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A Conversation With Author Michelle Tea

Michelle Tea is a queer author, poet, and literary organizer who has been sober for close to two decades. I am also queer and sober, and a big fan of Tea’s work, so talking to her was an honor. We spoke about addiction, recovery, and how being sober impacts her writing and creative life.

What prompted your decision to get sober?

 I don’t know that I decided. It felt like a moment of desperate grasping out. I had been slowly walking towards an acknowledgment that things were not normal. It was hard to know what was normal, because I was part of a celebratory queer bar culture. That really confuses things, because you’re like, “The culture already tells me the way I live is wrong and weird.”

I’d done some things like “I’m not going to drink for a month.” I hit the point where all my efforts to abstain kept failing so profoundly. It made me feel crazy. It really is that definition of doing the same thing and expecting different results.

A friend who is older than me and had been sober for like 20 years—who had mentored me in other areas of my life—came to town. The last time I had seen them, I wasn’t drinking. Since that time, it had fallen apart. They asked how not drinking was going and I burst into tears. I was like, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me; I can’t stop.”

We tried to go to a meeting that night and there was none when we got there. I was like, “It’s a sign; I’m supposed to get wasted tonight.” I did, and it was ugly, awful, and scary. Then in the morning, I went to a meeting with this friend, and it was amazing. I felt such relief at seeing all these other people, and hearing them having struggled with what I was struggling with. I didn’t realize how alone and coocoo I felt until I heard other people.

I relate to so many of the things you’ve written and just said: the destructive relationships, doing things that were really dangerous, and trying to quit or moderate so many times. I remember even telling myself, “I’ll quit when I have irreversible health problems.”

I love being around sober alcoholics, because I love hearing the stories of how our brains worked. I think the real gift of being sober is the sense of humor that everyone ultimately cultivates. You have to, and with distance it is funny.

It’s so absurd, too.

 As we were leading up to this interview, I was thinking about how much I’ve changed since being sober. It made me wonder how those changes in self impact memoir writing.

 It changed my writing process in general, because I wrote when I was drunk. You get confused and think that’s where your creativity or talent stems from.

What I found was that obviously that’s not the source of my creativity, but it’s hard to sit and write. You face your insecurity and self-doubt and inner critic. While I was drinking, those voices were dulled. The writing was an excuse for drinking; the drinking kept me sitting and writing. They were intertwined and needed to be pulled apart, but it wasn’t so hard to do that.

When I was in this dark spot, where I was trying to quit on my own and couldn’t really do it, I was basically trying to rewrite my book Valencia. “Then we got drunk and had sex in the bathroom.”

I was like, “That isn’t that interesting,” but I was trying to make it interesting because I was stuck there—in the way that when you’re in your alcoholism, you’re so stuck. I was repeating myself, or this weird idea of myself.

When I got sober, I didn’t want to write about that anymore for a while. When I wanted to write about drinking and using again, it felt like there were new things worth exploring about it. I wasn’t just rehashing the same vibe that had gotten me a moment of attention a decade ago.

In Black Wave—which is more recent, right?—I wondered about Michelle getting sober as the apocalypse is happening.

Yeah, I wanted to talk a little about sobriety; it is sort of an apocalypse in itself. It makes me think of the tower card in the tarot. It’s about something being necessarily destroyed, and it’s traumatic. In this card, there’s this idea that the eye of God is opening up, looking at the earth, and saying, “What the f*ck is going on down there? I’m going to destroy all that and start over.”

It’s like when you can’t unsee something. Once I got sober, I couldn’t unsee the way I was living my life. Drinking sort of propped up and prettified my poverty, and all these things that I was scared of. When I was drunk, I was like, “Yeah I’m drunk and don’t need anything; anyone who needs more than a 40 oz-er is a f*cking idiot.” But once I took that away, I was like, “I actually don’t want to be struggling. I don’t know how to not struggle.”

To look at that without bravado—really look at the vulnerability of that—is what I wanted to talk about, even moreso than getting sober.

How did getting sober affect the cultural aspects of the creative world, like readings and things like that?

When I first got sober, I was very much like, “Nothing in my life is going to change; I’m just going to take alcohol out.”

After a point, I realized certain environments made me really uncomfortable. I gave myself permission to not feel like I have to tough it out. After allowing myself not to be in social situations that made me anxious, now I can actually go.

Performing felt really weird for me for a while, because I had always performed drunk. I felt like my personality was smaller. I missed the bigger feeling, but that’s addiction—you always want to have the biggest feeling. Part of reckoning with addiction is realizing life can’t be on 10 all the time. It will periodically go up to 10 and then it’ll come back down. My life probably goes up to 10 more than the average person, so I’m quite lucky.

You talked about being queer and going to bars. Do you think your queerness has impacted either your sobriety or addiction?

I feel like I was born an alcoholic out the gate. But yeah, my queer life absolutely influenced my alcoholism. Queer life happens in bars and clubs. Everyone’s drinking; it feels fun and normal.

I remember when I was in my early 20’s, a doctor asked why I drink every night, and I was like, “I just go out every night.” It was so exciting in the 90’s to be queer in San Francisco; there were all these fun things to do every night. I think it did accelerate my alcoholism. It could have maybe progressed in a way that was less in my face, and I might have taken a lot longer to recognize it as a problem.

I think of you as an activist; I don’t know if you think of yourself as one. I was wondering if your relationship to activism changed after getting sober.

I don’t consider myself an activist, because I don’t do consistent, on-the-ground organizing. I have in my life been more of an activist. I hope that my writing brings inspiration and entertainment to people who are activists and share my values. I still have the same values as I ever have. If anything, having clarity of mind allows for a deeper analysis and understanding of how systemic and terrible our social ills are.

Somebody who is a therapist and sober person suggested to me: alcoholism serves as a metaphor and template for racism. I inherited racism and white privilege the way I inherited my alcoholism. I don’t have to drink and be an a**hole, and likewise I can bring anti-racist consciousness and be less of an a**hole and more of an accomplice to people of color.

Also, when I got sober, I was such a man-hater. I kind of hated straight people too. I was basically like, “If you’re not like me, or more oppressed than me, f*ck you.”

Being in AA, I was suddenly thrown into these rooms with people who were so different from me, but what we had in common was more important than anything else. That was humbling and great, because it broadened my world. It created more alliances with more people.

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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.

Sincerely,

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Mark Gold
CEO
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.

MARK GOLD, CEO OF AMATUS HEALTH BIOGRAPHY

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.