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‘Recovery Reinvented’ speakers encourage listeners to 'normalize' conversation about addiction and recovery

‘If we eliminate the shame and stigma of the disease of addiction, more people will seek help,” said Gov. Doug Burgum

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North Dakota first lady Kathryn Burgum talks about her personal history with addiction during a keynote speech as part of the sixth annual Recovery Reinvented conference held at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks on Thursday, Nov. 3.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — The inner drive that fueled Carrie Steinseifer-Bates desire to capture the highest prize in Olympic competition also contributed to her battle with substance abuse, she told the crowd gathered Thursday, Nov. 3, for the Recovery Reinvented event.

The three-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming believed her obsession “to work harder, don’t ask for help, that drive to be better” would help her overcome addiction, she said, “but it only made me sicker. I thought I could figure out this disease on my own,”

Steinseifer-Bates, one of four keynote speakers at the sixth annual Recovery Reinvented at the Alerus Center, shared her personal story of addiction and recovery. She is outreach manager for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the largest nonprofit treatment provider.

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North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and first lady Kathryn Burgum, right, address the audience of the sixth annual Recovery Reinvented conference at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks on Thursday, Nov. 3.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

Other keynote speakers were Dr. Bruce Perry, principal of the Neurosequential Network and senior fellow of The Child Trauma Academy; Philip Rutherford, chief operating officer for Faces & Voices of Recovery; and Teliea Baker, director of The Door Recovery Lodge in New Town, North Dakota, and member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.

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First Lady Kathryn Burgum and her husband, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, provide information about Narcan, a medication used to reverse the effects of opioid overdose, during the sixth annual Recovery Reinvented conference held at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks on Thursday Nov. 3.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

More than 2,200 people registered for the event, including online registrants throughout the U.S. and in countries such as Indonesia, South Africa and Portugal. About 750 people attended in person, according to Jonathan Holth, managing director of the state Office of Recovery Reinvented.

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“I’m thrilled with the turnout. And it’s been a great day of inspiration so far,” Holth said at a midway point in the event, which also featured Recovery Elevator podcast stories, free Narcan kits to use as an antidote to a drug overdose, and award presentations.

Representatives of agencies and organizations committed to combating addiction and providing mental health and recovery services shared information in “recovery resources expo” that lined the hall.

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Jonathan Holth, local entrepreneur and managing director of Recovery Reinvented, addresses guests during the opening of the sixth annual Recovery Reinvented conference at the Alerus Center ballroom in Grand Forks on Thursday, Nov. 3.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

The annual Recovery Reinvented, held for the first time in Grand Forks, is intended to advance the mission, led by North Dakota’s First Lady Kathryn Burgum, to eliminate the stigma surrounding addiction and substance abuse.

She shared her own story of addiction and recovery, recounting her arrest, as a teenager, for driving under the influence, with a blood alcohol level more than three times the legal limit.

Her drinking continued into her college and young adult years, marked by blackouts and suicidal thoughts that “took me to the depths of despair I didn’t think possible for me,” she said.

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North Dakota first lady Kathryn Burgum talks about her personal history with addiction during a keynote speech as part of the sixth annual Recovery Reinvented conference held at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks on Thursday, Nov. 3.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

At her lowest point, while out on a walk, “I looked to the sky and said, ‘If anyone is listening, I need help.’ “ she said. “I’ve been sober since I uttered those words.

“I have been in recovery for more than 20 years.”

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North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum addresses the audience at the sixth annual Recovery Reinvented conference as part of a morning keynote speech at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks on Thursday, Nov. 3.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

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Changing the culture

With the theme, “Advocacy in Action,” Thursday’s event focused on changing the culture to bring addiction into the open, taking action to fight it, and exploring innovative responses to the disease.

Gov. Doug Burgum detailed the statistics that illustrate the impact of addiction, noting that North Dakota had 76 overdose deaths in 2016, 115 in 2020, and 131 in 2021 and 74 to date this year.

He pointed out the extraordinary lethality of fentanyl, noting that “two milligrams is a fatal dose.”

“Addiction touches every family, every company, every community in our state,” Burgum said. Anyone who is experiencing an emergency can call or text 988 or chat on a suicide crisis line, www.988crisislifeline.org/chat .

The state spends $500 million every year on corrections and rehabilitation, he said, and 80% of men and 100% of women who are incarcerated have a substance abuse problem.

He stressed the importance of “reframing addiction from a choice or a moral failing to a public health issue” related to a brain disease, he said. “We need to take care of people who are trapped in the disease of addiction.”

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Carrie Steinseifer-Bates, outreach manager for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and three-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming, speaks about her personal history with addiction during a morning keynote address as part of the sixth annual Recovery Reinvented conference held at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks on Thursday, Nov. 3.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

Steinseifer-Bates’ story included several attempts at residential treatment “for various lengths of time, followed by various lengths of time in recovery,” she said. She suffered through bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts.

From the outside, she appeared to have “the perfect life,” she said. “But inside, I was dying.”

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At a final particularly low point, “I made a deal with my higher power,” she recalled. “If I survive detox at home alone, I will go to treatment.”

After five days of torment, including seeing and hearing unreal things, “I made that call to the Betty Ford center” and entered treatment, she said. “I was a shell of a woman.”

It was difficult to understand how she, “as someone who was the best in the world at something,” had come to that point, she said. “I thought I was so self-aware.”

She completed 90 days of treatment, and has been sober since Feb. 1, 2012.

In retrospect, Steinseifer-Bates, who lives in Oregon, spoke candidly about the “self-loathing” that accompanies the disease of addiction.

“It is cunning, powerful and incredibly opportunistic,” she said, adding, “It’s also patient.”

She urged business owners and other executives to “normalize the conversation of addiction and recovery in the workplace, and make it a safe place for people to come.”

Steinseifer-Bates said she never would have foreseen that she would become an advocate for recovery.

“If you had told me 10 years ago I’d be here today, I would’ve laughed,” she said.

She encouraged her listeners, “If you write that script (of your life), don’t sell yourself short on what you can become in recovery.”

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University of North Dakota President Andrew Armacost speaks to the audience of the sixth annual Recovery Reinvented conference at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks on Thursday, Nov. 3.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
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Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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