Aaron “Arrow” Foster

AaronFosterRecovery Services Administrator
Recovery Education Center

In a modest home, built into the side of a large hill near the center of a great forest in a land called Kansas – no, not the Kansas of Dorothy, dusty and desolate, but the land of the Missouri river, with majestic oaks guarding the country-side ‘gainst invaders and maple trees as far as the eye can see that spring to life each year and whisper, to those who would listen, the story of those who had come before and those who are yet to be and who, in the fall, slip between worlds leaving behind a majestic display of color – there lived a young boy called Arrow. Arrow lived a solitary life among his friends in the forest: the ash, oak, birch and yew; and of course the flirtatious and, don’t ever call them this, gaudy maples. He had known each one intimately: the sapling, whistling in the wind and bending to each given fancy, as well as the ancients with their arms spread to the heavens.

How did such a small child come to live in such a glorious place? – let me tell you for only I can: for I am Arrow.

I was born in Tucson, Arizona, moved to California then to Kansas. My early childhood was filled with the challenges that come from living in a home filled with substance use, sexual assault and domestic violence. This changed how I perceived and interacted with society and skewed my world view. My social development was stunted due to familial abuse and the subsequent distrust and behavioral challenges that come with that. I was most often not allowed on the playground and was usually kept in the back of the room during class because I would come to school, at an early age, with alcohol on my breath. I left home for the first time at the age of 12 and was considered a “runaway” for the next five years. While this had negative effects socially, this also allowed me to develop coping mechanisms and skills that have enhanced my work values and my ability to adapt to differing work styles.

This does not mean I did not accomplish anything: This is where resilience comes into play. I quickly excelled in my academics and was translating Old English and Middle English literature by the seventh grade. During and after high school I entered an arts program with a community college and was accepted to the Kansas City Art Institute. I moved to Tucson and pursued a business degree. I eventually graduated with honors and a diploma in data processing in an era before MS Word and WordPerfect. I eventually became the Administrative Assistant for the president of a large real estate firm in Tucson and later became a personal secretary to one of that firm’s premier realtors. This allowed me to use my creative skills in party planning and in developing a line of clothing for her fashion line “B2 Designs”. I eventually moved to San Francisco where I worked for two major law firms and eventually apprenticed as a sous chef and later went on to become a chef, a restaurant manager, a banquet manager and a restaurant consultant.

In 1997 recovery entered my life and I began to listen to the universe rather than try to manage the universe. I received compassionate and empathetic counseling from a gifted counselor in Tucson, I became familiar with what is now my AA family and I began to explore why I felt the way I did. I entered the behavioral health system in 2002 after my seventh suicide attempt and was blessed with receiving support from a forward-thinking psychiatrist. When I would ‘go off my meds’ and spend time petitioned to a ‘cell’ in the psych ward, he would not chastise me, he would say to me, very calmly: “I never asked you to be perfect. What did you learn?” This was a major turning point in my recovery.

My love for learning was reinvigorated and I entered the Rehabilitation Counseling program at the University of Arizona in 2004 and have renewed my faith in the power of education as it works in our recovery. I met my mentor there and have worked to advance mental health reform and further the practices and principles of Psychiatric Rehabilitation. I became involved in disabilities studies and in 2007, I organized the largest Mental Health Awareness Week program on public campuses in the US and revived it again in 2009. I volunteered for an exceptional program called the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault and began telling my story around the world. In 2007, I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in special education and rehabilitation.

I began co-facilitating the Recovery Support Specialist Institute in Pima County, Arizona and assisting in the completion of two Psychiatric Rehabilitation courses at the University of Arizona. I began my studies as a Rehabilitation Counselor in 2008 and I recently co-authored the competencies and workforce development chapter for the new best practices textbook for the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association. In May of 2014, I received my Master’s in Rehabilitation and became a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor.

Today, I can openly, proudly and honestly say I am truly blessed. I was honored to be offered the position of Director of Education here at the Recovery Education Center in August of 2013 where I can indulge in the furtherance of my two lifelong loves: education and recovery. I am blessed to be surrounded by people who truly believe in the recovery process and I look forward to bringing supported education to anyone, anywhere who may define education as their pathway to recovery.

Does that little boy living in the side of a hill in the forest of his creation still exist: YES WE DO! And we still love to play, write, draw and frolic in that forest – and we always will. It is no longer a refuge; it has transformed into a home and a place of quiet reflection and creative energy.