An Interview with Ross Donahue, Residential Manager

Relapse is a common part of the disease of addiction, but it is not inevitable. “You don’t have to cycle in and out of treatment before getting well,” advises Ross Donahue, the residential manager at Promises West L.A., who went through treatment five years ago and “got it” the first time. “If you give your recovery the time and attention it needs, you may only have to do this thing once.” Ross is as vulnerable to relapse as others in recovery. He is the first in a long line of family members to break the cycle of addiction, a disease that took the lives of his father and grandfather. During his 10-year drinking spree, Ross dropped out of college, was kicked out of the Navy and was arrested for five DUIs. “I hadn’t quite lost it all, but I had reached a spiritual bottom,” he says. “I knew I wasn’t a bad person or a criminal; I was sick and needed to get well. Going to treatment was the start of it all. I owe everything in my life to my recovery.”

The Blessings of Treatment

When Ross decided that he was “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” he went to drug rehab. In treatment, he learned that he had a disease, not a moral deficiency, and discovered the many benefits of the 12-Step program, of which he remains an active member today. He says one of the concepts that impacted him most was surrender. “I always thought I had great ideas that would be my way out of addiction. But what I began to realize in treatment was that my best thinking had gotten me nothing but continuous trouble,” explains Ross. “I had to get out of my own way and let people who had been there run the show for a bit, until I was ready to slowly but surely take back the reigns.” Although he can’t point to any one aspect of treatment that made his recovery a reality, individual and group therapy opened his eyes to a different way of life. “As a Navy guy and one of four boys in my family, I never knew people could talk about their feelings,” says Ross. “After my first time in group, I realized I wanted to be in this kind of supportive and healing environment.”

Carrying the Message Forward

Inspired by his experience in drug rehab, Ross went back to school and started a career in the field of addiction treatment. Now the residential manager at Promises in West L.A., Ross has the important job of overseeing all of the facility’s day-to-day operations. “My goal is to make sure our clients are never worried about something getting taken care of,” Ross explains. “Whether they have a phone call to make, a court appearance to schedule or a bill to pay, they can trust that it has already been taken care of. This way, clients can focus on what they’re here for – getting well.” As a certified drug and alcohol counselor who is working on his master’s degree, Ross draws from his personal and professional experience to help others see how different their lives can be. “For me, empathy is the number-one thing,” says Ross. “I remember the fear and uncertainty of my own experience in treatment, which puts me in a frame of mind to go above and beyond for our clients. I truly understand what they’re going through.”

Full-Circle Moments

It is rare to find someone more passionate about his job than Ross. Since 2009, he has put his skills to use at Promises, a program he chose because of its outstanding reputation and extensive breadth and depth of services. “This is easily the best job I’ve ever had,” Ross beams. “The staff is like a family – we support each other in the workplace as well as in our lives – and every day is a learning experience, personally and professionally.” Ross is also drawn to this work because of the dramatic changes he sees in clients in a short period of time. Each week, there are moments that bring his experiences and hard work full circle. “One hundred tough days get washed away when one alumnus shows me their one-year chip, gives me a hug or offers their thanks,” says Ross. “No drug I’ve ever had is better than that.”

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