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A Conversation With Author Melissa Febos

I spoke with author Melissa Febos over zoom about recovering from addiction, channeling addictive tendencies in healthier ways, and viewing substance use disorders as a way to self-soothe.

First I wanted to say, I feel such a kinship in your writing. Besides being queer and sober, I have a history of all-consuming romantic relationships and eating disorders, and I’m a long-time runner.

Yeah, that is a lot!

Yeah, and as I was thinking about that I wondered: do you have an intended audience? Is it people like me who have those experiences, is it for yourself, or is it a combination?

Yeah, it’s always made it easier for me to write when I picture the person who I think most needs my story. As far as I can tell, that’s people who share at least the core feelings of it. It usually is a younger version of myself, or someone who hits all those marks.

You were writing before you got sober, but did getting sober change the process for you?

Oh my god, like nothing else. I think one of the foremost errors in prediction that addicts and alcoholic artists make before they get sober is that it will be a hindrance to their work. There is this archetype of long-time addicted or alcoholic writers that I carried around in my pocket like a little deck of affirmations, like “But William Burroughs!” I never considered what those artists might have made if they hadn’t been completely degraded and ravished by drugs and alcohol.

I got sober when I was 23 or 24, and I knew that I was going to die [if I didn’t], so I was prepared to face whatever losses might happen from getting sober. For about the first year, I couldn’t really do much except try not to relapse.

I remember telling my first sponsor, “I was supposed to have written my first book by the time I was blah blah blah blah; I’m so behind on my dream.” She was like, “Just give it a little time.” Then when I started writing again, suddenly it made perfect sense; drugs and alcohol were an attempt to estrange myself from my own consciousness, so how would that have helped?

So first of all, I don’t think I would have survived much longer. But definitely, the stronger my sobriety is, the better my work is. That’s always been true, for going on 18 years now.

I very much relate to that—first the myth, then the reality of it once you get sober. That kind of relates to another of my questions. I had written down a quote you said in an interview; I’m not going to read it verbatim, but it was that if you could take the energy you put into heroin addiction or your ex into things that fulfill you, there’s power in that. I wanted to hear you talk a little more about that, because I thought it was powerful.

Yeah, now that it’s been many years since I’ve really struggled with wanting to use any substances, the primary work is relocating my energy from sort of bottomless pits of obsession, and other people, and doing things to extreme degrees—even exercise. Trying to reroute it into things that are actually meaningful and fulfilling and of service. That happens in granular ways and in totally macro ways.

From the time I was a kid, an awful amount of energy was going to body shame or obsessing about food, then obsessing about lovers, obsessing about money. These ephemeral things that just don’t realize the fantasies we have about them. For me a lot of it has been directing that energy towards fellowship, my art, my teaching.

You probably know this, but as an addict, I can make anything life-threatening. I mean, some of this is a predicament of being an addict; some of it has nothing to do with addiction or alcoholism, but with ways our minds are conditioned to direct our thinking towards things that don’t serve us. And it’s all part of the same work.

You’ve written about how you lived a very secretive life before. Now you seem to value emotional honesty. I was wondering if you consider that part of—or influenced by—your recovery.

I do, I do. When I heard, “You’re only as sick as your secrets,” I just wanted to barf. I was like, “Please let that not be true.” That is an old tool for me, secrecy—it just felt like the safer way to be. But this many years into sobriety, my mental health, my emotional sobriety, my availability to the people in my life—it all correlates to the transparency in my relationships. And I mean my closest people, not everyone; I don’t have to be publishing memoirs to stay sober. But I do have to be honest with people who really know me.

For a little while after I got sober, I thought it was enough if I was just honest with my higher power. As it turns out that’s not enough; I have to be honest with other people in order to preserve my sobriety. Things get squirrelly really quickly when I start keeping secrets. My last relapse, it became clear me that I had to be honest with another person about anything I have the urge to keep secret.

Do you see the kinds of relationships you talk about in Abandon Me as being tied to addiction? I feel like you said you do.

Yeah, I do. It’s mysterious, because I know lots of people who have been in relationships like those feverish ones—who have experienced the phenomenon of craving in relationship to another person—and it’s not always people who identify as addicts and alcoholics. I think there are some relationships that trigger us in a way that is not isolated to people with addiction.

But it’s been interesting in hindsight to look at the ways that my behavior—particularly in that relationship—really mapped onto my experience of compulsion with other things. It was actually more intense; that bottom was more painful than my bottom with drugs and alcohol, because there were no intermissions. There were times that I would describe as the highs of it, but the whole second year of that relationship was just unmitigated suffering.

It very clearly fit the paradigm that we understand as addiction: doing the same thing and expecting different results, feeling powerless, making promises to myself and breaking them, and endangering myself and other people so that I could maintain my source. So yeah, it activated my addiction for sure.

That kind of reminds me of another thing I’d written down; I really agree with how you view addiction—and things that are considered destructive—as ways to self-soothe. I was wondering if you could talk more about the way that you and maybe a lot of us use those things as self-soothing mechanisms.

Sure, I mean I felt ashamed for a really long time because I grew up middle-class; I have really loving parents; neither of my parents are alcoholics. I didn’t undergo any of what I have typically defined as major traumas. And yet I exhibited so much behavior that is pathologized and generally viewed by people in our society as, at best, self-destructive—at worst totally pathological and depraved.

I had been a sex worker, I had been a really intense heroin addict, and I did things to the extent that they hurt me and other people. I felt like I didn’t have a good enough explanation for that, like I hadn’t suffered enough to have created that much wreckage.

Over the years, particularly after I got sober and in therapy and worked the steps many times—and also through writing and troubling the question of why I did the things I did—it became clear over and over again that I wasn’t self-destructing. I wasn’t trying to sabotage myself or anyone else, I was just trying to get by, and those were the tools that felt available and effective.

It’s something they say a lot in recovery: our defenses are things that keep us alive until they don’t anymore. That perspective of self-compassion—of having respect for the wisdom of survival, however it manifests—has helped so much. Feeling shame has not been productive for me. Giving myself permission to have done the best I could has really expedited my own recovery—and helped me be of service to other people in a more generous way.


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As we continue to grow Amatus Health, the need to stay competitive and differentiate ourselves in unique ways is crucial. Building creative approaches to reach more people will take our company to new heights. This is why I am pleased to announce that we are officially rebranding. Our new national name, TruHealing Addiction & Mental Health Treatment, will eventually replace Amatus Recovery Centers.

You may be asking, “Why are we doing this?” This new name will give us national uniformity and help brand ourselves as a whole, which will be done in phases. You will still see our existing facility names co-branded with TruHealing for the time being.

Healing is what we do. Everyone who comes through our doors is in a moment of profound struggle in their lives. We support them through a life-changing process of healing and recovery, and they leave our facilities changed. This new name is a representation of that process. As mentioned above, it also allows us to have a national brand, which will make us a recognizable name in the addiction and mental health field.

In summation, these changes present an excellent opportunity for our organization to develop our mission, vision, and purpose. I look forward to prosperous growth as we head in a new and positive direction.


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Mark Gold
Amatus Health

Dr. Adam Cusner, PhD is an organizational psychologist by training and has brought his decade-plus experience to the healthcare field serving as the Executive Vice President of Operations for a 22-facility portfolio of skilled nursing facilities, assisted living and independent living centers across Ohio and Arizona, with an annual revenue over $250MM. While serving in this position, Dr. Cusner brought accelerated growth to these facilities, while increasing employee retention and workflow optimization. Dr. Cusner has a proven track record in the healthcare industry of providing successful leadership through his financial acumen, strategic planning, interpersonal skills, along with his ability to build strong, effective teams.


Dr. Cusner’s credentials include a Philosophy Doctorate in Organizational Psychology (PhD) from Cleveland State University, a Master of Arts in Psychology (MA) from Boston College with an emphasis on Psychology of Work, a Bachelor of Science in Psychology (BS) from Boston University with an emphasis in Organizational Behavior in Business and is a board-certified Nursing Home Administrator (LNHA). He has published and presented research articles in the field of organizational psychology at national healthcare conferences. Dr. Cusner is completing a book on organizational psychology in the healthcare field, which is expected to be published late early summer 2022. He is also a member of the American Psychological Association (APA), has served as the APA’s Division 17 communications chair, is a member of the Society for Industrial Organizational Psychologists (SIOP), and was selected as a professional reviewer for national conference research presentations.


Dr. Cusner is an advocate for his employees and is drawn to the tie between culture and quality. His extensive strategic and operational skills have delivered a high degree of success across all department levels. Dr. Cusner facilitated the establishment of an in-house financial team to provide billing and collections, accounts payable, vendor management, along with financial reporting. This provided $1.5MM annualized savings. Further, he developed department efficiencies for: Medical Staff recruitment, service-line growth, quality and safety, corporate accountability of budgetary expectations balanced with direct reporting to investor groups.


Dr. Cusner coordinated the financial turnaround of a 300 bed CCRC (skilled nursing, assisted living and an independent living center) in Arizona, which has been epitomized as the most financially challenging state to manage CCRC facilities. Dr. Cusner also strengthened the business growth of the Ohio facilities by 12%. He was recognized by the Governor for demonstrating a “care-conscious approach” during COVID, when Dr. Cusner carefully consolidated facility residents to accommodate staff and improve clinical care. Dr. Cusner demonstrates a results-driven culture by delivering a high-quality level of care and employee engagement.

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Yaffa Atias is the Director of Special Projects at Amatus Health. Atias is a leadership professional with a decade of experience in healthcare. She holds a BA in interdisciplinary studies from Thomas Edison State College, and a Master’s in Healthcare Management with a concentration in project management from Stevenson University. She completed her graduate capstone at Mosaic Community Services, now an affiliate of Sheppard Pratt.


In her role at Amatus, Atias leads and manages interdisciplinary team projects, creates solutions for any operational gaps, and continually strives for quality improvement in all processes. Atias led the organization’s COVID-19 preparedness strategy, resulting in all facilities remaining operational, and in 600 employees being retained as staff without resigning out of fear. In her role so far, she implemented licensure for three new states.


Atias believes Amatus Health and TruHealing stand out because every employee, from corporate to center staff, has a real passion for helping people. Atias shares this passion, “My natural compass always tugged me to behavioral health. I’ve always been fascinated by the human psyche. I have also been intimately privy to those suffering from mental illness and substance use. I later understood that my experiences weren’t unique, and quickly realized how pressing the need really is to effectively prevent and address. Moreover, how life-changing proper intervention truly is.”


Atias was born in Los Angeles, California and grew up in Israel and Maryland.

Melissa McCarthy is the Vice President of Business Development at Amatus Health. With a decade of experience in the behavioral healthcare and addiction treatment industry, McCarthy is passionate about recovery. She has her finger on the pulse of marketing trends, with the end goal of helping businesses grow so they can serve more people in need.


McCarthy has worked at large enterprise recovery centers across the country spearheading business development teams. She has a wide range of experience, including transforming a third-party digital marketing and client acquisition services company into a full-continuum behavioral healthcare provider, managing several successful rebrands, and growing annual revenue fivefold.


As VP of Business Development, McCarthy leads a team of over 20 business development professionals nationwide. She manages client acquisition, coordinates in-service trainings with various referents and hospitals, and presents at conferences on addiction and mental health disorder treatment.


“Sadly, many individuals die waiting for access to life-saving behavioral healthcare services,” says McCarthy. “I am in relentless pursuit of better—better access, better care delivery and better outcomes. I consider it a privilege to work in an environment where miracles unfold daily.”


McCarthy lives in Maryland with her daughter.

Hometown: Saugus, MA


Passions & interests: The greatest passion of mine is being able to dig into the work with men in early recovery. There is nothing better than witnessing and being a part of the change. My journey in long-term recovery has taught me to value the little things in life that I am now able to do. I love to do anything that allows me to be present with my wife, family, and friends. My wife and I enjoy traveling, trying new foods, and taking long motorcycle rides with our friends. If I am not on the road working or with my wife, I am studying or playing softball.


The best part of my job is being able to show up for my team and clients; they all mean the world to me. I get to brainstorm and strategize with tons of different personalities. A lot of the team does not know, but I love learning from them. If I am not learning something about our industry or workplace, I am certainly learning how to effectively collaborate with different types of individuals.


Together, we can change the narrative and be a part of the solution to better treat those trapped in the problem.

Allison was born in Columbus, Ohio and was raised in South Florida. She graduated from the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. After college, Allison started working at the largest talent agency in the world, William Morris Endeavor. There, she learned marketing from top leaders specializing in global PR and endorsement campaigns, in both the Latin and English markets.


Through strategic public relations and creative campaign concepts, Allison has secured more than 200 national broadcast and print media placements for behavioral healthcare organizations. She brings over 15 years of marketing and PR experience, with a strong background in leading communications strategy for addiction treatment and behavioral healthcare facilities. In her role as VP of Communications, she oversees branding, public relations, social media, marketing, events, and content creation.


In her spare time, she loves cooking, boating, yoga, and traveling. She and her husband Bryan reside in Boca Raton, Florida.

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Avi Burstein is VP of Clinical Services at Amatus Health. He manages all therapeutic programming at all facilities nationwide.


Avi is originally from New York, and graduated from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. He brings over 13 years of experience in the Behavioral Healthcare Industry, in both the public and private sectors. He is passionate about therapeutic communities and the fellowship they foster between patients. Through his work in LGBTQIA, urban, rural, and religiously observant populations, Avi recognizes that each patient is unique. Therefore, he strives to ensure clinical approaches, staffing, administration, and education meet the expectation of each community Amatus Health serves.


“Our work must also include ending the societal stigma surrounding such conditions by building safe and supportive networks that include clients’ families whenever possible,” Avi said. “By valuing change and owning imperfections, we can strive to be better providers and walk through the door of recovery with our clients.”

Avi Burstein is VP of Clinical Services at Amatus Health. He manages all therapeutic programming at all facilities nationwide.


Avi is originally from New York, and graduated from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. He brings over 13 years of experience in the Behavioral Healthcare Industry, in both the public and private sectors. He is passionate about therapeutic communities and the fellowship they foster between patients. Through his work in LGBTQIA, urban, rural, and religiously observant populations, Avi recognizes that each patient is unique. Therefore, he strives to ensure clinical approaches, staffing, administration, and education meet the expectation of each community Amatus Health serves.


“Our work must also include ending the societal stigma surrounding such conditions by building safe and supportive networks that include clients’ families whenever possible,” Avi said. “By valuing change and owning imperfections, we can strive to be better providers and walk through the door of recovery with our clients.”

Marty Markovits is the Chief Information Officer at TruHealing. He oversees the people, processes, and technologies of the whole organization to ensure the business is running smoothly.


Markovits grew up in Brooklyn, NY (which he calls “the greatest city on Earth”) and graduated with a degree in Clinical Psychology from Queens College.


Markovits is a veteran in Information Technology within the healthcare field. He ensures that IT processes are simple, cost-effective, and secure. His expertise spans the entire healthcare domain, from billing and claims, to clinical, to Human Resources. He says, “My passion is to provide fully automated and operationally meaningful Business Intelligence analytics, with absolute data integrity.”

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Hometown: Savannah, GA


Passions & Interests: I spend my time outside of work with my wife and children and am actively involved in various community needs and causes.


The best part of my job is knowing that we are creating a safe, healthy, nonjudgmental environment where people can come and better their lives. There is nothing more satisfying than helping others learn to live again and piece their lives back together as they become strong, productive members of society.

Together, we can bring families back together and promote healing and well-being.


With over 16 years of proven executive leadership and driving company growth, Mark Gold’s momentum for success isn’t slowing down anytime soon. He serves as the CEO of Amatus Health, one of the fastest-growing, behavioral healthcare organizations in the country.

Possessing an excellent handling of clinical compliance and high performance standards, Mark established 14 CARF/JCT accredited addiction and mental health treatment centers and three ancillary healthcare businesses. Mark’s natural leadership skills as well as his creative thought process to generate new revenue strategies make him one of the most sought-after professionals in healthcare. Mark has a track record of leading organizations to outstanding ROI on overall portfolio performance. In addition, his expertise includes workforce planning, growth revenue, high client and investor satisfaction.

Aside from daily business oversight, Mark invests in his staff and helps build their professional development. His commitment to his colleagues and employees toward advancement and inclusiveness helps them achieve goals, builds connections, and provides a competitive advantage in the healthcare field.

Corporate and Charitable Leadership

Mark has been instrumental in building healthy communities and providing access and quality healthcare to underserved populations. His service in the community is a testament to his passion and selfless dedication to the cause of eradicating addictive disorders and stigma.

He launched several prevention and education programs and created the first-ever “Social Justice” scholarship fund of over $750,000.00 to help communities of color into inpatient drug treatment. Mark says, “The best part of my role is the knowledge that what we do impacts countless lives, with far-reaching effects,” he said. “It is incredibly rewarding to be part of a team that guides individuals onto a safe and accessible path to healing and recovery.”

He is a board member of Ahavas Chaim, a non-profit that offers at-risk teenagers crisis intervention and mental health support. He is also a committee member of the organizations Bonei Olam and Chai Lifeline Mid-Atlantic.

Personal and Educational Background

Mark studied Talmudic Law at Yeshiva’s Mir Yerushalayim in Israel. In Mark’s free time, he loves snowboarding, boating, and spending time with his wife and children.