WATERTOWN – Seeking to give back to his community after returning to Watertown in 2019, Grant D. Robinson embarked on a new journey to Hel…
ROCHESTER – After Franz Matthew Heldwein was sexually assaulted during his freshman year of college, his drinking took off.
He filed a Title IX investigation with the school, which he said was mismanaged and ended up leaving. Mr Heldwein, now 27, grew up in Rochester, adopted by an Austrian father and an American mother. He said he didn’t really have a drinking problem until he was in college.
Since then, the last few years have been difficult for Mr. Heldwein. He said it has been difficult for him to maintain any normality as he continues to relapse after periods of sobriety.
Mr. Heldwein met his recovery coach, Grant D. Robinson, about three years ago at Anchor Recovery Center, looking to use the peer mentoring program. At the time, he was living at Transitional Living Services in Watertown. The two quickly hit it off and established a rapport.
“He was just fantastic,” said Mr. Heldwein. “It’s different having a counselor or something, it’s not a friendship relationship, but it’s much closer than a therapist and the client. He has been there for me through multiple situations.
He said Mr Robinson had helped him get into rehab and halfway houses and knew he could always count on him when needed. Mr. Heldwein has spent a lot of time in the north of the country in different rehabilitation and treatment centers.
An only child, Mr Heldwein said Mr Robinson had been a mentor to him, that he truly admired this man because of what he had gone through in his own recovery.
“His story is quite amazing and we still speak today, I see him privately through his own business now,” Mr. Heldwein said. “We’re talking about my addiction, and I’ll call him when I get cravings and say, ‘Hey, what am I doing about it? And he’s kind of going to point me in the right direction.
Mr. Robinson introduced Mr. Heldwein to the SMART Recovery, Self-Management and Recovery training, which is based on cognitive behavioral therapy.
SMART Recovery is about using tools to combat addictive behavior – it doesn’t have to be a specific substance. One of the many skills used is cost-benefit analysis, CBA, which Mr. Heldwein learned from Mr. Robinson. Essentially, it’s about weighing the pros and cons of a choice or situation and basing your decision on that balance.
“I would say the advantage is that I can call him anytime really, he made himself available for me 24 hours,” Mr. Heldwein said. “There were times when I said, ‘Hey, I wanna use,’ or there are times when I used and called it up afterwards. And that’s really there is the difference to having an advisor because we can have these really deep conversations about why I used, what happened.
Mr. Heldwein lived in Watertown for a few years while benefiting from peer mentoring. Back in his hometown, he and Mr. Robinson keep in touch. As a thank you to the man who accompanied him on his difficult journey, Mr. Heldwein offered one of his paintings to Mr. Robinson. It hangs in Mr. Robinson’s new office at Northern Recovery Initiative LLC on Washington Street in Watertown.
“It’s been a really tough struggle for me to stay sober for a while, but it’s definitely been a big help to me,” Mr. Heldwein said.
Mr. Heldwein’s alcohol consumption has been going on since the age of 18; it was then that he knew he had a drinking problem. Always a single-use type of person, alcohol has been his vice.
He thinks alcohol abuse is something we don’t talk about as often as it should, given the fact that alcohol is so accessible.
“There are advertisements about it,” Mr. Heldwein said. “It’s not like I go to a dealer or something and take my booze.”
As someone who has been on this journey for almost a decade now and has been through ups and downs, the most important thing to her when it comes to addiction is the need to work to normalize it.
Noting that this is progress, not perfection, when it comes to the disease of addiction, he said there will be times when people will step back. These moments should be seen as opportunities for growth, he said.
“I know it’s almost a cliché now to say this, but I think people need to be aware that there is a huge community of people who have these issues in their lives,” Mr. Heldwein said. “It’s not a moral failure, it’s not something like that.”
He said it’s unfortunate the amount of stigma that still hangs around people. Currently living in a halfway house, he sees him among those living at the home for the elderly next door. In the face of such things and all the setbacks that arise, Mr. Heldwein seeks to use the skills he has learned, as well as the means of liberation.
During his recovery journey, Mr. Heldwein has found in art both an inspiration and an outlet.
Mr. Heldwein works mainly with ceramics and sculpture, although he also paints occasionally. When he drank he didn’t work much, but now that he’s been sober for about a month and has some time, he has been able to reconnect with his art.
Every now and then, he’ll text Mr. Robinson a photo of a new room to keep him updated.
Lovers of abstract expressionism, Mr. Heldwein’s favorite artists are Mark Rothko and Franz Kline. He is also very inspired by the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.
“I like juxtaposing the industrial aesthetic with more organic shapes,” he said. “So I like to work with biomorphic forms, and not really with specific subjects in my paintings. I use a lot of color overlays and automatisms, really coming from the abstract.
Since art is a useful outlet for him, Mr. Heldwein encourages others in recovery to try it, because when you make art, he said, you focus on the present moment and don’t think use or other issues in your life. . He tries to return to a local art gallery near his home to remake ceramics and has said he finds the work of the pottery wheel very therapeutic.
For those who are recovering, there are resources available, Mr Heldwein said, and it helps to know that there are other people with the same struggles. Whether it’s participating in Alcoholics Anonymous programs or going to SMART Recovery, her advice is to try everything and then choose what is most helpful.
Mr. Heldwein is very fond of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that combines strategies such as mindfulness, acceptance and the regulation of emotions. His favorite skill he’s recently learned is radical acceptance, which he says has been very helpful, although sometimes difficult, as it means accepting something without judgment.
He wants to work and has many plans for his future, but with sweeping acceptance he must first accept where he is now in his life and be present in the moment.
Regarding Mr Robinson and his recently launched Northern Recovery Initiative, Mr Heldwein fully supports him and said he is excited to see what he does with it. As someone who has defended Mr Heldwein on several occasions and is currently working with his family, Mr Robinson, he said, has only had a positive influence on his life.
“He’s been living his life right now and he’s been sober for quite some time, and that’s very inspiring to me,” Mr. Heldwein said. “He’s not a therapist, but it’s just nice to have someone around you standing up for you.”