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The Special Powers of a Sober Coach

There are higher powers and then there’s Patty Powers, a sober coach on A&E’s latest addictive series, Relapse.

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She's got the Powers Courtesy of A&E

By Judy McGuire

04/05/11

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One of the most frustrating aspects of Intervention is that the once the addict has been trundled off to rehab or refuses to go, the only real follow-up is a couple of stark white sentences on a black background. “Annie left rehab after 12 days—her boyfriend/pimp paid for her plane ticket back home.” Or “Jerry successfully completed treatment and has been sober since May 12, 2010.”

That’s where A&E’s new series Relapse comes in. Leaving the nuts and bolts of televised rehab and detox to Dr. Drew, Relapse begins when the addict graduates from treatment and lapses back into their old, bad, familiar habits. This time, instead of Candy Finnigan laying down the law, every show features two different users, each of whom is matched with their own sober coach whose mission is to help the addict figure out how to integrate sobriety into their lives. 
 
We spoke with one of the coaches, New Yorker Patty Powers, about her stint on the show and her 22 years of sobriety. 
 
What made you get clean?
 
I was going to die. I knew in my heart that I wouldn’t make it one more day and I didn’t have an extra 24 hours to decide. I was a heroin addict but I would also go in and out of periods when I’d shoot a lot of coke. There was drinking, but most of my drinking was when I was trying to not do heroin. If I moved to a different country and couldn’t find heroin, I’d drink until I could find it. 
 
How did you become a sober coach?
 
I didn’t even know that term when I started. I have a lot of friends in the entertainment industry and there were times they’d be just getting clean and have to go on tour. They’d want me to go with them to help them stay clean. I’d tell them I couldn’t afford to take off that much work, so they would they pay me for the work time I missed. At a certain point, people began to recommend me to clients. 
 
What does a day in the life of a sober coach entail? On one of the episodes, the coach would stay in a hotel, but then in another, you stayed in the hotel with Keri, a young heroin addict, as she detoxed.
 
Every situation is different. It depends on what they need from me and what I think is the best. Most people who hire sober coaches have been to treatment—sometimes up to 14 times. They do the basics of what they’re told, but they keep relapsing and often their therapist won’t understand what’s happening between treatment and relapse. Sometimes I’ll live with them and make sure they’re doing what they need to be doing to help this work in the long-term. With other people, I could be spending 12 hours a day with them, and then bring it down to six hours, then every other day. Along the way they’re building a support system and getting involved in the program, so when I leave them, they’re not alone.
 
But shouldn’t they be getting that out of AA anyway?
 
Addiction creates all this social anxiety—many times, they’ll go to meetings, but get more stressed out by talking to strangers. And talking to strangers is what’s going to help them get sober. A network is the key to getting sober because an addict alone is in bad company. 
 
Do you feel like shows like Relapse and Intervention are exploiting the addicts they feature?
Not at all. They’re really educational, and I think they really impact the addicts that are on the show. It changes their lives in a positive way. 
 
What if the person who hires you turns out to be a nightmare? 
With a lot of addicts, if that’s the part of their personality they’re presenting, it’s the disease talking. They’re trying to keep help away. But I know underneath is someone I can completely relate to. They might have a lot of armor, but underneath it, they’re just like me. 
 
Relapse airs Mondays at 9/8C on A&E. Judy McGuire is a Brooklyn, NY-based freelance writer and a columnist at the Seattle WeeklyYou can find her at dategirl.net.

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Last February, my oldest friend died of a heroin overdose at the age of 49. He beat me to recovery, and he beat me to death. He also gave a final, drug-alogue interview on my radio show 20 hours before he died.

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