MANCHESTER, NH — Hope for New Hampshire Recovery (HOPE), a nonprofit which provides recovery services and community-based support to people living with substance use disorder, has hired Keith Howard, former executive director of Liberty House in Manchester, as its director of development.
Howard, who is in long-term recovery, is an Army veteran and experienced leader, having directed alternative schools for 15 years in addition to his five years at the helm of Liberty House, a transitional program for formerly homeless veterans. During his tenure there, Liberty House more than doubled its revenue and Howard spearheaded Liberty House’s stunning and successful decision to step away from federal funds and remain a drug- and alcohol-free setting. After a newspaper column he’d written about the decision was circulated nationally, Liberty House’s financial support base grew extraordinarily.
In his new role, Howard’s goal is long-term financial sustainability for HOPE, which has sites in Berlin, Franklin and Manchester.
“We are thrilled to welcome Keith to our HOPE family,” said Melissa Crews, HOPE’s Executive Director. “Keith’s lived experience in recovery, as well as his experience in helping organizations become sustainable, makes him the perfect candidate to bring HOPE for NH Recovery to the next level.”
“HOPE is aptly named,” Howard said, “because hope is in pretty short supply for folks who struggle with drugs and alcohol. I look forward to spreading the message that in addition to counselors, therapists, rehabilitation programs and medical support, people in recovery need pockets of enthusiasm and buckets of encouragement. Humans are social creatures and HOPE centers help provide safe and supportive communities for people in recovery — or those who have a hankering to be so.”
Howard spent the last nine months living in Pittsburg in a small converted motorcycle trailer he dubbed the “Tiny White Box,” also the name of his web site. On that site, he has been open about his drug and alcohol past and his current recovery.
“A decade ago I was stealing mouthwash from dollar stores to drink for the alcohol and living on the street,” Howard said. “Today, I’m sober and relatively sane. Time and gratitude and the support of hundreds of other people made this possible. I’m not ashamed of my past, and I don’t want to forget it. More important than the past, though, is the future: a big place brimming with hope.”
Hope for New Hampshire Recovery works with all sectors to build a chronic disease community model for alcohol and drug addiction. The goal is to remove barriers to care and create the community architecture to support long-term wellness around addiction.
Q&A with Keith Howard
Q: “Director of Development” sounds like a serious job. What exactly will you be doing for HOPE for New Hampshire Recovery?
Honestly, job titles have never much mattered to me. I’ve had friends who were in non-profit or academic “development” who seemed to spend much of their time shaking down the guilt-stricken rich or holding one hand of wealthy dowagers while the other hand signed donation agreements to the charity or university. I don’t think I’m very well-suited for either role. Instead, I view development more as a farmer might look at a field — how can we make this sustainable for the long term, instead of using up all the current excitement and support for recovery? If HOPE’s community recovery centers are a good idea — and I absolutely think they are — we’ve got to make sure their emotional, social and financial support are broad-based and resistant to the lure of chasing money that’s available this year and gone the next.
Q. Did you come to work for HOPE?
Here, I’ve got to take a brief digression. For the last nine or so months, I’ve been writing a column under the heading “One Mind Snapping.” I started off 40 years ago as an Army newspaper reporter. Since my service was entirely in peacetime, I spent most of my time writing stories about training to fight rather than about actually killing and dying and fighting an enemy. Because of this, I also had time to write a humor column with all the wisdom and wit I’d garnered wandering the planet for 18 or 19 years. As you might guess, it was a dreadful column, although I didn’t know that at the time. Since then, I’ve admired good columnists — Mike Barnicle, Jonah Goldman, Jimmy Breslin — and wanted to get back in the ring myself. Having a website removes the barriers to entry. As a deluded man, I regularly post to my blog and think of those posts as columns.
A column I wrote recently, “An Unorthodox Man’s Unorthodox Job Search,” happened, like Jane and Michael Banks’ torn-up letter at the beginning of Mary Poppins, into the hands of the right person at the right time. My column — in the form of an open letter to the universe — outlined some things I’d like in my next job. For some reason — wit, charm and erudition come to mind — the column was spread pretty far and wide, drawing responses, conversations and even job offers from Michigan, Illinois and Louisiana, among others. As it happened, the most important person to read the letter was Melissa Crews, the Executive Director of HOPE. We had a series of conversations, enjoyed a twisted connection as two people in long-term recovery, and decided to find a way to work together.
Q. What does recovery mean to you?
Recovery means to me what recovery means to me — and the freedom for each and every “me” to define it for him- or herself. I know that sounds like a weaselly answer, but it’s not intended to be. For me, recovery includes abstinence from alcohol and other mind/emotion-altering substances, but it’s much, much more than that. It also includes trying to live a life of decency and honor, passing on to others the sobriety and serenity I’ve been gracefully given, and, perhaps most of all, a sense of gratitude. When I first got sober, a wise and mentorish man told me, “A grateful heart will never drink.” He’s been absolutely proven true.
The second part of my gnomic answer — that others have the freedom to define their own recovery — is just as important. When I first started in recovery, my only goal was to avoid a drink for the next hour. Over time, that goal grew and was transformed into a much larger and more life-encompassing desire. Still, I was as much in recovery when I made that first shaky and conditional commitment as I am today. So it is with everyone. A young woman who’s incredibly dear to me, and for whom I cried many tears when she was shooting heroin, stopped using opiates three-and-a-half years ago. She began her recovery, although she still regularly smokes pot. Whether I want to use the term “harm reduction” or simply be thankful she’s moved away from the cliff’s edge of addiction, I consider her in recovery, even if it’s not what my recovery looks like.
I honestly believe there are many paths up the hill of recovery, and some of them meander more than others. They all lead away from the depths of addiction.
Q: So, what is your path?
My path involves living in community with other folks in recovery, having some kind of relationship with some kind of higher power, and laughing a lot, particularly at myself. Lao Tzu says, “The Tao that can be described is not the eternal Tao.” I prefer not to describe my path, but to walk it.
Q. You mentioned a higher power. Do you mean God?
I mean anything that makes a personal Copernican revolution possible, anything that enables me to recognize I’m not at the center of the universe, any more than the earth is, that I’m not even at the center of our little corner of the universe. I try to be happy being just Keith. Mainly, it works.
I don’t often use the word “God” for a bunch of different reasons, and my higher power for my first few years of sobriety was i, the algebraic representation of an imaginary number: (the square root of -1). Although imaginary — it can’t exist — i is very useful in solving certain problems. Whether or not my higher power exists, it is very useful in solving my problem: how to live a life worth living without alcohol. After all, while alcohol may have taken me to places I never ever wanted to go, it also gave me an almost instant state of ease and comfort. Alcohol was not my problem; alcoholism was. That is, if alcohol were my problem, I wouldn’t need recovery: I’d simply abstain from alcohol. My problem was living a sober life without wanting to kill myself.
Q. In your “columns” you’re very open about things like suicide, your drug and alcohol history and your fear of being fat. Do you worry this bluntness may drive away mainstream readers?
Mainstream readers of my columns, I suspect, are trying to get a glimpse inside a monkey house. I want to communicate to the other monkeys that they don’t have to throw their feces, that they can live in community, that life can be as good as it feels when you’re high or drunk. It takes hard work and time — anathema to me when I was using — but little by slowly recovery has helped me accomplish what drugs and alcohol promised but never fully delivered.
I’ve walked into recovery rooms all over the country and in Europe, and immediately established identification and rapport as soon as I identify myself as someone who used to use, had an experience that made me stop and has a plan for how to stay stopped. That’s what I try to do in my columns — not just with drugs and alcohol but with anything that I’m in the process of leaving behind.
Q. When you were at Liberty House it was known as an open, welcoming and creative place. What will you bring to HOPE from that experience?
We accomplished great things at Liberty House by following Harry Truman’s dictum when presented with challenges: ‘We’ll try some things, and if those don’t work we’ll try some other things.’ My sense is that HOPE has that spirit already embedded.
One of the regrets I have about my time at Liberty House is that we never found space for a ping-pong table. I’ll confess to a fiendish love of the game — not great talent but overwhelming love. HOPE’s Manchester office, from where I’ll be working, already has a ping-pong table. What more could any man ask for?