Recovery is a lifelong process. It comes with ups and downs, twists and turns, life-changing discoveries, and a lot of hard work. No one knows more about this process and its challenges than Daniel Henderson, founder of RecoverWisely, a non-profit providing services for people struggling with addiction and mental health conditions. After a series of life-altering events, his journey of recovery continues, and he was willing to share his story with Larendee Roos and Bob Stei in a recent episode of the Work With Me podcast. Keep reading to learn about Daniel Henderson’s inspiring story, or give the episode a listen on Spotify.
Larendee: So, tell us a bit about your background, your education, and your journey so far. What has brought you to where you are today?
Daniel Henderson: Well, I grew up in Cincinnati, and I still live there now, actually. I grew up in a good, upper-middle-class family, I played soccer, traveled a lot, played basketball, baseball, you name it, I loved sports. I was always exposed to the outdoors, so I also loved backpacking, hiking, rock climbing, anything that I could do outside.
Dad was an entrepreneur, and mom was more of a stay-at-home mom, but she also used to work as a nurse. So, the main things to know are that I loved the outdoors, I loved soccer, and had a love for entrepreneurship from a young age. Starting in elementary school, I had a great idea to cater my dad’s business meetings. I also came up with a great name for it, ‘Last Minute Catering.’ Basically, people could call us if they had a last minute business meeting, and we would whip up some great food in no time and scout stores for exotic drinks and pops. Then in high school, I created an environmentally friendly group called EcoCare; we used to do compost piles, cut people’s lawns with real mowers, if you know what I mean.
I had all this cool stuff going for me, but unfortunately, addiction and mental health issues don’t discriminate. I had my fair share of fun, don’t get me wrong, but then things got bad, and quick. My dad became disabled due to a disease similar to MS, called chronic fatigue syndrome, and that was hard to take as a kid in high school. It was also a highly misunderstood diagnosis, too, and it still is, unfortunately. I also had some girl problems, self esteem issues, and I liked to party…And I couldn’t stop. I started using unhealthy coping mechanisms: drinking and smoking a lot of weed. I never touched any of the hard stuff, though, and I’m so happy that I didn’t. I was diagnosed with ADHD at a young age, and so I was smoking weed to make me focus, but I was drinking. Then of course I started getting depressed, had a lot of self esteem issues, and my anxiety was through the roof, as well. I couldn’t stop, so I started to steal money from my parents to get alcohol. I started stealing stuff from gas stations, and eventually I got caught stealing a case of beer.
I went through multiple psych units as an adolescent, and also treatment centers. I still couldn’t stop. So, I figured I had to change everything. I moved out to California and went to a treatment center called Balboa Horizons. I came to California when I was 18, so I didn’t manage to graduate, although I had a good GPA and was eligible for soccer. Senior year, I went into treatment. I had it all going for me, but it went downhill real quick. Landed in California in March 2015, started my treatment the next day, and I have been sober for 6 and a half years now.
Larendee: I really connect to you Dan, when you talk about your family system and entrepreneurship. It really resonates with me, as I was just recently diagnosed with extreme adrenal fatigue. Some of the research indicates that likely are a series of life-altering events that occur in the past that really set this illness into motion. The body isn’t sustained for fight-or-flight situations. Being in a repetitive state of stress or trauma inducing events can create adrenal fatigue. It was really challenging for me, as I’d always been a high-functioning entrepreneur and sitting down was never an option. My road back is going to be a two-to-four-year journey, because it took 10 plus years to get where I am now in this situation. These illnesses are so misunderstood, so I really resonate with your father’s journey and the impact that it has on the entire family.
Daniel Henderson: Chronic fatigue syndrome is also very misunderstood, but it is a serious illness that comes with brain fog, fibromyalgia, muscle pain, light sensitivity, and more..
Larendee: Yes, I can definitely relate to the brain fog, too. It’s particularly challenging when your family members are saying ‘we already talked about this,’ and you have zero recollection. As a high-functioning entrepreneur and executive who is paid to keep clients’ ducks in a row, you can imagine how fearful I was.
Daniel Henderson: It’s a good thing that you got a proper diagnosis, though.
Larendee: Yes, it was such a chronic case that the next step would have been potentially complete adrenal shutdown. What they figured out is that it was probably initiated from a series of life events and a lot of emotional stress, and then it settled in my stomach, causing poor digestive health and extreme weight gain. It becomes just one thing after another. Even going for a walk with my family was impossible, both mentally and physically. The fact that I now desire to go for a 3-mile walk on a daily basis is such an incredible gift. And my experience is nothing compared to what you and your family have gone through.
Daniel Henderson: Challenges are different for everyone, so I don’t want you to minimize your struggles. You’re doing great, you’re taking care of your health and gaining back control.
Larendee: True. So, I want to move to another pivotal event in your life. Tell us what happened.
Daniel Henderson: So I was hiking on a trail outside Salt Lake City, in Wasatch National Park, basically in the backside of Park City. The trail I wasn on was located on the side of a cliff, and the ground just broke beneath my feet and I fell along with it. I fell 200 feet off a cliff. It wasn’t vertical, but it was steep. I don’t remember the next 4-5 months of my life very well. My friend called search and rescue and I got airflown out of there, but then they had to stop on the side of the road to open up my chest, because my lungs had collapsed. Then I was flown by helicopter to Utah University Hospital, rushed to the ER, and had a cardiac arrest. They brought me back, then I had a stroke, and then I was in a coma because I had a traumatic brain injury.
Once you wake up from a coma, it’s straight to therapy. Speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy – the more activity your brain has early on after an accident, the better chances you have to make a full recovery. Luckily, I was young , at 21, and in good physical shape. I spent a full month in the hospital, doing daily speech, physical, and occupational therapy, then flew to Chicago for long-term brain injury treatment. I did rehab every day. I still don’t remember anything from that fall, and that’s fine with me.
Larendee: Since then, this has really been a continuation of your recovery journey, only of a different sort. So, then you were also diagnosed with some mental health disorders. Were they a result of the accident, or were they present before?
Daniel Henderson: I got sober well before that hiking trip, and had gone to various treatment centers to get help and support for my addiction and mental health. I put myself in treatment because I knew I needed long-term, evidence-based care and professional med management, even if I had already succeeded in getting sober.
Bob: I was diagnosed with ADHD and have dealt with depression, so we all have our demons; thanks for sharing what you’re going through right now. You made a point how, when you were going through your addiction, you only used weed and alcohol. The reason I’m talking about this is, right now, as weed becomes legal across the country, there’s a debate going on about whether it’s addictive or not. What is your take on that?
Daniel Henderson: I think anything can be addictive, including marijuana. If you look at a brain scan, whether it’s alcohol addiction, heroin addiction, sex addiction, gambling, spending, whatever – it all looks the same. Everyone has a drug or harmful behavior of their choice. So I think it’s definitely addictive. When something is causing problems in your life and you still can’t stop, then it’s addictive.
Bob: I think I agree with you, I think it can be an addictive drug. But wow, you have now close to 7 years of sobriety. How have you maintained that?
Daniel Henderson: Six and a half years really, approaching 7. The secret is simple: you take it one day at a time, sometimes one second at a time. It’s a chronic condition, just like diabetes, although society doesn’t look at it like that yet, unfortunately. But just like a diabetic has to take insulin every day, I have to take my meds for alcohol addiction and mental health conditions. How do I do it? It changes, as recovery is a learning process. There’s growth, and there are setbacks. I’ve been seeing a therapist consistently throughout my recovery, and I’ve gone to AA, CA, NA, you name it. I just like good people that can catch me when I’m down, and hold me accountable for things. Sober fun is also key to recovery. It’s not just about going to meetings, it’s about having fun without any ‘extra help.’
Bob: Tell me if you’ve had the same experience when you stopped drinking. When I was 24, I quit alcohol cold turkey. There was no problem, no addiction; I just saw friends of mine going down an ugly path, and I just decided it was all or nothing. I’m done. And I noticed, through the years, that some people get upset when they find out I don’t drink. Have you dealt with that?
Daniel Henderson: Not so much that, but I’ve asked out girls who refused to go out with me when they found out I didn’t drink. It’s that important to some people. I’m 25 and alcohol is everywhere, especially for the young population. Every now and then, I will get together with some friends from high school. They know I’m sober, and they are completely respectful of that, but it can be awkward. There aren’t a lot of sober fun activities to participate in, and it’s awkward hanging around a bunch of buzzed people who look at you weird because you don’t drink. So, I definitely get what you’re saying.
Bob: I can tell you this from my younger years. If you meet a girl and she says she won’t go out with you because you don’t drink, it’s for the best for both of you. Getting back to drinking just to be accepted by someone else, you don’t want that. So if she refuses to go out, you’re better off that way. But now, let’s talk about your company, RecoverWisely. What can you tell us about it?
Daniel Henderson: RecoverWeisely was founded to create cost-effective services for people suffering from addiction and mental health conditions. We help people like me, who have experienced a traumatic brain injury and suffer from a little bit of learning disabilities when it comes to life skills. We provide cost-effective treatment consulting, recovery coaching, job and career coaching, companionship, as well as fun events and outings. I personally speak on addiction, mental health, and brain injuries, on a national level. It’s more than me though; I have a board, and my board members made all this possible.
Larendee: It’s truly amazing how we always take such incredible journeys on our podcast. It’s always such a pleasure and such a treasure for us, getting to interview people as inspiring as you, Dan.
So, you talked about losing your footing, and how life changing that was for you.I couldn’t help drawing a correlation for the rest of us, as we’re all recovering from something. We all lose our footing, and the metaphor is that it can be really challenging work to find our way back to whatever terra firma is. Maybe where we land isn’t where we started. What are your thoughts about that? From a true practical and tactical point of view? How do you help people find their footing again?
Daniel Henderson: I always say that battling addiction and mental health was 10 times harder than falling 200 feet off a cliff. And I mean that. I want to hit home how misunderstood those mental health conditions are, especially with the stigma associated. When the land breaks and you fall off a cliff, there’s no guilt, no stigma, you didn’t do anything wrong. Wrong place at the wrong time. It’s the same for mental health disorders – it’s not your fault, you didn’t do anything wrong.
I wanted this story to be one of hope, but also one of how misunderstood the brain is, and how we need to change stigma around addiction and mental health. I also am pretty sure that I was bipolar before my accident, just by looking back at my patterns of behavior. I also had terrible anxiety. After I had my accident, all that was gone. Everyone agrees on that, my family, my doctors…I’m in the best mental health spot in my life. Obviously, we still don’t know much about how the brain works.
Larendee: And we still continue to hear that someone who is depressed just needs to choose to be happier, or ‘snap out of it.’ It’s the same with active addiction or even process addictions, too. We talk about food, shopping, gambling, working too much, obsessing over things – these are also addictions. There is some wiring within us that causes those compulsions. It’s pretty nuanced, so these cut-and-dry answers like ‘you have to just choose to not be depressed’ are not helping. It’s disheartening to hear something like that in 2021. I’m so grateful for the work that you’re doing, and our life is a testament that things are a lot more nuanced than that.
Daniel Henderson: After going through my own struggles, and having this happen, I’ve noticed how many things we are doing wrong, and how broken the system is. It’s hard to find good support; all you get are 30 days of treatment, and then you’re discharged, and you don’t have a lot of support after that at all, so you come back. It’s basically a revolving door, and this means that we’re failing people.
Larendee: The doors are always open to learn more about these issues, and we’ve dedicated our lives here at Miracle Activation Center to discovery and learning, to open mindedness, and so we’re grateful to be associated with inspiring people like yourself. MAC was created after our own family journey. When a few of our family members went into treatment, those of us who didn’t qualify for treatment, we still had our own hurt and pains and healings that also needed treatment…Even though the places we went to said they had a family program, they really didn’t. And that’s our message, that we want to help families heal, and that requires the entire family’s involvement. So, thank you so much for all the work you’re doing to raise awareness on these things.
Now, any parting thoughts before we move into the fun part of our podcasts?
Daniel Henderson: Don’t give up. Life is worth it, just don’t give up. I’ve had a lot of fun sober, too, some of the best fun of my life.
Larendee: It’s interesting thinking back at how you and I met, at a training session with the Ken Seeley Organization. Their team is dedicated to assisting families find recovery from substance use disorders and providing services in the field of mental health. There are so many people who have dedicated their lives to figuring these things out, and that’s encouraging. At the Miracle Activation Center we are grateful to be part of this work.
Bob: I just want to close this subject by saying that I quit drinking cold turkey in 1994, and I still have a lot of friends bugging me about it. But then I look back at my life, my children, my work with hundreds of radio stations, all the fun I’ve had – and the best part about it is that I have a full memory of all of that! You hear so many people say ‘well I have no memory of that, I was wasted,’ and that’s a real shame.
Bob: Last but not least, where can people reach out to you and RecoverWisely?
Daniel Henderson: We are present on all social media platforms, including Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook We also have a website and a YouTube channel. If you Google RecoverWisely you will find our donor box, as well, if you want to contribute. Even $5 could save someone’s life.
Bob: Dan, your recovery has been amazing, and we want to wish you continued success on this journey of recovery. I expect to hear that you’re kicking that soccer ball around in a few years, as well.