were just being themselves and enjoying real friendship. Both of them have a refreshing air of authenticity, and I can see why others enjoy being around them. It’s so much easier to just be yourself when you’re sharing a meal with people who simply show up as themselves.
And then there’s Jimmy Weiss. Once you meet Jimmy Weiss, you certainly can’t unmeet Jimmy Weiss. He’s a character who walks in a building and lights up every single room with his energy. Jimmy was the original client advocate at Betty Ford ten years ago when he worked there under Mike Neatherton, so we were very excited to bring him onto the Northbound train earlier this year to lead our client advocacy efforts. I heard one of the clinicians say recently that the clients consider him a legend. And that’s no surprise. He’s available to any client at any time of day in any moment of crisis, as well as effortlessly becoming a source of comedic relief when needed most. He’s every staff member’s biggest cheerleader when someone needs a little extra encouragement. And just ask him to perform “the recovery dance” and you’ll be in stitches for weeks! Jimmy’s compassion for the clients allows him to connect on a uniquely personal level. He’s only been with us for a few months now, but I can’t imagine Northbound without him.
I suppose the running themes here are “support” and “the insistence on enjoying life.” On good days and bad, I have found myself amongst a group of people who are willing to hold out a hand for anyone when they need it most. We all have our own skill sets, and because we are all doing work on ourselves behind the scenes, we’re able to come together day by day to create an experience that people love. Even when the going gets hard, everyone seems to find a way to smile and not take themselves too seriously. Laughter is such a gift – and the ability to laugh at work is simply priceless. Before working at Northbound, I had never experienced the joy of waking up excited every day to go to a job, and I actually didn’t believe that it was possible. Today I know that a huge part of that joy comes from working amongst the right team of people. Mike Neatherton often talks about his hopes for the next generation of leaders in this industry. I’m only just starting to meet the industry leaders beyond the Northbound walls, but I can honestly say that if Northbound’s newest hires are any example of tomorrow’s leaders, that I am confident in following them with true faith and unwavering loyalty. They’re my pack. And I’m sticking with them.