Ep. 7: Alema Harrington: Eliminating the Cycle of Opioid Addiction

Ken Krogue: Hello everybody, this is Thom Harrison and Ken Krogue with EternalCore. Today, we’ve got Alema Harrington. Thank you so much for joining us.

Alema Harrington: Thank you.

Thom Harrison: Yeah, it’s great to have you here.

Ken Krogue: We had an amazing conversation just the other day. Alema works fairly closely in the mental health industry. You’ve recently, I mean, you’ve gone back and gone to school. Tell us about that.

Alema Harrington: Well, I went back to school after I got my bachelor’s degree at BYU. Which, in some ways, is a miracle that I finished school, because, I was really in the middle of my disease of addiction at that time. But, I was able to graduate from Brigham Young University. I had a bachelor’s degree in sociology. And then, I had been in the broadcast business for many, many years and had struggled with addiction, with the disease throughout that time.  From the first time, it’s interesting, cause I was driving down here to Utah County. And, on my way here, I’m passing different treatment facilities that I’ve been through, all the pharmacies that I’d been at at different times in my disease, right, getting pain pills and whatnot. But, at a certain point in my recovery, I had written kind of a memoir, and a lot of the stories that I tell when I speak, and I had written these down. I had this intent to publish. And I thought, you know, it might be worthwhile to have some letters behind my name. And some credentials if you will, outside of my practical experience. So I went back to Utah Valley University, and I’m a proud wolverine now along with being a cougar.

Ken Krogue: They were probably proud of that, having your there.

Alema Harrington: I was fortunate to go back and get my… There was a period where it was called an LSAC, which is a licensed substance abuse counselor. And during the time frame, when I went back and became the substance use disorder counselor degree, but I got that degree at Utah Valley University. And I feel very fortunate to have been able to include that education as part of my experience now.

Alema Harrington: So I was able to go back and do that. I didn’t have any intent. And getting into the counseling side of it you’re like, again, my intent was, I’ll have some letters behind my name as the author of this book. And, in the process of getting my SUDC, I had an internship. In that internship, I was exposed to being able to sit and counsel with people, and it was so rewarding. And that part of it kind of drew me into it. At the time, I was doing a radio show regularly, on a daily basis, in the middle of the day. And I would go and do my internship in the morning. Then I’d go do this radio show. Then I’d go do the Utah Jazz in the evening.

Alema Harrington: So I was very busy. And at a certain point, I decided, you know what? I think it’s time to stop doing radio. I had been doing radio since 2004. And I decided I’m going to pursue this thing full time during the day as a substance use disorder counselor. So I went through my internship. I got licensed through DOPL and left radio. I told the guys that… My radio contract was through the Utah Jazz as well. I said, “Hey, I’m going to leave and pursue this during the day.” And they were supportive of that. So that’s basically how I ended up in the industry as a counselor.

Ken Krogue: Yeah. How long has that been?

Alema Harrington: It’s been since about 2014-15 was when I made that transition. So, you know, that was 10 years of doing radio. And really again, no real intent on getting into this business as a counselor. But, it has been rewarding both from an academic educational standpoint. But, more so, I can look back at it now, as far as my own personal recovery is concerned, (which we can get into). But, it’s been one of the more beneficial things.

Ken Krogue: In fact, would it be okay if we had a whole episode on that? I’d love to.

Alema Harrington: Sure, but it’s a… I think it’s been one of the most beneficial things that I have done. If you look at the 12 steps in step 12 and carrying the message. But, just that interaction on a one-on-one level or in a group setting with others that are struggling with this disease, has been probably the most beneficial thing that I have done for my own personal recovery.

Thom Harrison: Well, it creates such a relationship component and a real component.

Alema Harrington: Yeah.

Thom Harrison: Because, you know, there’s a thing we say in the profession, “Whatever you haven’t worked through, comes through your door. And it continues to come through your door until you’ve worked it through.”

Alema Harrington: Yeah. Beautiful. I see that on a regular basis, I really do. And I’m grateful for that, because it’s an opportunity for me to continue to work through those things for me.

Thom Harrison: And being real and getting real with your clients or patients or whatever you call it.

Alema Harrington: Yeah.

Ken Krogue: Well our audience knows Alema from his work with the Utah Jazz and running back from BYU.

Alema Harrington: Look at that good-looking fellow right there. That’s Thurl Bailey.

Ken Krogue: Yeah. Tell us some of that background, some of that story of your career.

Alema Harrington: So we were just on the set last night, and you know, whenever you’re watching this. Because our vidcast will be available for years to come, but we just got done. Last night was a late game for us. We played the Denver Nuggets and Thurl Bailey and I have become very dear friends. And, as is the case with some of the other guys that I work with. Including Craig Bolerjack, who was the voice of the Utah Jazz, who has seen me go through ups and downs and the challenges of the disease of addiction. And I consider myself very fortunate, very blessed in my business speaking of the broadcast industry, to work with really fantastic men. And men of integrity and not necessarily something you commonly find in our industry. And men that have egos in check. So, you know, I’ve been fortunate to have the support of the Larry H. Miller group, the Utah Jazz, and the guys that I work with along the way. But I consider myself to be, you know, living the dream in a very real way, because I get to do the things that I absolutely love, which is broadcast and counsel. So it’s been, it’s beautiful.

Thom Harrison: So the best of both worlds.

Alema Harrington: Yeah, absolutely. And, the way that it lends itself to the work that I do in a counseling side. Oftentimes, because I work with men in recovery, in our residential treatment facility… Oftentimes when they see a guy that they recognize like, “Oh, that’s Alema Harrington. I saw him on the Jazz broadcast.” There’s an immediate connection and a willingness to listen. So it’s been beneficial in that regard too.

Ken Krogue: You know, influence can do a lot of good. And we’ve really… I mean it’s fun to see a role model who’s had some challenges. But, wow. You’re making an impact there. You’re working with young people, I understand mostly?

Alema Harrington: Yeah. Well, actually, at the facility we’re all adults. But, I do a lot of work with the youth. When I get a chance to go to schools and we’re approaching it from an educational standpoint. You know, not necessarily people that are in the midst of the disease. They’re learning about it, right? And they’re being educated. And the education today is very different than the education that we all received growing up in the campaigns of, “Just say no.” Or the campaigns of “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.” right? We’ve come a long way since then. And we understand the brain disorder that we’re dealing with. The mental health component that is part of the disease of addiction, right?

Thom Harrison: Well, the wonderful thing about it is they can’t pull the wool over your eyes, because you’ve seen it, and you’ve experienced it. You can say, “I know where you’re going. Let’s go in a new direction.” And there’s a respect there too, because immediately you know when you’re getting the BS. And you know when they’re trying to pretend. And so I’m sure that’s a real benefit.

Alema Harrington: I think, you know, as we look at it today, I think we understand that our approach does need to be different from an educational standpoint. The things that I try to drive home are the education prevention and redemption, which is kind of a three-pronged approach to this. But understanding that the education part is important, the prevention part is important. But at some point, if we’re looking at the statistics 1 out of 10 regardless, including myself, who’s in that category. It’s not like I didn’t get education, right? And I wasn’t taught these things, but I still chose to pursue that and go down that path. So there does need to be a redemption component as part of it. So we were able to at least have those different messages that we can share.

Thom Harrison: Could you share a little bit more about what you mean by that Alema? That redemption?

Alema Harrington: Yeah. Because, you know, when we’re looking at getting to the depths of this disease, which I’d been at the depths in that abyss. For me, my personal experience, was there was no return from there without some sort of aid or help outside of myself. Right? So we’re talking about whether it’s divine intervention, or a higher power, and grasping onto that. I think the understanding is… And I did group yesterday morning out at our residential facility and talking about this. And we all know, as we work in the mental health field, there’s certain points where, as I shared with my guys in group yesterday, if you could have fixed this, then you would have already, right? Because it’s not like we’re unintelligent men. It’s not like we’re not strong men with will power. But, the power that we have or had was insufficient.

Alema Harrington: So it’s looking at the men that I’m working with and using myself as a personal example. You know, if I could have overcome this on my own, I would have done it in my thirties. I would have done it in my twenties. But, the bottom line is that the necessary power wasn’t here, and I needed something outside of myself. Whether it’s a reference to a higher power, or God, or divine, the spirit of the universe, you know, all of those things that come into play. And for me, it really does not matter what that is as long as it’s something. So we try to create an environment where people can grasp that concept, which is, you’re not going to overcome this on your own. Like, you can keep trying. I could keep trying. I’m in my fifties now, and I could keep trying to do that, but there’s another option.

Alema Harrington: The option is this spiritual approach along with the cognitive therapies that are available. It’s like, why don’t I try that? Because I’ve already tried this other thing, which is doing it on my willpower my self will for years and years, decades even. And my experience has been going this path, with the spiritual component, with the cognitive therapeutic components, that’s worked. And because of those things today, you know, I’m sober. I don’t take credit for that. I’m very grateful for that, because it’s been a gift that has been given to me. So now I share that message like, “Hey, if you’ve tried,” and the majority of guys that ended up in treatment, they have tried. It’s not like they haven’t tried.

Thom Harrison:   Over and over.

Alema Harrington: Over and over, right, in vain. And if you’ve tried over and over, you’re like, “Here’s a suggestion.” Right? And even in the big book of alcoholics anonymous, it says, “These are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery.” We’re not telling you, “You have to do this.” But you know, if you’ve exhausted your other options, here’s one more. Here’s one more option. Why don’t you try this? Millions have tried it and have found success, peace, serenity, and sobriety.

Thom Harrison: And that’s part of the great work that Renaissance Ranch is doing to give other options and help people through it. I received a call recently from a group of individuals in Missouri. And two years ago, their major problem was opioid addiction. And they said, just within a two-year period of time Alema, their number one problem now is trafficking. Because these people became so addicted to these opioids. Then they went into heroin, and then the pimp said, “I will give you more heroin, if we can move you into trafficking.” So now, their number one problem is trafficking. I think a lot of people don’t understand that all of these difficulties flow into one another. Now they’re saying, “What do we do with this trafficking problem?” And they’re not looking at…

Alema Harrington: The source

Thom Harrison: Where it starts, the source.

Alema Harrington: I think there’s so many of us that we are, either we’re blind to it or we don’t want to see it. You know, and we were talking off camera prior to starting. The path that we take, there are so many things that, as you know a youngster or in my youth, I would say “I will never do that.” Like nobody intends like, “Oh, I think when I grow up,” you know, “I’d like to be a heroin addict.” Or “When I grow up, maybe human trafficking would be a nice career for me.” Nobody thinks that. But that’s where this path takes us. And I can remember very significant moments in my addiction, in my disease, where I crossed those lines that I said, “I will never do that.” You know?

Alema Harrington: And specifically I can recall, I won’t… I remember hearing about a guy that I knew that was stealing people’s prescriptions. And I’m like, “What in the world” like that is the terror… I mean, I thought that that was just one of the most, you know, that’s as low as you can go. I’d never do that. Right? And sure enough, in the course of my disease, I found myself doing that. And I can remember this conscious awareness of like, “Wow, this is me now.”

Thom Harrison: Yeah, going through medicine cabinets.

Alema Harrington: Yeah, going through medicine cabinets. Not far from where we are right now, one of my uncle and my aunt’s house and like, “What am I doing?” But you know, doing that. And then, similarly with heroin saying, “I’m never going to use heroin.” Right? And then I remember that moment, that day when I’m down at Pioneer Park, and I’m looking for heroin. And then, and now I’m using heroin. Those lines that have been set up. And if that’s the case, that I’m continually crossing that line, then what’s to say that human trafficking or prostituting myself is a line that I’ll never cross. You know, to say that doesn’t mean that there won’t come a time in the progression of this disease that we will cross every one of those lines.

Ken Krogue: You know we had Tim Ballard from Operation Underground Railroad in that exact seat just a little while ago. And he walked us down that same model, you know. He talked to us, he says, he’s amazed at the people that they have to, when they capture them to rescue the kids. You know, they started with a little bit of pornography. And they went to violent porn to child porn to then acting out. It’s just this pathway. If you don’t stop it and get help to turn it around, it affects the lives of many, many other people.

Thom Harrison: It’s amazing to me how the brain functions under substances. And it’s this gradual diminishment. It’s this gradual process. And I think most people just don’t think of it as that. And they think, you know, “My willpower will hold out, my friendships”… But no, the more drugs we have on board, the more it diminishes those capacities. And then they think, “I’ve sunk so deep, I’ll never be able to.” And then, when they get treatment, they find that, “Once I clear myself of those things, then that willpower starts to return. And I start seeing myself differently.”

Thom Harrison: Those have been the amazing golden experience of therapy for me. To see these people that thought they could never resolve and they’re just doing so much better. And here we have a wonderful example of that. Of an individual who said, “I don’t want to do that anymore. I’ve learned skills. I know how to combat that. I know how to fight that now, and so it doesn’t affect me.” That doesn’t mean that maybe those thoughts don’t come into my mind, but I go, “No, been there. Done that. No thank you.”

Alema Harrington: Sanity, right? That right there is what you just described. When guys talk to me about it, I make sure that I point this out to them. When we have that thought process, which is, “You know what? That’s a bad idea. I’m not going to do it” Right? That is sanity for the alcoholic and the addict, which is something that is restored. If you look at the 12-step program, you know, step two is come to believe a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity. Because the insane thought is, that happens all the time is, “That’s a bad idea. I’m going to do it again anyway.”

Alema Harrington: And the addict is very familiar with that thought pattern because it happens over and over and over.  And then, as we’re able to understand that insane thought process, and understand that I’m powerless over this thought process. And being open to inviting in a power greater than myself to help me with that. Then, as you talked about, and I’m able to clear the drugs out of my system and reprogram my brain, now I have this power that happens within me. That says, “That’s a bad idea. I’m not going to do it.” And I don’t do it.

Thom Harrison: Right. But you didn’t learn how to be a voice of the Jazz overnight.

Alema Harrington: Right. It takes time.

Thom Harrison. That was a gradual process. And I think most people just look at that as a job training instead of the same cognitive process applies to everything. We don’t learn to be an addict in a day. We don’t learn to be an addict in a month. But, we don’t learn to not be an addict in the same amount of time. It takes that gradual process of learning how to combat that process. And, just because the thoughts come into our mind, you know. I think most people don’t realize we are not our thoughts. “That was a stupid thought” or “That was a real sexual thought” or “That was a real dangerous thought.” Not that we have the power to control those thoughts and they go, “No, I’ve gone that way before, and I don’t like how I feel after. So today, I’m not going to go that way, and hopefully tonight, I’m not going to do it either. And hopefully tomorrow morning I’m not going to do it either.”

Thom Harrison: I remember numerous people sitting in my office and telling me, “This is the last time I will ever do this.” But, the other part of their brain is thinking, “How can I get ahold of the guy who gives me these right when I get out in the parking lot.”  So, you know, it’s that duality going on at the same time.

Alema Harrington: There’s a war going on in there. And I think, to the point that you make, for me, it was coming to an understanding that my ability to make those conscious, wise, intelligent, decisions, was I needed the help of something outside of myself, which was divine intervention. So it wasn’t going to be, “That’s a bad idea. I’m not going to do it.” “That’s a bad idea. God, help me, please help me not do that.” And by inviting that power and having that success, it was like, “Okay, there’s the solution for me.” There’s the solution for me. It’s not my willpower. It’s not my self will. It’s allowing this power, greater than myself, to have an effect within me. And I say this with my guys, and this is for the purposes of this vidcast. This is my opinion on, and I tell guys that, “You’re not here to change, but you’re here to be changed.”

Ken Krogue: Wow. It’s not the arm of the flesh.

Alema Harrington: It’s the difference between behavior modification and a mighty change of heart. Which is, for me, what the true healing is that happens in the case of addiction.

Thom Harrison: Well Alema, we really appreciate you coming in today. We would like to chat with you a little bit more.

Ken Krogue: Could we get you back? We want to hear your story. Is that all right?

Alema Harrington: Yeah. Absolutely.

Ken Krogue: Guys, this is Alema Harrington, the voice of the Jazz, helping us learn more about his own personal journey to healing that included God. Thank you.

Thom Harrison: He’s going to be one of our speakers, so come and listen to him on March 29th and 30th at Little America.

Ken Krogue: Go to eternalcore.org. Grab a seat, they’re going quick.

Alema Harrington: Come on and see us. It’s going to be a great time.

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