It’s More Than Fun and Games
Alex Peacock and Nolan Wright
Recess Games USA
When everything you have done is associated with substance use, how do you have a good time when no longer using? That’s the question Alex Peacock and Nolan Wright asked and why they formed Recess Games USA. The goal, their mission, is “To pair those in the community with people in recovery who are seeking healthy avenues to have good, clean fun while building a meaningful and purposeful life.” It is possible to have fun again. Alex, Nolan, and Recess Games USA can be contacted at https://www.recessgamesusa.com
[Jaunty Guitar Music]
Mike: Welcome, everybody. This is Avoiding the Addiction Affliction, brought to you by Westwords Consulting and the Kenosha Substance Use Coalition. I'm Mike McGowan.
Mike: You know, a long time ago, I was doing group therapy with folks who had less than 30 days in recovery and it had been a really, really dry summer.
Mike: And all of a sudden, a thunderstorm came up and broke out and everybody was distracted. And one of the group members said, "Hey, can we go out and watch?" There's a bunch of adult men. And, you know, I said sure. The nurses didn't like it that I said sure, but, you know, I said sure. So we go out and watch, and within minutes, these adult men were outside sliding in the grass, playing in the rain, soaked to the gills, and when we came back in, dried off, sat around, one of the men said, I can't remember the last time I laughed or had fun.
Mike: And that is the conversation we're going to have today. My guests are Alex Peacock and Nolan Wright, who are co-founders of Recess Games USA. I think you're going to love this. Welcome, guys. Welcome, Alex. Welcome, Nolan.
Nolan: Thanks for having us.
Alex: Thanks for having us.
Mike: Well, let me start this out by asking Alex, tell us a little bit about Recess Games and how the concept came about.
Alex: Yeah, for sure. So, recess games we're a nonprofit 501(c)(3). And our mission is to pair those in the community with people in recovery, to have good, clean fun while building it meaningful and purposeful life. And Nolan and myself came to healing transitions of Wake County, which is a pretty much a homeless shelter slash treatment center.
Alex: It's kind of the last stop on the block for folks is certainly was the last stop on the block for him and I. And we actually arrived in detox around the same about about the same day. I can't remember exact exactly when he got there, but we didn't know each other previous to this. And we came into detox and, you know, we just got to talking and detox and we got sent to the, the first part of the program you know, just stuck tight with one another and, you know, he helped me actually, I wouldn't be here if it weren't for Nolan.
Alex: I actually, I was not done using right. When I got to healing transitions. I hadn't had enough pain and decided to use once I was at healing transitions and I go to Nolan, my road dog. And I'm like, Hey man, I got some drugs for us, man. It's about to, you know, we can get right to it. And his answer was not what at all what I thought he said, "What, what are you going to do? You have to tell yourself, you have to tell yourself". And I was like, what? Like, I don't think so. Well, long story short, I ended up telling myself and being looked at as the quote unquote snitch in treatment. So. If you have that stigma tied to you, even if you want to use, you can't use, right, because nobody's going to sell you any drugs.
Alex: So it was kind of a, a gift and a curse if you will. Yeah, and we stuck through Healing Transitions program and about five or six months in him and I, you know, we both grew up playing football, basketball, baseball, just being super active. And that was really, really really, really big for us as kids and young adults.
Alex: And we were thinking to ourselves, like, Hey, man, like, you know, what are we going to do now that we're, you know, we're young men in recovery, right? Everyone that we know is for fun, what do they do? They go to breweries and wineries and everything is revolved around substances and alcohol and abusing it.
Alex: So we started playing softball over the weekends. And in doing so guys started asking us to come along, like, "Hey, can we come play softball with you all?" And, you know, we saw something happening. We saw something brewing, saw the smiles happening. We saw that nobody thought about using a drink or drug while they were at softball.
Alex: And then guys got to asking the question, guys and gals alike. You got, can you, can we go play basketball? Can we go, can we go on a hike? Can we go to the trampoline park? And we said, "Hey, why not?" By this point, we're not a 501(c)(3) right. So it was all either out our pockets or it was through just private donors, people in the community with X amount of years sober saying "Hey, I like the idea of y'all wanting to go do that".
Alex: "My sponsee goes out to y'all stuff. Let me donate 50 bucks". So we started coming up with different crazy ideas, trampoline, dodgeball, water gun fights, this and that. And you know, we, we just noticed how it was good for the community. It was almost like occupational therapy, right? It was almost like no one thought about the worries of the day.
Alex: Nobody thought about the kids at home, bills that were due, their boss nagging them at work and just those bonds started happening at our events. And you know, we had the blessing during COVID to really work on our paperwork and officially become a 501(c)(3). So we did that and yeah, we, it's, that was in 2019 and we just haven't looked back since.
Mike: I think that's awesome. And for those of you who are, are, are quick, if you notice the "y'alls" these guys are from North Carolina. So.
Mike: (laugh) You know, those of you listening in the Midwest and West are like, we already knew that. Well, Nolan, so you've. Are you both then, what, about four years into recovery?
Nolan: Actually about five and a half. It'll be six years, God willing, in January, so.
Mike: You know, we video this on Zoom and then use the audio for the podcast. You guys look fantastic.
Nolan: (chuckle) Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that. It didn't used to be the case, I can tell you that.
Alex: No, not at all.
Mike: Well, that's where, that's where, that's where I was going with it.
Mike: That is where I was going with it. How long did it take before, Nolan, that you felt... "Okay, I feel pretty good now".
Nolan: Man, it's (sigh), it's, recovery is strange to me because it goes, it has so many ups and downs. So like, you know, your first year, you know, three months in, you're thinking like, Oh, I'm feeling much better now.
Nolan: You know, my confidence is coming back. And then, you know, a year into things kind of, you know, real life kind of hits you a little bit and kind of goes down. And then two years, but I would say when everything, kind of leveled out and I'm, I'm just loving life every single day. It doesn't really matter what's going on, if I'm stressed out or not.
Nolan: Like that's just, I've gotta a point where that's part of life. Everything can be handled. I would say right around that five year mark, so pretty recently.
Nolan: You know, keeping it, it takes rigorous action. I think a lot of people know that, that are in recovery, but five years of doing that, eventually it just kind of becomes the norm.
Nolan: It becomes. It's our, it's our new way of life, and I've really, I feel like I've gotten the grasp of it, so I would say five years is the mark.
Mike: And Nolan, what is, so when you go and do stuff, what is the day like?
Nolan: For recess games?
Mike: Yeah, yeah, for recess games.
Nolan: Yeah, yeah, so right now... You know, we both both of us work full time jobs outside of it.
Nolan: So it's it's kind of our second full time job. But you know, we're constantly planning out events for the next few months coming up fundraising events that we're planning. We meet with our board. And then obviously the events itself. So you know, we just had our summer sports series. So we go and set up early in the morning, get everything ready.
Nolan: And then for two hours, we're just meeting an entire, you know, whether it's basketball game, volleyball, softball, kickball, water gun fights, Nerf wars, you name it. We're just, we're getting involved in everything because. You know, we believe that recess kind of involves everything. If you think about going out to recess and elementary school, it didn't really matter what you did.
Nolan: People were going on playing tag. Some people were playing flag football. Some people were just sitting and doing a little patty cake thing, you know, just having, having a good time. That's just really what it's all about.
Mike: And, and Alex, you encourage people in recovery to get out of their comfort zone, right?
Alex: Yes. Yes, I do.
Mike: What does that do?
Alex: Well, getting out of your comfort zone when you do something that's uncomfortable, you grow from that, right? And that's the process that we're taught in recovery. If nothing changes, nothing will change. So going through those uncomfortable feelings of what you used to, what's the norm, right?
Alex: And then through that becomes the beautiful, the beautiful change. I'm all like so from my, my full time job, actually, I work, work in treatment. I'm a program director of a treatment program and my biggest thing I tell to you and I work with young adolescent males, right. And what they want to do, they want to sleep, they want to play video games all day.
Alex: And then they asked me, "Hey man, why, why do I feel depressed?" And I'm like, "Hey, move your body, change your thought". Let's get out of your bed, get out of your comfort zone. You, you've never, you've never been to a no winded design, right? You've never painted a picture overlooking the Raleigh landscape.
Alex: You don't know what that's like. Let's give it a shot. If you like it maybe we can look into it again, but if you still feel the same way, I promise you, I'll do whatever it is you want to do. But yeah, getting out of your comfort zone is huge. It's huge. If you don't get out of your comfort zone, honestly, for myself, if I didn't get out of my comfort zone, I wouldn't be where I am today.
Alex: For sure.
Mike: Well, and you know, I saw some of the videos you guys post online. Nolan, not everybody is as athletic as you guys. Are or were so do you have somebody ready to treat the pulled hamstrings?
Nolan: I actually, myself pulled a hamstring when we were playing flagpole about two years ago, it was pretty bad.
Nolan: Yeah, I almost had to pull out the crutches for that one. That was it was getting pretty bad. Age is catching up with me for sure.
Mike: Age and competitiveness don't always go together?
Nolan: No, no, they don't. No. (laugh)
Mike: Well, when you watch that, when you watch the individuals interacting with one another, what skills can you see just popping up?
Nolan: Really, what I'm seeing is just respect and, you know, leadership skills. And, you know, cause a lot of the people that we work with. That, you know, we're very close with or some organizations like Alex had talked about Healing Transitions, which we went to, which is basically a homeless shelter with a recovery program in it.
Nolan: And so, you know, we're working with a lot of homeless people that are older, some younger, it's all over. And a lot of them haven't learned you know, what respect looks like, or just being a team player that, you know, that, that hasn't been part of their life. And so when we start going out there and they're mixing with people from other organizations or just people within the community that come out, you know, they can really just see what respect does, you know, they build these, these great relationships.
Nolan: They're really positive. And it really sets them up for success. So I think, I really think that's the number one is just learning how to be respectful, being a team player and just leadership skills in general.
Alex: Also, like we work along with it.
Alex: We try to have themes of different spiritual principles and psychoeducational topics like we're like summer sports series. We tied along like we were playing dodgeball, right? And dodgeball, you know, no one in myself or the referee. So we can't see every call. So if we're telling the guys and gals, if you get hit, you need to practice integrity, right?
Alex: Practice integrity, do the right thing when no one's looking. And trusting our participants to do so right. And how big integrity is and recovery, how, you know, what you do at your house when you're six months sober on a weekend, when you have nothing to do, when nobody's home with you and you're sober living house, what are you going to do? That integrity piece, right? And just absolute perseverance.
Alex: The last event basketball we had, we tied along with the spiritual topic of perseverance and never giving up and sharing stories about Nolan and myself being in treatment, me having a two year old kid in treatment and not seeing him and want to leave to kind of hurt the process of seeing him.
Alex: And I had to persevere through those feelings and seeing all the head nods at our event and seeing all people come to me afterwards and say, you know, I really appreciate what you guys are doing and what you're saying. And speaking about perseverance, having a child myself and another state that I haven't seen in a year.
Alex: You know, I want to leave every day, but this you guys doing events like this makes me want to stay a little bit longer to hear your story. So we always try to tie our events to some sort of psychoeducational topic or spiritual spiritual principle. You know, because obviously we want to have fun, but there's a meaning to all this. There's a method to all the madness. So.
Mike: Well, and you had to, you know, you came to that because when, when you started talking, you, you didn't have to tell on yourself, right?
Alex: No, I did not.
Mike: So, you know, you, you credit Nolan, which is really nice of you to do, but you could have said, up yours, and, and went ahead and used anyway, or found, I'm sure you could have found somebody else in the in the house to use with, but you decided, you decided to turn the corner at that moment.
Alex: Yeah well, because, for me, that was, Healing Transitions was the sixth treatment center I've been to. I've been on this journey for quite a long time and the places previous to Healing Transitions that I was admitted to were, you know, the Super Swanky, Private Chef, yoga on the beach type places.
Alex: Co-ed, had a great time. You know what I mean, Mike? And I get the healing transitions and I, you know, when he said, no one said that to me, I kind of played the tape through and say, okay, if I were to ignore what he's saying and I continue to get high, I don't tell myself it's going to lead to me being discharged from this program, having nowhere to go, not seeing my son for probably another year.
Alex: Losing. Closing the doors on those relationships with my close family and friends. And yeah, I just knew something had to change. I knew for myself something had to change. I always had an issue. And I'm sure Nolan can probably say the same thing. In treatment of migrating with the "bad boys", right?
Alex: The, the "bad guys club". And I saw something brewing with the "good guys". I saw something brewing with Nolan. I saw like... The, the integrity he led with, the honesty he led with, and it's amazing, Mike, whenever you're not lying, you kind of don't really have anything to worry about. (chuckle) And it's just a simpler life.
Alex: It was just way, it was just a no brainer for me at that point.
Mike: Well, and, but you know, Nolan, we were talking a little bit before we started this. It's hard when you get to that point. And as Alex said, you have other relationships. You know, now you got to go back, right? And you got to say, yeah, I hurt you.
Mike: That's hard.
Nolan: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I would say it's gotten a lot easier just because my goal in life is just to be the best person I can at each and every day. So when that opportunity comes, you know, I'm grateful that I'm here to be able to do that. But especially in the beginning of recovery, that's just man, it was, it's very daunting to even think about I mean. Especially with my parents. That's that's a big one. And you know, I, I have destroyed a lot of people's lives, you know, in, in my active addiction. You know, more people than I can even count in my own head, but my parents, I really did a number on. And so having to go to them and make things right was. I didn't know if that was possible, right?
Nolan: I didn't know what they were going to say. It was just, it's very, very hard. And you know, luckily, you know, I've been able to do that and I continue to do that today. So.
Mike: Isn't it amazing how resilient those people that love us are?
Nolan: Yeah. Yeah. But I'm very, very grateful and lucky that they are still in my life today.
Mike: You know, it's difficult when so much of what we do. Right. Or so much of the, what everybody is doing that you're working with is associated with using. I mean, get up in the morning, you use breakfast, you use, you know, all the activities that you use. Now, all of a sudden, you're not using.
Mike: So one of the things I thought of when I watched your stuff. Was while playing kickball, I'm focused on not looking like an idiot, missing the ball, whiffing on the ball, looking like Charlie Brown, right? That's first, my first of all.
Mike: Second is not pulling a hamstring. But then you get to the wind down part. And Alex, this is the point where people would kick, used to, you know, they would just kick and drink, use whatever.
Mike: So what do you see happen at the winding out? How does they learn? How do people learn to wind down without drugs and alcohol, to celebrate without drugs and alcohol?
Alex: That's a good question. Well, when you ask that question, it just reminds me of the story. And I'll just name his first name. Of a former participant of ours, Mike, who came out to our event and actually he wasn't planning on coming.
Alex: We got to Healing Transitions to pick up guys and girls and I saw him on the curb and this curb is like the infamous last stop curve. Whenever you decide to leave the program and you go to the curb and you go away to the bus stop and you're on to your, whatever it is you decided to go do. And I saw Mike over there and I met him before and I'm like, Hey Mike, what are you doing?
Alex: Why are you hanging out over here? He's like, man, I'm leaving the program. I'm just, you know, I gotta get a job. I gotta start working. I'm like, why, why do you have to get a job? Why do you need to start working? Well, I gotta take care of this and that. I'm like, I mean, do you really need to do all those things right now or is it something else?
Alex: And he's like, man, honestly, I want to get high. I want to get high. That, that, that's why I want to leave right now. And. I said, Hey, look, Mike, come with us to our event. You know, come play kickball for, for a couple of hours. Come eat some pizza, come fellowship. And if you still want to get high, and I promise, I'll drop you off wherever you want to go.
Alex: He came out to the event. He had a great time. And you know, after we played, we, we sat down, we unwind, and we had pizza, we had Gatorade, and we just talked. Before we know it, it was five o'clock and he was going to check back in and Healing Transitions. He had forgotten about wanting to get high. The unwind piece is just being around people like yourself, right?
Alex: We play kickball for a bit. The biggest piece, I would say, is the unwind. When we're done, we're breaking, breaking it down and we're eating with one another. We're talking about the game. We're talking about what we're going to do that night. We're continuing the party, right? We're going to someone's house to grill out or we're going to an AA or an NA meeting together.
Alex: That's the biggest piece because you know, you know, when you're having a good time, you know playing different sports, physical activity, it lets off those receptors in the brain. Right? Because you're riding like a little high, right? So in the come down, you know, that's a lot of times when people do want to have returns to you.
Alex: So that's a really key piece to where we kind of like to keep them around with us. So we can kind of process through that. We can have conversations. They can see that, hey, it is possible, right? All of us here in recovery and it does change. And I think each win that you have, each time you do successfully wind down, that's a that's a nugget into that box of showing I can do this.
Alex: I can do this. But the first time you use you start the process all over again, all over again, you know,
Mike: Right. Yeah, that's great. Those are great points. And Nolan, that's right. You got to put some time into the effort so that it becomes routine, right?
Nolan: That's right. Yeah, you can't change your way of thinking, right, on your own.
Nolan: You know, the only way to do that is by action. You gotta take the action. Eventually, your thinking will catch up. So, that's what I've learned. It's just a day and night, action taking.
Mike: You know, you're talking to a guy here, you know, I live in Wisconsin, right? So I'm sure you know, we have a rep and you know, one of the, a while back, one of the softball teams that I participated in, it's all, it's around here, it's called beer league softball, because most of the teams are sponsored by bars. And watching a guy try to hit a softball with a beer in his other hand is, (chuckle) is a non-athletic activity. And you know, but that becomes part of the routine. So you need to learn a new routine and, and whole new people.
Mike: One of the other things I thought of is there's information on your webpage that there are children and families at the events and you see the kids.
Mike: Okay. So talk, that's gotta be rewarding to see the next generation learning a better way.
Nolan: Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, that's we've done multiple different family events and personally, that's that's not my favorite because a lot of the people that we work with have been out using for years and years of their life and have been completely out of their family's life, like their own children have have not been there.
Nolan: And so they are now in recovery trying to get back to being in their family's lives. We're able to put on these events to where their family comes out, see their own dad or mom, brother, sister, grandparents, whoever it is that's trying to get their life back together. Having fun, playing games, whether it's just card games on the sideline, it's cornhole, or even joining in on the, you know, flag football games, whatever it is, they have that bond.
Nolan: And they're just seeing that like this. This is positive. Like I can see them working towards a better way of life and they're seeing what the family unit looks like again. So it's, it's truly amazing. And especially the kids that can see like, wow, you know, I've seen my, my, my parents or, you know, my parent that has been constantly using going down this bad path.
Nolan: And that's not fun. Like seeing that and then seeing like this other side of just having a blast without any substances. It's fantastic.
Mike: Well, Alex, what's next? What event do you have coming up? Is it every weekend or?
Alex: So as of right now, we're not every weekend. We do want to get to a position to be able to have events for people all throughout America, multiple times a week, right?
Alex: Because like we said, we know how important this is to myself and Nolan to be active. And we just want to bring that to everyone else. But as far as what's next for us, we actually we got rained out for the last volleyball event that we had a couple weeks ago. So we're going to reschedule that.
Alex: And from talking to people, it sounds like we're gonna have some night volleyball happen a weekday coming up very, very soon. Get a big turnout for that. And then we have a pretty we have a fundraiser coming up in November. We're just going to recognize organizations, foundations that have just helped us along the way.
Alex: We just want to recognize them, pay homage to them. And we're going to have a really, really big a family engagement community event. I want to say around Thanksgiving, and then we're going to do another one in December for a place called the Veterans Life Center, which is a treatment center dedicated to men and women of service.
Alex: So yeah, we got some good stuff coming up, a couple huge events. We're really excited about those big events, because that's where we're going to have not only people in recovery, but people in the community. So we can eliminate those stigmas that people have for people in recovery. Right. And we can all come together, have good clean fun while building meaningful purpose relationships.
Alex: You got to forgive me. I'm kind of used to the mission statement.
Mike: Oh, I love it. I love the mission statement. And so Nolan, are you being asked or do you guys have plans to branch out to teach other people in other parts of the country and world to do this?
Nolan: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, right now it's basically just Alex and myself doing this.
Nolan: You know, we're, we're fairly new nonprofits doing this on the side pretty much with full time jobs, just trying to pay bills. We would love to be able to do this full time. And our, our number one goal is to spread this as far as possible and reach as many people as possible. And we do have people that have been asking, you know, especially around the Raleigh area, like Chapel Hill, even Greensboro, Charlotte, you know. People want to be a part of this.
Nolan: Yep. Wilmington. So that is the goal. That is the plan. And right now we're just working on, you know, raising funds and getting to a point to where ourselves, we can dedicate our full time into this so that we can expand.
Mike: Well, and for those of you listening, obviously, you know, by now that we'll list the contact information for Recess Games USA at the end of this podcast. So they've already done all the heavy lifting and figuring out how to do this stuff. So feel free to contact them if you if you're interested in your community.
Mike: I was telling Nolan, Alex, before we started that you could do this here and, and only four or five, six months of the year, it would be in snow. So. (laugh)
Nolan: We can think of some snow games.
Alex: I think of the movie Snow Day, right? And all the games that go with all that, you know, get on a nice little hill, make some a million snowballs and just have a huge snowball fight.
Mike: Yeah, I can be I can be Buddy the Elf with the best of them.
Nolan: Yeah. (laugh)
Alex: Yeah, yeah. We hone we hone and we preach tapping into your childlike wonder. And, just having a great time. And that's why, you know, people get, it's a common misconception to say this is just for people in recovery. Like we don't want it to be for just people in recovery because I'm really talking to the person working the nine to five and dealing with the daily stressors and coming out to our event and just not thinking about anything you've been dealing with all week, you know, and just unwinding and just realizing that we all had this in common of just needing to unplug and to come together and to just, you know, have good clean fun.
Alex: And that's all we're about.
Mike: Fantastic. That's a great drop to end it with. I really appreciate you guys taking the time to chat with us today. I love the concept. When I heard about it, I wanted to have you talk about it because if you're not going to have fun in recovery, then you're probably not going to stay in recovery.
Mike: So anyway, as always, as we tell you, there's links to the Recess Games USA attached to the podcast. Thanks, guys. I really appreciate both of you being on.
Mike: For those of you listening, please listen in next time. And until next time, stay safe and, as Alex and Nolan would say, have fun!
Stream This Episode
Download This Episode
This will start playing the episode in your browser. To download to your computer, right-click this button and select "Save Link" or "Download Link".