If you get a chance to watch the Netflix documentary film Recovery Boys, please do so. I attended a screening of the film at Studio Two Three in Richmond last night with Dr. Coleman and my nurse practitioner colleague, Lauren Farnsworth, to a pretty full audience. The filmmaker, Elaine McMillion Sheldon, was available afterward to talk and answer questions.

Working in the field of addiction for many years now, there weren’t a lot of surprises in the actual story. Perhaps what did surprise me was how many times I became teary-eyed.

Emotional Conflict or Schedule Conflict

Although I am moved daily by the struggles, challenges, and success of patients with whom I work, I am still on the clock, and am always aware there are other patients down the hall, waiting to be seen, who may have driven hours to keep an appointment. Documentation must be timely and accurate. It can feel conflicting to be with a patient struggling emotionally, knowing if I sit and listen too long, I may be screwing up the schedule for the rest of the morning or afternoon. Often, I simply have to compartmentalize…or screw up the schedule.

But, I think that’s why viewing this movie was so touching for me...I was able to sit in a dark room with no time constraints and allow myself to experience the pain and the joy of the characters, who are so much like the people we see every day at the Coleman Institute for Addiction Medicine.

The film follows four young men who are attending a six-month program at Jacob’s Ladder, which, at the time of the filming, was a brand new rehab facility, started by Dr. Kevin Blankenship on a farm in Aurora, West Virginia. This doctor’s own son has struggled with opioid addiction and the doc was incredibly aware of the limited resources available to people seeking help.

Real People, Real Recovery, Real Life

The bonding that happens as these guys share their struggles and bare their souls with each other is powerful. The documentary is not flowery or sentimental. Landmarks in sobriety are celebrated and failures are devastating. It is a truthful commentary on how opioid use ravages lives, and how tenuous and fragile maintaining recovery can be.

Of the four men, three go in and out of recovery, with slips and relapsing after "graduating" from the rehab. All this, in spite of the fact that they have jobs, a sober living environment, access to meetings, medication, and treatment.


Living life on life’s terms can be challenging, even for people without addiction issues, who have resources and intact coping mechanisms, and the film graphically illustrates how people who face hurdles with minimal access to resources, who grow up in environments that do not model coping in any other way than through using drugs, alcohol, or other ineffective behaviors, who frequently endure emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse, can be so susceptible to substance use disorders.

Lives Forever Changed

One character in the documentary, Jeff, finds out that while he has been in treatment, his three-year-old daughter has been placed in foster care and sexually abused by the responsible foster parent. Watching Jeff as he processes this information in the context of his supportive brotherhood is gut-wrenching. At the end of the documentary, we learn that Jeff is MIA.

Ryan, the young man who succeeds in staying sober becomes a recovery coach, and as Sheldon informed us after the screening, is now employed at Jacob’s Ladder as a peer support recovery specialist. He is living with his girlfriend and her children and, she says, seems very happy.

Resources for Fighting Addiction

If "the perfect storm" of genetics, life events, and exposure can cause a person to have a substance use disorder, my hope is stronger than ever that effective treatment is made more and more available to people who need them. Counseling, peer recovery, detox, medication, meditation - so many good and effective treatment options exist…but so do the barriers.

For those of us working in the field of addiction, whether or not we are in recovery ourselves, this understanding that addiction is not a moral failing, but rather a coping mechanism gone sour, continues to generate motivation to offer compassionate care and service to our patients.

The Coleman Institute for Addiction Medicine can be a powerful component in a person’s long-term recovery plan. Our Accelerated Opioid Detox safely and quickly gets people off these drugs, usually in 5-8 days in an outpatient setting. We specialize in using long-acting naltrexone, one of the three medically accepted treatments for opioid use disorder.

To learn more and to find out if we are a good fit for you or your loved one, schedule a callback today.

Joan Shepherd, FNP