In previous articles, we have discussed many aspects of substance use, treatment and recovery. In this article, I will let Chris tell a story of recovery.
I started using when I was a teenager. I went through multiple treatment programs and relapses. I almost died several times. Many of my friends did. I don’t want to glamorize what I did but only say I was stupid and reckless.
Most of the time I was in treatment, I was just going through the motions, doing what I was expected to do, so I could get out and get high. After hitting the bottom several times and coming to my senses, I came to the realization that the most important thing in my life had to be staying sober. AA says you are as sick as your secrets. I had to figure out what was driving me to use drugs, what underlying pain was I running from?
It took a long time. It is a daily struggle. There are still triggers out there that cause cravings, usually stupid stuff like the bleach in the laundry aisle of the grocery store, that I used to clean my needles. Or driving by the places where I used to use, a smell, an object that reminded me of when I was using.
I know now that I can only stay clean when I am in community. My sponsors and friends in recovery hold me accountable and I do the same for them. We offer each other encouragement and call BS when we are lying to ourselves and others.
The people who helped me didn’t judge me, criticize me or make me feel worse than I already did. They didn’t give up even as I continued in denial and self-destruction. They saw me as a person who was lost and needed help: a person worth saving. Their eyes offered acceptance and kindness, holding out hope until I was finally able to accept it for myself.
Those who didn’t help demanded to know how I could do this to myself and my family. Why didn’t I pull myself up by my bootstraps, show some willpower and stop being such a loser? I knew what I was. I hated myself and what I was doing. I didn’t need anybody else telling me that. I was already worthless and ashamed.
The most important thing to tell people who are in the depths and darkness of addiction is that I used to be where you are. I recovered and you can too. There is hope. Our details may be different, but our stories are the same. We couldn’t face the pain in our lives and drugs/alcohol made us feel good and forget our problems temporarily. But the drugs only added to the pain and hopelessness of what we were doing to ourselves. It comes down to two choices: You can recover or die. You don’t have to die, you can recover.
For the families who are going through this with them: You can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. But you can keep the door cracked open to offer hope when they are ready. And take care of yourself while you wait. It still pains me to think of what I put my family through. On many levels, I did not know what I was doing to them until it was too late. I was so self-absorbed and unaware of anything but me. Saying I’m sorry a million times can’t fix it. I cannot express how thankful I am for the relationships that are healing and being restored.
The details of Chris’ story have been changed (including the name) to protect Chris’ privacy. This path to recovery is unique as every person’s recovery is a little different. What worked for Chris may not work for others. But this story offers hope. The journey may be long, but don’t give up. Help is out there. Recovery is possible.
Earlier this year, Valley Oaks in Tippecanoe County obtained a grant from the Family and Social Services Administration/Division of Mental Health and Addiction, Addiction and Forensic Treatment Team to expand the Tippecanoe Quick Response Team (QRT) into White and Jasper Counties.
Many community members have been involved in the planning process. We have had representatives from the Mayor’s office, the judicial branch, law enforcement, health care administrators and workers, educators, pastors and community members working together to develop the plan. Their vision statement is “Working Together to promote healthy recovery for those involved in substance abuse and trauma.”
Through this grant, the North Central QRT will begin work in White County starting September 1, 2019. When someone in White County has a Narcan or substance abuse contact through 911 or the IU Health White County Memorial Hospital, a peer recovery coach (PRC) and an EMT will make contact with them within 72 hours of the event. At that contact, the team will offer wellness and recovery services to the individual. “Since the PRC has experience in substance abuse and/or mental health as well as formal training, they can offer the individual self-directed, strengths-based peer support. This approach has proven to be successful in winning the confidence of a highly resistant population. The addition of clinical supports as well as wrap-around services offers clients a trauma-informed, multi-faceted menu of options to both initiate and sustain long-term recovery.” (North Central QRT Facebook page)
Another benefit of the QRT is providing transportation to services. Often those in early recovery have difficulty finding transportation to community services. Not only does the QRT help set up appointments, they also can provide transportation.
In addition, people may call their hotline number (765-607-6771) for themselves or to refer someone else. When calling the QRT number you will hear a recording asking you to respond to four questions: Your name, your age, a brief description of your situation, and an address or phone number where you can be reached. The team will make contact within 72 hours.
One of the biggest challenges for the QRT can be finding the individual. The contact information given during an emergency room or EMT visit may not be correct. The person may be staying with a friend or relative, or may be homeless. Many times in Tippecanoe County, the QRT responds to the address of a family member. Even then, they are able to offer resources and support. In one instance, the QRT was on a follow-up call related to a Narcan incident. Although the individual who received Narcan was not present, QRT made contact with his distraught mother, who had not seen her son for several months. They listened to her story, offered her Narcan, and taught her how to administer it. They encouraged her to call if they could be of further assistance. Several months later, she did call. When the team arrived, they were greeted with hugs. She invited them in, and sitting in the living room was her son with a suitcase by his chair. He had overdosed at her house the day before, she was able to save his life with the Narcan the QRT had provided, and he was willing to initiate treatment.
The QRT presence in White and Jasper Counties is a tremendous source of hope, and we are grateful to Valley Oaks for initiating this possibility.
One of the new strategies in supporting people in substance use is the peer recovery coach (PRC). A peer recovery coach is someone who has experienced substance misuse or mental health issues and is currently in active recovery. In addition to their lived experience, the PRC has completed forty hours of specialized training and passed a certification test. A PRC is not a therapist, diagnostician or counselor, but part of a team of professionals who support people in their recovery. They walk alongside the substance user on the road to recovery.
Research shows that PRCs have a strong impact on those they help. There is mounting evidence that people receiving peer recovery coaching reduce their substance use and have improved recovery outcomes. In addition to an increased access to support services people working with PRCs tend to stay in treatment longer, have improved relationships with treatment providers, have fewer arrests, relapses, and emergency room visits, and are less likely to be homeless. (SAMSHA.gov)
The power of a PRC is that while the substance user’s brain is telling him that he will never overcome addiction, there is a live person sitting in front of him, saying, “I’ve been there. I am in recovery and you can be, too.” Many people in substance abuse have not ever seen what successful recovery looks like. Gina Fears from the Recovery Resource Center in Indianapolis shared, “sometimes the idea of how to change is really scary. When addiction is driving you, it will whisper things like ‘You can’t do that.’ To be in a setting where people have really done it and they are down-to-earth people talking and sharing their journey, it makes it easier.”
The PRC gives the user hope and encouragement that recovery is possible and attainable. Hope of a better future is critical for moving forward in recovery.
One of the biggest obstacles to overcoming addiction is isolation. The PRC helps the individual connect to and trust first with his PRC, then the recovery community and finally his larger community. Many aspects of life in recovery are foreign to the individual coming out of addiction. The PRC helps the person navigate those adjustments and have success in a sober society.
There are many paths to recovery: faith based or secular, inpatient, outpatient or residential, abstinence or medically assisted treatment. The PRC’s role is to share their personal story of recovery, help the person examine various paths to recovery, and develop a personal recovery plan. A common PRC question is “How can I help you in your recovery today?” The PRC helps the individual set up goals, and then establish small, manageable steps to get there.
The PRC is knowledgeable about resources for food, housing, transportation, support groups, counseling, treatment, and other services in the community, and acts as a resource broker connecting the person to the services and resources he needs. The PRC helps set up appointments, arrange transportation, and support the individual during his appointments.
The PRC fills gaps in transitions to recovery services so those in recovery are less likely to fall between the cracks and lose their way.
There is good news! Beginning in September, White County will have access to peer recovery coaches through the North Central Quick Response Team. More on that next week.
As families deal with the chaos, pain and difficulty of watching a loved one struggle with addiction, they struggle to know how to respond. They may receive conflicting advice from friends, family members, and social media. Here are some general suggestions from families who have faced this heartbreaking situation.
For almost every addict mired in this terrible disease, there is a family suffering too. Families are the hidden victims of addiction, enduring enormous levels of stress and pain, suffering deep anxiety and physical exhaustion brought on by worry and despair. Families tend to put their lives on hold and in a sense become hostage to the addiction, abdicating responsibility for their own well-being.
What families tend to forget is that they do not have to wait until their loved one has found recovery before they can begin to nurture themselves. In fact, families can rediscover simple pleasures, find ways to experience peace of mind, and even begin to laugh again—no matter what their loved one is doing. The key is for families to begin their own journey of recovery, learning healthier ways of interacting with their addicted loved one, and embarking on a path of self-healing. As families search for recovery, they are searching for peace of mind. Their lives can have value apart from their loved one’s struggles.
There are many books written by family members of those involved in addiction. Saving Jake: When Addiction Hits Home by DeAnn Burwell was reviewed earlier in this series. Others are An Addict in the Family by Bev Conyers, and The Only Life I Could Save: A Memoir by Katherine Ketcham. Websites such as hazeldenbettyford.org and projectknow.com offer help for families of those involved in substance abuse.
The following recommendations are a compilation from those websites and books. (This is not to be taken as treatment advice, but suggestions from various sources that have helped families in the past.)
The next article offers more help for families.
Lynn Saylor is the AmeriCorps member working with the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative alongside the White County United Way. She is a major facilitator of the United Council on Opioids serving White County and a regular contributor to local media.