With all the drawbacks associated with substance abuse, the stigma of drug and alcohol use continues to rise. These days, the problem - rather than the solution - is being highlighted, which makes it that much harder for someone to not only admit they have a problem but actually take that first step to getting the help they need.
Luckily, Marti MacGibbon has found her own solution to this rising problem. With her humor, genuine heart to help, and down-to-earth style, she’s sharing the message of hope and inspiration to people who have been touched by addiction, whether they are a user themselves or a family member.
Here to share with you her experience in the field of addiction treatment is the humorous motivational speaker, Marti MacGibbon.
What is your role as an advocate of addiction recovery?
I’ve experienced both addiction and recovery firsthand. I was a hard-core drug addict for nearly ten years and turned my life around in 1995. This year, in 2015, I celebrated twenty years of continuous recovery. I do a lot of things to promote recovery and to break away the stigma surrounding the disease.
As a humorous inspirational speaker who keynotes conferences and events for behavioral health, medical professionals, and addiction specialists, I share my personal story to illustrate how even the seemingly hopeless cases -- and I was one -- can and do recover. I also talk about the connection between trauma, addiction, and stress, and how they intersect. My years of experience as a professional standup comic taught me how to bring a message with humor.
When audiences can laugh, they retain a lot more of what they hear, and are less likely to become overwhelmed by the issues that we face in the addiction field today. And laughter is an equalizer, it can bring people together.
Which areas of substance abuse counseling do you work on?
I am a recovery speaker with five professional certifications in addiction treatment. However, I do not currently work with clients one on one, but in the past, I have worked as a program counselor to homeless veterans. I have worked in outpatient, inpatient, and transitional housing situations.
As a speaker, I do presentations that promote prevention, and presentations that help to raise public awareness about addiction. I also speak to groups of people currently in treatment, and to the service providers that engage with those populations.
You are known as a humorous motivational speaker, where do you get your inspiration?
I am continually inspired by the fact that recovery is possible and help is available.
I celebrate the process of recovery in my daily life and continually refresh myself by looking back at all of the things I have overcome: having survived being trafficked to a foreign country and sold to organized crime figures, adolescent sexual abuse, complex PTSD, domestic violence, addiction, and homelessness.
I’ve lived through nightmarish experiences, but today, I am happy and successful. My life is filled with purpose, and as I travel around the country speaking to associations and businesses, I meet and talk with audience members -- amazing, inspiring people who tell me things they have overcome.
What challenges does a substance abuse patient face? And how do you help them handle it?
When I was working with clients as a program counselor, I educated them about the disease and also about the recovery process. Education is very important.
When one suffers from addiction, one’s environment is full of stigma, blame, and shame.
It’s essential that patients/clients can learn the facts about this disease, as shame and fear fuel addiction. I also encourage clients to inventory their strengths, so they can build self-confidence, self-esteem, and be empowered. I do the same things today as a speaker -- I speak on overcoming adversity, emotional resiliency, and self-empowerment.
Co-occurring disorders, such as mental illness, present major challenges for clients new in recovery. Many of my clients were dually diagnosed. In addition, many had a severe trauma history and it’s a fact that trauma and addiction intersect. This is something that we need to recognize and understand as trauma affects behavior; if it is not taken into account, the trauma may be repeated, or in the least, misunderstood and interpreted as non-compliance, etc.
Where do you stand in today’s stigma of substance addiction?
I stand as one who has recovered from addiction and my life is a stance against the stigma. I celebrate recovery every day and I live in a place of empowerment: I am stronger, better, smarter, kinder, and braver today, not in spite of the things I have lived through and overcome, but because of them.
There is nothing to be gained by shaming those who suffer from this disease. Stigma works against the solution. Education breaks away stigma.
Of all your accomplishments, what do you consider the most remarkable?
My most remarkable accomplishment as an individual has been learning how to forgive and how to love. It’s remarkable because I have lived my way through some terrifying, awful places, and I have lifelong physical injuries from some of the trauma. Forgiveness of self and others can be transformative and in my life it’s been essential.
Love is a very powerful transformative force, and it begins with loving yourself, accepting yourself and being brave enough to take action to make your own life better and more meaningful.
You learn how to love and appreciate others fully once you learn to love yourself. In addition, self-loathing comes naturally. In recovery, love appears. When you live in love, forgiveness, and gratitude, you live in endless possibility.
From everything you’ve been through, what lesson have you learned?
I’ve learned that courage is not the absence of fear; it is the conscious decision to move through the fear to the objective. And courage, combined with love, is unstoppable.
Laff-Aholics is a brilliant charity and event you’ve created. How did it start?
I started Laff-Aholics in 2011, with my husband, Chris Fitzhugh, who is also in recovery. We wanted to create an event that would celebrate recovery and since I did professional standup for a number of years, we figured standup comedy would be an excellent way to go. After all, I am a standup comedian, so I open the show with a 15 minute set each year. Then we have two excellent headliners, each comic does about an hour, with a 25 minute intermission between.
We give one hundred percent of the profits from the show to transitional housing facilities that provide access to addiction treatment and mental health services. We benefit non-profits that will take people who are the most vulnerable in the recovery community -- people working their way back from addiction who have little or no resources.
What future plans do you have for Laff-Aholics?
I’d like our annual event to become a time-honored tradition in the city of Indianapolis and that’s not an impossible dream. I know comics, and they know comics, so I will not likely run out of headliners for the show - comedians who are sympathetic to the cause of recovery. The venue continues to sell out days before the event, so we’ve got a following.
Each year, I meet young people in recovery who tell me about the positive impact that Laff-Aholics has had on their lives. If the show continues to fill seats, maybe someday we can do it in a neighboring city to Indianapolis such as Detroit or Chicago. Time will tell. In the meantime, one Laff-Aholics a year provides both me and my husband with plenty of work and challenges.
Tell us about your nationally award-winning memoir, Never Give in to Fear: Laughing All the Way Up from Rock Bottom.
I wanted to write the book for all addicts, both those in active addiction, and those in recovery. I was still doing standup when I began writing it and I wanted to tell my story with humor, even if it was dark humor. I didn’t want it to be boring or a sob story...I wanted readers to know about addiction firsthand and to know that even the seemingly hopeless cases can and do recover. Since its release in 2012, the book has earned a national award, critical acclaim from Kirkus Reviews, Midwest Book Review, Foreword Clarion, and other honors.
The book is not a self-help book or a how-to. It’s merely my story, the story of a hard-core addict who ultimately recovers. Stories can be so helpful on the journey of recovery. I think people in recovery like it because it’s real and gritty and funny and scary and sad all at once -- and that’s what life -- and recovery -- is like.