The Recovery Center

The Recovery Center

Rural Recovery:

How Small Groups Support Women Working Towards Recovery

Suzi Hamilton, CAS, CACII
The Recovery Center

“When you live in a small town, it's easy to go back to old friends who do the things you’re trying to stay away from,” says Suzi Hamilton, counselor at The Recovery Center in Cortez, Colorado.

With a population of just over 9,000 and hours from the resources available in urban areas, the center provides “multi-dimensional” treatments that meet people where they’re at. Ranging from medication-assisted treatment to peer support, all are designed to provide people with effective interventions, skills and boundaries to achieve recovery.

Connecting to a New Social Network

Suzi has been running a woman-only support group for six years. She’s seen women come to the group, leave for a bit, then come back realizing that support is necessary to maintain healthy relationships–with themselves, their kids, and their choices around substance use.

“We’re really working on creating a social network for them so they can meet new friends that are sober and they can support each other once their treatment is done,” she says.

Suzi meets many of the moms she works with through her role as a court liaison for Child Protective Services. She ensures they know about the outpatient treatment and prevention services offered through The Recovery Center.

Staying Flexible in Group Settings

While The Recovery Center serves all populations, moms have a special place in Suzi’s heart. As a mom herself, she runs in-person group sessions for 8-12 women, offering them a space to speak freely about trauma and abuse in a safe space. There’s a curriculum, but it’s flexible.

“If something's going on with the group or a particular person and the group wants to support that person, we don't have a problem with going off the curriculum,” she says. “We try to deal with the things that are going on in their life, right now.”

Giving Women Real-Life Skills

Suzi’s group sessions focus on coping skills and emotional regulation. She uses the therapeutic modalities of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, known as DBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, known as CBT, and mindfulness They set small, achievable goals with a focus on context: it takes time to get your life back once you get sober.

“Right now, we’re using a sailboat metaphor: are they sailing in the direction they want to go? And if not, what can they do to change that?”

Providing Long-Term Relational Support

Creating a safe and comfortable environment is a priority, and it shows in the relationships Suzi has developed. One of her long-time clients recently reached out. She’d been sober for a year when she experienced a stillbirth. She maintained her sobriety despite the unimaginable loss.

“The group provided her a place to go and just let it all out,” Suzi says.

The Commonality of Co-Occurring  Substance Misuse and Eating Disorders

Suzi pulls from her own life experience of living with an eating disorder to help her clients navigate their own journeys related to body image and eating disorders.. Recovery often involves feeling and building tolerance for uncomfortable emotions– emotions which a woman may have managed in the past through strategies like substance use or disordered eating. For many women, an increase in uncomfortable feelings, including uncomfortable feelings around weight gain, can be a trigger for substance use. Suzi encourages providers working with women in recovery to be mindful of the complex relationship between substance use, body image and disordered eating.

According to the National Eating Disorder Associations (2022), 50% of people with eating disorders use substances and/or alcohol while 35% of people with a substance use disorder also have a co-occurring eating disorder.

“It’s important to be able to catch the early signs,” she says.

She also encourages providers to have patience while remaining encouraging. Moms in recovery have many responsibilities–cooking dinner, taking care of kids, legal obligations, and simply being too tired to come to group therapy.

“It’s hard,” Suzi says. “I always try to be understanding, and remind them how important group support is to their recovery process".

Learn more about the services provided by The Recovery Center in Cortez, Colorado.

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