Recovery 365 Spotlight: Start Your Day With Recovery Coach Tod Dodge

By engaging the many facets of the recovering community, we awaken the spirit of peer coaching (J. Daniel Payne, 2009).

Recovery coach Tod Dodge understands the key role he plays in the lives of his clients in early recovery. While Tod and I enjoyed a cup of coffee together, he shed light on the importance of accountability, and establishing rapport with his recovery coaching clients is vital to positive outcomes of long-term recovery.

JM: Tod, before we dive-in, can you tell me about your recovery coaching business, the location you serve and the number of clients you presently have?

TD: My clients are on Long, Island, NYC, and in Connecticut. I haven’t had to do any advertising because I work with The Lighthouse’s Recovery 365 program. Most of the clients come through the program or have been referred to me by other clients, therapists, and psychiatrists.  

I try to limit my clients to no more than 10; currently I have 6 on my caseload. This enables me to provide excellent one-on-one service to each of them.

I meet with my clients face to face at least once a week. More than this when I’m first establishing trust and rapport. When a patient is not going to 12-step meetings, outpatient treatment, or mental health counseling, I aim to meet the client 2-3 times a week, for in-person meetings. I communicate with my clients every day.  Either through text or calls. I am available anytime. If someone needs help, I help them. Period.

JM: What is your definition of recovery and recovery coaching?

TD: Recovery is the process of healing.  It is the first step towards living an authentic life and becoming the highest version of yourself. People in recovery have a tremendous gift. Few people in life need to overcome such intense obstacles. Many of my clients begin to experience a real appreciation for life.

A person is in recovery when they say they are in recovery.

A recovery coach is someone who works with people suffering from substance abuse disorders to help them stay in recovery in 24-hour increments.

Recovery coaching is different from how I got sober. I’ve been sober for 25 years; I didn’t go to rehab. I went to AA. I got a sponsor, did 90 meetings in 90 days. I showed up and listened.  

I believe strongly if someone is going to come out of rehab, get a sponsor, do 90 meetings in 90 days that he won’t need a recovery coach. It was my life. I did it, and I ’ve seen it work time and time again. This path will always work if a person is willing to do it, unfortunately, AA isn't for everyone. A recovery coach is one who supports multiple pathways of recovery. It’s different for everyone.

Most people come out of rehab without a plan, even though they’re told in rehab to have a plan. Instead, they get back into their lives and all the attributes associated with their lives, work, family, financial worries, and other stressors. Before you know, it gets very overwhelming, very quickly and they relapse. Eventually, they find themselves back in rehab wondering what went wrong.

So I’m that guy. The guy to help a person just out of rehab or detox to set up a plan to fit their individual needs for long-term success in recovery.  

My credo is: I believe with my heart and my soul that I am helping you become the best version of yourself and you owe it to yourself to be more than an alcoholic or drug addict.

I live this way. I’m not just giving you happy thoughts.

JM: Can you explain what you mean about helping a client stay sober in 24-hour increments?

TD: Living one day at a time.  When it comes to client work, I live and run my life in 24-hour increments.

I’m not like a clinician, therapist, or AA sponsor. Even though I tell my clients they can reach me from 6 AM to 10 PM- 7 days a week, my phone is never off. I never refuse a call. Most of the time I’m the last defense between sobriety and a drink, so it’s hard to not work 24/7.

A clinician meets with a client once or twice a week, that’s it. AA sponsor might take a call every day for a couple of minutes, but most often there is a set time for this call, and the sponsor delegates it. However, connects with me through The Lighthouse Recovery 365 program once a client hires me to work with me, I’m all in. I’m available to coach them through any dangerous situation.

For example, if a client is going home to meet with family for the first time in many years. The stress of this situation could be dangerous to his recovery for many reasons. My duty to the client's recovery and well being is to help him through this event.

If my client argues with his wife, boss, or child, have a job interview, be at a ball game with friends, or find himself in any situation where he needs to talk it's my job to make myself available for ten minutes to take that call.  A clinician isn’t going to take the call because clinical regulations do not allow him to have connections with a client outside of the clinic. A sponsor will have set times for a sponsee to call him and he must follow these rules. Not me, I’m there to take that call and help him process his thoughts or feelings about the situation.

For example, a client might be traveling to meet with family, and one member might be the cause of discomfort. I would arrange for several calls during this trip. I would schedule a call before the client left for a trip and arrange for several calls during the trip if needed. However, right after the reunion. Making myself available to the client will help him to process both his rational and irrational thoughts of the event. The goal is to help him work through his feelings without the threat of a relapse.

The difference between a sponsor, clinician, and myself is I’m employed personally by the client. I work for him full-time. I’ve never had a sponsor come close to sponsoring me with care and concern I have for my recovery coaching clients, and I would never expect my sponsor too.

JM: You are always on call and often the first line of defense, in regards to establishing a plan for recovery for a client. You are much more than a sponsor and clinician.

In your opinion, when is the best time for you have your first meeting with your clients?

TD: Typically, I would like to talk with a client before they got out of rehab or detox and set up a meeting for the day they discharge from treatment. I would find out their schedule or plan for their first day and then set-up a face to face meeting.

During our initial phone call, I’ll say, “I know you’re getting out tomorrow so lets me wherever is best for you. We’ll meet and plan for the week.”

Eventually, we’ll put together a loose plan for 3 months or a year, but the first week is crucial. I try not to aim too far in the future. I never know what the client is going to need, so the schedule depends upon on individual needs and preferences.

JM: Do you use tools such as Skype or Zoom to have virtual meetings?

TD: John, no I do not. In the future, I might need too, but presently I feel that face-to-face meetings create the perfect environment to establish rapport and trust with my clients.

JM: After being referred to you via The Lighthouse Recovery 365 a client reaches out to you and sets up an initial face-to-face meeting?

TD: Yes. The client and I set our first meeting up we’ll meet. My goal is to set-up a schedule with the client. To me, AA (12-step meetings) is a big part of staying sober, but many clients will come right out and say, “Tod, I hate AA.” I get that a lot.

When the client feels AA is not going to work for him, then we have to plan to meet 3 or more days a week. I now become their recovery program along with the help of other professionals. I will also encourage them to seek counseling or psychiatric help.  It is best when there are professionals all working together.

I know there are many pathways to recovery but what is most available is Alcoholics Anonymous. Right now we could find 100 meetings in a 10 block radius. I live in Nassau County, and there are 50 meetings within a 5-mile radius from where I live.  AA is available.

However, don’t get me wrong, I don’t push AA  on people, especially my clients.

I’m a guide. I meet with the client to develop trust and orchestrate a recovery program that’ll work..”

If the client doesn’t feel the 12-steps is for him, I will meet with him several times a week for a longer term or until I feel convinced that the client feels comfortable in his skin to handle day-to-day stress without a constant reminder of being in recovery.

JM: Can you explain this further?

TD: when I got sober, all that was available to me was AA. Because I was determined to live life in recovery, I went to AA. I had the humility to go every day for the first 2-3 years. I was committed to going to meetings. I don’t believe that the 12-steps got me sober. I know my friends in AA got me sober.

This being said, I feel the more face-to-face meetings I have with a client, the more he will start to be able to process his thoughts and feelings for positive outcomes.

JM: In your opinion what do you feel is wrong with AA?

TD: AA saved my life, but as I said earlier it was the community of AA, not the dogma. The literature is outdated and doesn’t work for everyone.

The steps are beneficial, but I do not do step work with my clients. Step work should be completed with a sponsor.  However, if you are in recovery, you cannot skip the 4th and 5th step.

Are you familiar with the steps?  Just in case Step 4 is to make a fearless moral inventory of yourself. Look inside yourself and see the true self-exposing all your weakness, imperfections, perfections, faults, rights, and wrongs. It is crucial if you want lasting recovery.

Step 5 is to admit these wrongs to yourself and another (sponsor), but I’m not the sponsor.

I don’t beat my clients up with The Big Book although I will suggest that each client read the first 164 pages. These pages will always be beneficial to an individual recovery process whether he is attending AA or not.

I get upset with people who have been in the rooms and are not happy. I feel these people are missing the point of the AA and especially the joy of recovery.

JM: I feel it’s safe to say that you feel the community or the connections you found in AA were the conductors of your recovery.  Besides AA what are some other pathways you suggest to your clients?

TD: I’m their recovery coach. I will discuss issues a client might have with a sponsor a clinician, in their significant relationships, at home or work.

I work with the whole person. I focus on the healing the chaos drinking and drugging caused in a client’s life. I aim to help the client grow holistically.

For example, look at physical health. I firmly believe that exercise plays a vital role in a recovery plan.  When I first meet a new client, I inquire about their exercise regimen. I never tell anyone that they have to anything, but I feel releasing endorphins through exercise is beneficial to feeling so positive about myself.

It saddens me to see a person in recovery who is missing the point of recovery and not holistically healing the entire body. I strive to help my clients understand the importance of exercise, meditation, work and rest.

True happiness and recovery are found in healing the physical, social, and psychological issues in your life. My goal is to create a working friendship with my clients. When this friendship is established, we can speak about anything.

JM: Besides AA what are some other pathways you suggest to your clients?

TD: I work with my clients to arrange services they need to live a healthy life. Some of the services I’ve helped past clients with include detox, inpatient, outpatient, mental health therapy, physical health, 12-steps of course, or sober living homes.

JM: What part does a sober-living house play in recovery?

TD: John, I believe sober living can be enormously helpful for patients leaving rehab. Sober homes are an excellent place for patients to transition back to their lives while being surrounded by other recovering substance use disorder people.  

Almost all of my clients have spent time in sober living homes. Many of my clients have lived in The Lighthouse sober-living residence and have connected with me through The Lighthouse’s Recovery 365 program. Trey Laird has created a tremendous sense of community with the clients who spend time there. I was recently at an alumni dinner. It was truly inspirational to listen to the positive changes that had occurred in people lives after their time in his home.

JM: Do you confer with the other persons responsible for your client’s care?

TD: Once a week I set up a meeting with other persons responsible for my client's well-being. It would be similar to case conference which inpatient and outpatient programs have weekly about the participants in their program.

Doing this helps us all to stay focused on the clients’ individuals needs and goals in recovery. Meeting together helps us to create new plans of action if the client is struggling. My obligation is to the client. I don’t claim to have all the answers so when I meet with other interested professionals, I feel I’m working in the best interest of my client.

JM: How does your typical day start?

TD: At the moment I start my day reviewing two client's gratitude lists. Then I pause for a moment and work on my gratitude list. I have to put recovery first. If I’m not taking care of myself, how can I possibly care for others in recovery?

It’s crucial for me to take a few minutes and put my life in perspective.  What I’m thankful for: my wife, my children, my dog, recovery. My list is my list, and I take the time to recognize it daily.

After this, I spend sometimes recognizing my relationship with God. I believe my purpose is to find the relationship with God that exists inside of me. I believe that we all have God inside of us and it is my purpose to create the highest version of myself. I strive to do this by finding God inside of me.

After this I check Soberlink. Soberlink is cellular service to detect the presence of alcohol in human breath and facial recognition.  After this, I then start texting my clients to see how they are feeling today, what is planned for the day, and if they need to have a quick call to get the morning started.

I then get ready to get out the door and meet with my clients.

I love what I do.

JM: Is there anything more you would like to add. Also if you’re interested, I would like to do a follow-up interview with you before the holidays.

Tod Dodge is a personal recovery coach. He works via word-of-mouth and referrals. He also works closely with The Lighthouse’s Recovery 365 recovery coaching program.

John Makohen