Accountants can deploy their technical training, skills, and experience in helping powerless persons as a way of giving back to the community. This article describes how I found a path to helping people recover from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. One need only reflect on the high death rate due to the opioid crisis and the dangerous proliferation of fentanyl in the United States to see why more must be done. Rather than stigmatize the addict, I believe we should see chemical addiction as a disease and help those who are affected by it find sustainable ways of overcoming its grip. After years of doing close work in addiction, I have changed my own stereotypical view of addicts; I now see them as valuable people who can transform themselves to resume progress towards leading healthy, happy, and purposeful lives.

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With the legalization of marijuana in many states, some individuals will likely increase their use and some, unfortunately, will move to harsher addictive chemical substances. Numerous triggers exist in the world which tempt the recovering addict to return to the dark world of active use. Helping the person develop coping skills to ward off or avoid such triggers is an essential component of any treatment program. I spend a good portion of my time counseling addicts to develop effective tools to take with them when they complete their rehabilitation program, for use in future situations where they will be directly challenged by the disease of addiction. This is referred to as “people, places, and things”—common triggers for relapse.

I work in the advisory services practice unit of CBIZ Marks Paneth in the Purchase, N.Y., office. On weekdays, I manage forensic investigations and prepare complex analyses for economic damages claims connected to litigation, testifying as an expert witness in court or arbitration. On weekends, I am a chemical dependency counselor at St. Christopher’s Inn, a residential treatment program for men located in Garrison, N.Y.; I have been doing this work for about three years. As part of my role providing group therapy for the adult male population, I created and facilitated a creative writing program. Many who have participated in creative writing have communicated their breakthroughs in better understanding repressed feelings and working out thoughts in a way that they are better able to develop strong new awareness, leading to a more lasting recovery.

As an outgrowth of my work on the weekends, I also created a Wednesday evening zoom group for alumni of St. Christopher’s, as well as individuals, including women, who completed treatment programs at other rehabilitation clinics. This group provides further opportunities for directed creative writing exercises, sharing of completed work in group followed by constructive feedback and discussion. Since the group has expanded to include musicians, the Wednesday group has been writing collaborative music lyrics, which have been combined with original musical compositions and produced as recovery songs. The following testimony on the importance of creative writing was recently conveyed to me from a talented musician and songwriter who has worked with me in the zoom group:

The time and effort you spent volunteering at St. Christopher’s during COVID changed at least one life, I can attest to that. Your enthusiasm and kind encouragement have all played a big role in this burgeoning realization of myself as a writer of poetry and prose, rather than only songs. That is not to denigrate song-writing at all—I love the form and am proud of the work I’ve done in that realm. It’s also nice, though, to have a wider creative palate, and that’s what I want for my life. So, thank you for your part in helping to renew and enhance this aspect of my life (J.B., 2023).

 

I bring special knowledge and skills learned as a CPA to the work being done with recovering addicts. These skills include developing a strategic life plan, improving communication skills, building financial literacy, and teaching problem resolution skills. Having utilized these skills in my consulting engagements, I have found ways to incorporate my business knowledge to augment my treatment approach to addiction. The clients come to a rehabilitation program because of their addiction and the damage done to their lives, but they are also men of countless walks of life—careers spanning a wide spectrum. Helping the whole person, I strongly believe, includes designing the treatment regimen not only to change cognitive distortions in the thinking of the addicted mind, but to provide a clearer path to forge a transformed life. Many of the clients do not know what they will do when they are ready to return to active life outside of a rehabilitation setting. Some seek a change in job or career.

The accounting profession is one where many professionals give back from their talents through many worthy causes.

Having chaired the New York State Society’s CPA Careers Committee, I have been able to provide a degree of helpful coaching to the men in their exploration of alternative strategies regarding employment or new business ventures. The discussions certainly begin with changing their perspectives on drug abuse, but they usually migrate into life management skills development. Often clients can relate to the rigors of the professions and ask pointed questions about career and other choices, many of which have economic bearing.

The work done in creative writing has been published several times, including an academic book, Effective use of Creative Writing in the Treatment of Chemical Addiction (2021, Nova Science Publishers) and ar ticles in the Journal of Poetry Therapy and the Journal of Psychology and Psychotherapy Research; I am working on a new article for the Journal of Creative Writing Studies. A musical collection of recovery songs is currently being completed. Each member of the writing groups is encouraged to consider writing their life stories inclusive of specific perspectives. I believe such a long-term project can foster an antidote to boredom, which can be a trigger for relapse; hence, working and committing to a long-term project can lead to long-term recovery.

Giving Back

The accounting profession is one where many professionals give back from their talents through many worthy causes. As such, we communicate to society that we are not just about numbers, but also about service. We earn our livelihoods serving our clients with their tax, audit, and consulting needs, but we also serve them as people. Because our clients, collectively, serve humankind in every capacity, we can and do apply ourselves towards the global good. In this way, we are reinforcing why we are the trusted profession.

Eric A. Kreuter, PhD, CPA, CGMA, CFE, CASAC-T, is a managing director at CBIZ Marks Paneth.