EP 20 Blog Post
Alex Colyer of The Albertus Project lost her best friend to addiction.
I am so honored to talk with my good friend Alex Colyer who has so much wisdom to share. Alex, thank you for coming on, how are you?
I’m really good and excited to be here. You were one of the first podcasts I listened to when I got into this space. I learned valuable knowledge from your podcast that wasn’t solely based on opinion, and I felt I was really getting something out of it. It’s kind of full circle being here, so thanks for the opportunity.
I’m so glad the information is useful for someone, you just made my day! Once in a while I swing into editorializing or opinion mode and I try to be clear this is my observation as opposed to science. So I’m wicked psyched about this! Would you please share with our audience who is Alex of Albertus Project and why we should care?
My name is Alex Colyer and I run a nonprofit, The Albertus Project. I lost my best friend Reed a year and a half ago and she was an amazing person. I knew she was struggling, yet I was very much in the mind of “oh she’s been to rehab it’s a cure right?”.
When I lost her I realized how misinformed I was on so many levels. It felt as if society failed me and I didn’t know how to help my friend.
I wish I could have been there, I wish I could’ve said the right thing. I felt a lot of different emotions. But I learned while she was struggling, she was successfully helping other people in recovery. So I wanted to make sure no other best friend had to go through what I had, and I wanted to honor the good work my friend Reed was doing. So I started The Albertus Project.
It was a way for me to grieve, cope, make a difference and continue the good work she was doing. At first it was a passion project and now I’m able to help hundreds of people in Canada (where Reed and I are from) but also in the United States where I now reside.
It sounds like a memorial to your friend Reed..
One hundred percent, it really started out like that. Being able to find purpose in her loss turned into something greater with the support of so many people. I’m stoked about it.
It sounds like channeling your grief, pain, loss and disbelief into The Albertus Project was a way to honor her memory and what she meant to so many people, but also a way to move forward yourself.
She passed away on the day of the capital riots in January 2021 so that whole day was awful. I spent months looking online for resources on how family and friends can help loved ones. I needed to get my bearings and understand what happened, but it was difficult to get basic information. I would go to one website and read one thing, and another website would say something completely different. I’m like why can’t I find a simple answer like “is addiction genetic?”.
When I look into Harm Reduction for example (which is very effective) one website will say it saves lives and another says it’s harmful to someone’s recovery. I couldn’t get a straight answer.
So for me, not only was it therapeutic and a way to honor my friend, but I realized if I’m feeling confused and conflicted about my positioning on things, that the rest of the general public is also failing to get adequate information that isn’t stigmatized, misinformed or framed one way or another.
That’s where the mission of The Albertus Project comes in. Our mission is REED after my friend Reed. The “R” stands for redefining the way the world views addiction from one of blame and shame to one of compassion and support.
The way we (society) view people with addiction is completely different from how we view people with cancer or diabetes.
Can you imagine kicking a family member or friend out of your house who has cancer and then blame them for getting it?
That’s the type of stuff that I was realizing, I never thought about it like that. I originally thought addiction was a choice and when I went through the data I realized that wasn’t the case. I just started slowly going through each of the things I was taught as a kid, doing drugs is bad, people who do drugs are bad, don’t associate with those people.
I also support the federal government as a contractor. I’m not allowed to be around that stuff, and I sort of felt high and mighty that I never engaged in it. That’s how society rewards people and punishes others. I started realizing the way family and friends are taught to throw loved ones out on the street, and if you lend support you’re part of the problem. Family and friends feel so much blame and shame, I know I did.
How do you decide if you’re seeing conflicting information? How do you make sense of it and decide what is reliable and what isn’t?
That’s a good question, I think there’s an advantage being an outsider to this community, because people within it are steadfast in what they believe. Which is great but it’s very hard to sway people. When someone thinks a particular way they’re less likely to change it.
I started by thinking I knew everything about addiction and the war on drugs made sense and that stopping people from using was the answer.
Now my views are 180°. I looked at all the research, data and scholarly articles. This is why one of the missions of the Albertus Project is to educate the public, because who has time to go through these articles? It shouldn’t be that difficult to get answers to my questions right? It just shouldn’t be. So I spent days and weeks sifting through immense amounts of information that was both against my beliefs and what I thought was accurate. It was so simple to see that there was no data to support what I thought was accurate.
That’s why the Albertus Project provides quick, 5 minute resources on our website. You can learn what harm reduction is, the warning signs of addiction, or how to support a family member or friend. I realized I never came across anyone posting about addiction on social media and I’m young, I use social media to my advantage a lot. But addiction isn’t a fun topic right? It’s not very interesting. So I’ve tried to leverage information and real data and I put it into a cool fun graphic that takes 3 seconds to read.
So this might be a good time to talk about the Albertus Project’s mission and how the goal is to redefine the world’s perspective on addiction.
People with addiction are demonized as if they chose this life. I’m very outspoken about the fact that I have anxiety and if someone said I chose to have anxiety and that I just needed to stop being anxious? I would go crazy! We don’t say that to people now. Twenty or thirty years ago we might have but now we realize how inappropriate that is.
No doctor is going to tell me “well just stop being anxious” so why do we have doctors telling people to stop using? It doesn’t work like that.
No one with addiction wakes up being like “oh I want this life”. So we need to figure out how to support them in whatever recovery journey makes the most sense for them.
If we could go through the remaining 3 parts of the mission, you have: empower those suffering, educate the public which you touched on, and de-stigmatizing addiction.
Empowering was important because I’m sure everyone feels very ashamed of their use and I want to be a huge advocate for them. People with addiction have the same desires and talents and are kind individuals just like anyone else. So The Albertus Project provides a wide range of support and we make sure they feel taken care of.
We have something called Humans of Addiction where people from all over the US and Canada send in inspiring stories about their recovery or active addiction. I want to give them a platform to share their story on. We also help people who are released from jail or go to rehab but don’t have funds. Because how are you supposed to start your recovery journey without some kind of basic necessities?
We have a grant from Walmart that allows us to give back to the addiction and recovery community to help pay for food, furniture, or clothing for kids. No one should have to feel like they’re not able to support themselves. We also provide money for transportation to and from treatment centers. Because one thing I learned is just how difficult treatment is, but especially in terms of gas and transportation to get there, so we also help pay for medication assisted treatment (MAT), which is proven to be incredibly effective but most importantly in reducing risk of overdose. So I wanted to make sure that we’re lowering barriers to entry.
As far as stigma, I know if I can change the way I view things, others can too. It shouldn’t take something as traumatic as losing a loved one for people to wake up. I feel it’s my job as a human to understand the situation, respect people and try to be supportive when I can. So destigmatizing provides information in an unbiased and unfiltered way so people can make their own determination.
The financial support you’re able to provide thanks to Walmart etc is just amazing and we never think about the cost of participating in treatment.
It’s so expensive! We take things for granted.. My dad bought me a car before I had a license. I never even thought twice about transportation barriers when I came into this space. I spoke with treatment centers all over the country and said “I have money from donors who have been so generous, what do you need?” They said people can’t afford their medicine and transportation. For example, in West Virginia it’s typically $80 a day just to get to and from a treatment center because the clinic that dispenses their methadone is an hour away. People shouldn’t have to worry about being able to access good care; it should be a human right.
You’re absolutely right. One fascinating aspect of The Albertus Project is that whereas most advocacy groups are supporting persons with addiction and maybe a handful support families, we don’t see many groups bridging those 2 populations, and Albertus project is bridging that gap by supporting both patients and families. What is it that you’re seeing that so many might be missing?
That’s a good point, when I first started thinking about starting a nonprofit I did my research because there are so many organizations already doing just such badass work. But I couldn’t find resources for people whose friends were suffering from addiction. God forbid a mom, dad or a sibling is dealing with this stuff, what help is available for them? I’m so grateful many organizations are reaching the addiction community, but what about all the family members and friends who are left out either purposefully (or not) by this process and they’re suffering too? I know how helpless it feels so I noticed there’s a real gap in this space that I felt I could fill.
Half of my work supports the addiction community, whether that’s folks in active addiction, or folks in recovery for 20 years. The other half is being a resource for family and friends, which is how you and I met because when family and friends are reaching out weekly (if not more) I didn’t know what to do, I’m not a trained professional. Then I found CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training) which rocked my world and I feel everyone needs to know about CRAFT. The Albertus Project is also helping to pay for family members and friends who can’t afford the training.
I wanted to figure out how to fulfill the other half of the equation. They always say “if the oxygen mask drops you have to put yours on first before you put on someone else’s.
How the heck are families supposed to support other family members when they aren’t given the skills?
The way current centers and traditional addiction treatment is set up, families are either blamed and/or they’re not allowed to be part of the process. Which makes no sense, clinically this doesn’t help anyone. You and I connected so much on CRAFT and I’m really grateful because I can refer family and friends to a proven resource designed for them, and not for their family member who’s suffering. They can be in the best position to support their loved one, and take care of themselves. To me that’s just as important as supporting persons with addiction.
Points well taken Alex! We know the majority that make it into residential treatment report family or close friends as the main influence to seeking help. They are often the ones to help encourage loved ones to find appropriate, quality treatment they’ll benefit from. As you know, I’m on the family bandwagon myself. I’ve been a clinical social worker for several decades and I’ve always been drawn to addiction. First with patients but early on in my career with families who were struggling. So when I decided to go into coaching I knew families were in need as there aren’t many professional, evidence based types of support available that families can benefit from. It’s so rewarding, especially using CRAFT. We find that by training and educating families on non-stigmatizing language and understanding dual diagnosis, not only helps families recover but their loved ones tend to do really well. They get into treatment and into recovery often.
You just mentioned one thing I really struggled with at first, stigmatizing language. All I knew was people referred to themselves and others as “addicts” so I never thought twice about it.
Then I was like wait, you don’t say to someone with cancer “oh you’re a cancer right?”. So one of the first resources I published was one on terminology. But it goes to show the role our language plays in stigma. Having family members take time to find a balance of what’s appropriate for their loved one while educating themselves really helps.
I’m often asked what the role of a family member is in this space and to me the most important thing is they know it’s not their fault.. it’s just not. This isn’t a “them” thing and they need to know that no matter how many times they’re told it is.
But I think the most important thing a family member or friend of someone suffering from addiction can do is to be educated. That’s all you can do right? Stand by, support them and be educated. Whether that’s leveraging CRAFT or knowing there’s a wide variety of recovery programs and groups in addition to 12 step programs (AA, NA etc). Recovery Dharma, Women for Sobriety and Smart Recovery are a few.
By giving your loved one options, being educated, and knowing it’s not a one-size fits all approach is something I wish I had known.
I could’ve told my friend “you have so many options and there’s no one right way to go about things” But I think family members can take time to become educated, no one’s perfect, there’s so much to learn, and you can equip your loved one with the feeling of not having to carry the world on their shoulders alone. So I think that’s a cool role a family member can fill and CRAFT certainly helps with that.
Alex if you had one piece of advice for families with addiction, what would that be?
To be patient with yourself, to be loving and empathetic. There is so much blame and shame centered around doing a bad job as a parent, that somehow it’s their fault and they should be embarrassed. There’s also the blame and shame parents put on their son or daughter because they feel they’re not doing enough. I haven’t run into anyone yet that claimed being cruel to a family member and shaming them was what got them into recovery. The love and support one feels knowing they still have loved ones around who are willing to be patient and stand by them, that’s human nature right? No one’s going to want to beat the world and conquer something like addiction alone. That’s just not a good approach. The current environment is structured to make people feel tough love is the only option. You just have to know what your limits are, and educate yourself as much as possible. That way you feel you’re taking care of yourself and your loved one.
You’re saying be patient, loving and become educated. I couldn’t agree more and that’s great inspiration to take away. I have no doubt your friend Reed is looking down and is so proud of what you’re doing. I’m sure she feels remembered and loved.
At the end of the day, we all make mistakes. Everyone has vices but there’s no such thing as someone who can’t come back from the throes of addiction and knowing there’s hope out there.
Family and friends can stand by, support you and know that you have options to approach recovery. I certainly hope that inspires people to find whatever recovery journey works best for them.
Thank you so much for sharing your inspirational journey with us, please let us know how we can contact you and follow the ongoing activities of The Albertus Project.
Thanks for having me, this is a real pleasure. I love chatting with you as always. Folks can find us @albertusproject on all social media platforms, AlbertusProject.org and through our linktree. We run 100% on donations. $5 can provide medication for a day or cover half the cost of a ride to a treatment center. So anything folks can do to help support we will help the addiction community, and that means the world. We’re always open to different suggestions too, so if someone knows of a way we can help definitely reach out. We’re always here.
Thank you again and have a wonderful rest of the day.
Awesome! Thanks Patrick.
If you have any questions, comments or are interested in Family Addiction Coaching, contact us.
This episode transcript was edited and remixed by Amanda S. @RebelEclectic