An Interview with Tip McKay, Director of Alumni Services

“Hey man, come in from the cold. You’re welcome here.” These are Tip McKay’s words for anyone struggling with addiction. It’s a cold Tip knows all too well. Many years ago, he was in the grip of addiction himself. Like many others, his recovery journey had ups and downs. He completed an intensive outpatient program but felt over-confident in his ability to stay sober. Knowing that he was at high risk of relapse, at his coin out ceremony his counselor said, “See you soon.” And she did. About nine months later, he “crashed and burned” and called his former counselor to get back into treatment. When he showed up for stabilization at inpatient treatment, he weighed just 112 pounds and looked grey and lifeless. He completed another round of intensive outpatient treatment and over time, his counselor saw a marked difference in the way he looked, walked and talked. In fact, she saw his potential to one day become an addiction counselor. His counselor was right. Tip got a sponsor and continued to work his recovery program while attending school for drug and alcohol counseling. He took the test for licensure, and as he says, “For the first time in my life, I took a test and passed it.” In 1994, Tip got his first job in the field at a substance abuse program in a psychiatric hospital. Ten years later, he joined The Right Step as a staff counselor in the adult residential program. Soon he was promoted to program coordinator of the transitional living program and again to his current position as director of alumni services. The Right Step was an ideal match for Tip because he shares the same treatment philosophy. “To be successful,” he says, “recovery needs to be ongoing, it needs to include the family and it needs to be honest.”

Fun in Recovery

The alumni program at The Right Step is an integral part of treatment. It is the bridge clients need from completing residential treatment to building their own support network at home. Always friendly and sincere, Tip spends about half of his time getting to know current clients so they feel comfortable attending alumni events and the other half developing the alumni program. “In residential treatment clients develop the tools they need to stay sober, but then they go right back to the stressful situations at home and at work that contributed to their addictions,” Tip explains. “By getting them involved in the alumni program before they leave, clients have a safe, supportive group to guide them through the transition.” The alumni group also teaches clients that recovery can be fun. In addition to weekly alumni meetings, there are monthly events for alumni and their families, such as softball tournaments, New Year’s Eve and Super Bowl parties, karaoke nights, concerts, movie nights, picnics, and volunteer projects. Clients also have the opportunity to share their experiences with others, including teens in court for DWI and other issues. When he’s not playing golf, strumming on his guitar or cheering on the Texas Rangers, Tip is drumming up new ideas for The Right Step’s alums. Through their involvement in the alumni program, clients learn to take risks and step outside their comfort zone. Most inspiring for Tip is seeing the transfer of learning and hope that happens when alumni and current clients come together. “When we have alumni speakers come back,” Tip says, “it’s exciting to hear the hope and satisfaction in their voices, and to see current clients whose worlds are falling apart open up to the possibility of living sober.”

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