ROCHESTER, NY — April is National Alcohol Awareness Month. Many people come to the East and Alexander neighborhood in Rochester for a drink with friends. However, in the middle of several popular bars is a place that tries to help people who may have turned having a drink or three out in the evening into a harmful habit.
Katherine Thompson describes a tumultuous relationship with alcohol.
“I felt prettier,” Thompson said. “I was smarter. I was sexier. I was more outgoing. All the things I didn’t feel for myself, it was fixed until it stopped.
She says her journey includes drinking alcohol to the point of dropping out of her first semester of college, quitting drinking and then relapsing.
“I was drinking every day in a month,” Thompson said. “And it accelerated. And then eventually I decided, or my illness decided, to quit my job so I could drink full time.”
Thompson said people in her life started noticing she had a problem. Although the journey has not been easy, she says she has found purpose in her recovery by helping others do the same.
“I fell hard,” Thompson said. “I lost everything. And I’m grateful for that today because I can do work that I think is authentic and meaningful and important to me in an honest way.
Thompson went back to school in her 50s to become a drug and alcohol counselor, where she can advise others on how to combat the voice that says “just one more drink.”
“There’s a quirk to me,” Thompson said. “Because I’m like ‘you’re listening to a drunk.’ But that’s why they’re listening because they know I walked for them.
She is now the care manager at Huther Doyle, a recovery center off East Avenue.
In response to the irony of the center’s location, Huther Doyle’s senior manager, Joel Yager, said the bars moved in after Huther Doyle was in the area, and it actually worked for them.
“Because we get people who used to be bar patrons and later just remember the place,” Yager said. “It’s a place they’ve seen all their college years and into their early 30s.”
Yager said the pandemic, especially when everyone was told to self-isolate and work from home, caused 10 times as many clients who were struggling with alcohol to arrive.
“It was the recipe for everything,” Yager said, “It was loneliness, there are no consequences, no one is watching you, there is no accountability.”
He said the demographics of people he typically sees needing counseling services have also changed.
“We ended up having a huge middle-aged client, mostly professionals, people who had jobs, people who were working,” Yager said. “Before that, we received a lot of people who were going through difficult times economically, who could have benefited from public assistance.”
However, it could also be because the shift to online counseling services has made some people more comfortable asking for help.
“We took a lot of people who would never come to a treatment program because they were always afraid of the stigma of walking through the front door. [and] who is going to see me come in,” Yager said. “Now they’re home, they feel safe, it’s like talking to their best friend.”
Yager said the hardest part of overcoming alcoholism is first knowing you have a problem. He said you can’t convince people of that. Some questions he said to ask yourself: are you lonely, do you decide to buy alcohol to drink on your own rather than socialize, does alcohol affect your work and relationships , have you become drunk while driving?
Thompson said if you notice someone you love might be an alcoholic, never tell someone about their drinking while they’re drunk.
“What didn’t work was when my friends kind of confronted me and ‘we think you’re an alcoholic’ which kind of shut me down and I got very defensive,” said Thompson. “But I think experience sharing, compassion, it has to be done out of unconditional love and compassion.”
She works to help people with addiction through meditation, which she says has really helped her.
“I can do work that is authentic to me, meaningful, and helps others,” Thompson said. “I wish everyone could have a slice of this slice of heaven because it’s a great life.”
Huther Doyle still has online counseling for those more comfortable seeking help that way, but the center has brought back in-person counseling, group sessions, a mobile treatment unit and more to help people struggling with alcoholism and other addictions.