“Be true to yourself and believe in yourself,
play on your strengths and go for it.”
Amy Novicoff-Fackrell, is a former lawyer, a recovering alcoholic, bipolar and the owner and executive director of Viewpoint Dual Recovery Center in Prescott, Arizona. She practices what she preaches. The biggest influence in her life was her own mother, who she described as a brilliant, informed, strong woman; words that clearly apply to Amy as well.
Amy’s program treats those caught in the difficult collision of mental illness and addiction. A difficult job by any measure. We recently interviewed her to find out what made this talented, successful young lawyer turn to such a challenging career path. Her answers were thoughtful and revealing.
Amy, tell us about you . . .
I grew up in an amazing family with the world at my feet. My parents are loving, caring, and supportive people. I went to fantastic schools, took gymnastics, piano, ballet lessons and went to camp every summer. We travelled; my family showed me the world.
My parents sent me to college at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, and then to law school at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. I practiced law for the next 16-17 years, for a few years in Texas, and then in California for the balance of my law career.
After my first divorce, I remember making a conscious decision to get high every day. My rationale was that since time healed all wounds, I would drink and use until my pain was gone. I spent the next year and a half doing exactly that, until my family stepped in and I had my first treatment experience. I was in treatment for eight months and managed to put together four and a half years of abstinence, though not necessarily sobriety. I went back to practicing law; my ego came back; and I picked up a drink again.
I spent the next six years trying to make it back. I knew I was miserable; I had even resigned myself to the fact that I would be an active alcoholic and drug addict. I didn’t know how to get out of the dark, deep hole I was in.
I had struggled with depression and ADHD over the years and was given various medications to deal with those diagnoses. However, it wasn’t until I was finally accurately diagnosed with bipolar disorder and found a psychiatrist that helped me find the right medication that I got one more chance. I grabbed on to it for dear life.
More importantly, I finally surrendered and started taking direction, which included being medication compliant on a daily basis. I got a sponsor and worked the steps again and again.
I went back to school and got my Master’s degree in counseling and psychology. I knew if I went back to practicing law, I would have a hard time having any peace and serenity in my life and would have trouble staying sober.
Looking back at where you were when you started your recovery journey, where did you think it was going to lead you?
I could not have imagined the path that I would eventually take. I thought that I would go to treatment, get fixed. Then I’d go back to practicing law and life would be perfect. Talk about delusional! It has been a bumpy road but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I have worked hard to get where I am and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the journey brings.
What’s the hardest thing for you about being a recovering person?
The hardest thing for me to reconcile was all of the horrible decisions I made, the accompanying horrible behaviors and, most importantly, how I hurt the people I love. The great thing is that I don’t ever have to go back to that way of life.
Recovery is awesome and it has shown me how to have a better life. The most difficult thing for me is getting out of my own way.
Why do you do what you do? What motivates you?
I am just a person trying to get better and am no different than any other recovering person. I am trying to give back because people were there for me. I believe that recovery from a dual illness is possible.
After receiving treatment at some of the finest chemical dependency facilities in this world, there was no place for me to go to learn how to live with my co-occurring disorders. I am bipolar and an alcoholic. Remove the substance addiction and I was still bipolar; my life was still compromised. Thank God, people were there for me. I wanted to take what they taught me and help others learn how to live a healthy and productive life in spite of the issues that come with a dual diagnosis.
I decided – with a lot of guidance and support – to create a place, Viewpoint, where people battling a dual diagnosis could come to heal. I have never looked back. I have been able to share my experience, strength and hope with others and hopefully have been able to give back that which was given to me.
Working in the addiction field and managing a treatment program, what have been some of the expected and unexpected hurdles?
It is frustrating to see someone who is not ready and still maintain good boundaries in the therapeutic relationship. It’s hard because I want my clients to succeed and receive all of the benefits and gifts of recovery.
Funding is a critical issue in dual diagnosis treatment. Funding for long-term mental health programs has been severely cut over the past 20 years. This type of treatment is expensive. Insurance coverage, usually costly, typically only partially covers mental health and addiction treatment. Most people cannot afford the treatment they need.
What has been hard for you?
Seeing all of the death and destruction, knowing there is a better way. All I can do is be of service to others and not play God. There is nothing easy about this job, but I have walked in my clients’ shoes and have a deep understanding of their illnesses, and what they are going through.
Do you have advice to offer people who are aspiring to do what you do?
Be true to yourself and believe in yourself, play on your strengths and go for it. Surround yourself with good people and ask for their help. Remember that you are perfectly imperfect and that mistakes are okay, that’s how we learn.
Life is full of difficulties and problems. It’s how you handle those experiences that make the difference between lemons and lemonade.