Soaring On Their Path to Recovery

Addiction is blind, and you never know who may be struggling with substance dependency. Whether they’re your friendly suburban neighbor or a stranger passing by you at the grocery store, anyone can suffer from addiction. These people are loved by their families, associates, and friends. They also make one thing perfectly clear: they are addicts and alcoholics in recovery. Each one earnestly owns their addiction without reservation, because they recognize that their work towards a substance-free future is something to be proud of.

At our Positive Recovery locations, we have a very special group of individuals we work with. They have been treated for their addictions through the full continuum of care: medical detox, residential treatment (many up to 60 days), outpatient, and then a minimum of 2 years of monitored Aftercare. Most have jumped through many hoops to get to this level, but some have washed out before then. Even so, they are not intimidated by the prospect of failure. These individuals are motivated by the memory of their life as an addict, and the bright future that lies ahead of them in recovery.

What do these individuals have in common? They all are professional pilots who have lost their certification as a result of to their addiction. They all share the steely determination to return to the cockpit, and they are willing to jump through a seemingly endless series of hoops before they will be allowed to return to service. They are all able to undergo treatment due to the support of their companies, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the International Air Line Pilots Association. Their course of treatment, in which PRC plays a small part, boasts an exceptional success rate of close to 90%, and has been judged as being the most effective treatment continuum. This treatment is called the HIMS program.

What is the HIMS program? Well, in the 1970’s, a medical research project called Human Intervention Motivation Study, or “HIMS,” was spearheaded by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), and funded by the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). These organizations chose to conduct this study to test a program for dealing with the presence of alcoholism within the airline pilot population. Traditional on-the-job supervisory programs proved to be inadequate because the commercial aviation environment was not well suited for them, and the ALPA found that a recovering pilot’s ability to function was best observed by fellow pilots. Derived from findings of the initial HIMS research project, the HIMS program is now a nationwide occupational substance abuse treatment program designed to provide recovery aid for commercial pilots.

HIMS was the brainchild of the ALPA, and was first presented to and implemented by the airline industry in 1974. Given the sensitive nature of a pilot’s responsibilities and the interrelationship between medical, corporate, federal and union agencies in regard to technical, legal and performance standards, it was essential that all of these organizations had input into the solution of effectively treating pilots struggling with substance abuse.

The program has matured over the years, and has been a substantial success with over 4,000 professional pilots restored to their careers. The HIMS program is now the most effective substance abuse treatment program worldwide.

Pilots are more susceptible to a life of addiction due to the challenges of their unique work environment. They work long hours, and spend much more time away from their friends and families than in any other profession. This distance can make pilots feel disconnected from important relationships, and the loneliness starts to creep in. Establishing a sense of normalcy is very difficult while traveling to new cities all the time, especially when your free time is spent in hotel rooms and foreign countries. More often than not, the social consumption of alcohol is the only activity available that several cultures have in common, so pilots will make an effort to foster relationships through drinking or using drugs as a social lubricant.

Aftercare is a necessary component to a pilot’s recovery journey, as it allows them to cultivate healthy connections with sober members of their community. Additionally, Aftercare provides recovering pilots a comforting place to bond with other pilots who have struggled with addiction, giving them the space they need to support them as they navigate life after addiction.

“I once was in a place where I felt hopeless. Going through the HIMS program and really connecting with pilots and others in Aftercare gave me a new outlook. I have been able to reclaim what was once lost and have never been happier.” (Humble PRC Pilot Aftercare)

PRC is privileged to partner with United and other airlines in a cohesive effort to help aviators and others in the airline industry successfully build a strong foundation in recovery. Pilots participating in the HIMS program typically complete 3-5 years of Aftercare, based on the FAA’s recommendation.

The clients that Positive Recovery sees in Aftercare are all reaching the end of their treatment regimens. Some are already flying again, while others may be in Aftercare for as long as five years before they can return to their profession at their full capacity. No matter their status in the Aftercare program, all pilots share the same commitment to recovery and have come to realize how fortunate they are to be involved in the most effective addiction treatment in the nation.

Entering Aftercare is an opportunity that these recovering pilots are extremely grateful for. Here are a few words from those pilots in the program:

“The H.I.M.S program has given me many tools to use in keeping my recovery positive and moving forward, and Aftercare is yet another one of those tools. Our Aftercare Group particularly has been one of the most important parts of my recovery program. I feel very comfortable with our group in sharing anything that’s on my mind. I truly look forward to seeing everybody in our Monday group every week.”

“I truly feel grateful and very fortunate to have this opportunity”

“If I were struggling, I know that one or more of my peers would step in and give me the guidance I would need. I know that they are there for me; mind, body and soul.”

“I have attended aftercare at Positive Recovery since 2015 and I can truly say this has become more than sober support, these people are my family”

“It’s like an ultra home group on steroids. The accountability factor is enormous! We are all in different stages in returning to the cockpit and we give each other guidance and encouragement. My buddies inspire me. They give me strength and hope.”

“I once was in a place where I felt hopeless. Going through the HIMS program and really connecting with pilots and others in Aftercare gave me a new outlook. I have been able to reclaim what was once lost and have never been happier”

“Accountability is the key. Along with mandatory testing and minimum of a thirty-day treatment stay. Most of us go to IOP before getting to the Aftercare part too. Being a pilot makes for a pretty specialized identity. It’s huge! I get a lot of the guidance, assurance, and mentorship that I really I need in this group from both Jim and my peers. I mean, getting back to work can be a complicating process. There are no shortcuts. We also attend a dedicated AA group called “Birds of a Feather”. They follow the basic AA format and do not have any reporting requirements. In the Aftercare group you can talk about your job, your kids, your marriage, and other stuff not directly related to recovery. It’s a lot more open than an AA meeting, that for sure.”

“The Positive Recovery Pilot’s Aftercare group is like an ultra home group. We know each other and know what’s going on in each other’s lives. I enjoy the consistency of the program. It’s also known by us as the “Accountability Group”. Jim is there to guide us along. I need that in my recovery. Support, honesty and accountability.”

“I have met lifelong friends in the program. I would recommend anyone wanting real change in their lives to seek out AA, sponsorship, and an aftercare program as strong as the one I have found at Positive Recovery Humble”

“I read in the Bible that “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Prov 27-17). The accountability we share for each other strengthens my commitment. It’s like having a professional peer supergroup. We express empathy and when needed we challenge each other. It’s a safe place where we can discuss our concerns and life challenges. It provides friendship and accountability. We hang out together, ride motorcycles and meet by the lake. We know that recovery is more than not just using. It’s about returning to our jobs and families stronger than ever before.”

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