I met Jamison Monroe on the dance floor.
It was at a Pencils of Promise fundraiser in Midtown NY the fall of 2012. The room was full of smart, driven, vivacious people -- and this particular guy had moves. He was wearing a grey hooded sweatshirt with a ‘Newport Academy’ crest on the chest pocket. I grew up in Huntington Beach, CA (which neighbors Newport Beach), so I assumed he was my people. Being 3,000 miles away from home, I cling to fellow Californians!
Turns out, Jamison is a Texan -- but I decided we could be friends anyways.
He and I maintained an enthusiastic dance circle for the whole after party. High on life from busting moves, a group of us grabbed a drink after the official party ended. At a West-side wine bar I ordered pinot noir. Jamison ordered a ginger ale. He was sober. As it turned out, Newport Academy is a comprehensive treatment program (including recovery residential facilities and sober high schools) for adolescents suffering from mental health, behavioral health and substance abuse issues. Jamison is the founder.
After the PoP party night, I kept running into Jamison, unexpectedly. Who was this guy? How does one become the founder of a high school for adolescents recovering from destructive behaviors? I wanted to know more. So, we met for coffee (which turned out to be tea).
When Jamison was 18 he was living in Houston, had been arrested twice, and was a full-blown drug addict. He realized he was either going to 1. Kill himself 2. Kill someone else or 3. Go to rehab. He chose #3. Raised in what might have appeared like a perfect childhood environment, Jamison began his descent into alcohol and drug abuse as a teen. Over the next few years, he was admitted to a number of well-known treatment programs where he would remain sober for a handful of months before relapsing. Despite a supportive family, Jamison remained in this life-threatening cycle until he realized that for rehab to stick, he had to get outta town.
He moved to Southern California, leaving behind everything he knew, and entered a treatment center. This center focused on personalized, comprehensive and holistic treatment that allowed him to safely address his individual underlying issues (while balancing an effective amount of family involvement). It was there that he finally got sober. In the process, he became aware of there were hardly any resources for families with children dealing with self-harm, substance abuse, eating disorders, conduct disorders and other forms of self-destructive behaviors. Newport Academy was born.
Newport Academy now has locations in Newport Beach, CA, Darien, CT and a third opening in New York City this Spring. Their focus is sustainable healing, which seems to be working. 80% of kids that go back to a traditional educational environment post recovery treatment relapse within 30 days. But 80% of Newport Academy attendees make it to one-year sober. #winning
1. Systems are More Powerful Than the Individual
Jamison believes that people are products of their environments: 1. Primary environment (family system) and 2. Secondary environment (peer group). So, if we are looking at the reasons why teens are acting out, environment is the first issue to be addressed.
Conversely, why do some people seem unstoppable? Positive primary and secondary environments perhaps? My time spent with Jamison encouraged my to think about the human systems that surround me.
For my dad's 60th birthday a couple years ago, I converted some home videos from VHS to digital files. One of those videos documented my three-year-old self playing in the sandbox at Central Park with the 1980's version of my parents. In the video footage, they were both engaged, patient and loving. My supportive and inspiring family system and positive peer group have played a central role in who I am today. As well as helped pave the way for my personal courage this past year. Go team.
2. Openness Can Free You From Isolation
I am so impressed with Jamison’s openness about his past. Culturally, I think we can all agree that there's shame surrounding addictions. Once Jamison realized he wasn’t alone, he set out to help people. Jamison took his negative experience and turned it into a positive one through sharing his experience. Now, he has been recognized as one of the addiction field's youngest and most prolific agents of change.
3. Some Topics Are Tough to Talk About
But they're real and we must get better at talking about them. Currently nearly 24 million Americans struggle with drug and alcohol addiction -- of course, affecting not only those addicted, but also their families, friends and communities. Right after meeting Jamison, his work hit home. When I flew to California for Thanksgiving that year, there were red ribbons decorating the downtown HB city streets. The ribbons were commemorating the life of an 18 year-old boy who went to my high school -- and recently died of a heroin overdose. Drug abuse is currently a huge problem in Orange County.
Jamison is actively developing projects to de-stigmatize mental health addictions. He is the co-founder of a boutique dinner party series called DrugsOverDinner. The goal of the culinary project is to inspire 1 million people to convene, break bread and discuss this critical topic of drugs and addiction. He also recently produced a documentary about the prescription drug abuse epidemic in Orange County and beyond youth drug use in the OC called Behind the Orange Curtain.