Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, December 7, 2017
Volunteers share stories of addiction and recovery
Island organization seeks to build community support
From left, Jim H., Jesse C. and Rachel H. share their path to recovery at the Island Commnity Center on December 4 in an event hosted by the Opiate-Free Island Partnership and Healthy Acadia.
by Anne Berleant
How can the island help those addicted to opiates find help? And how can it help those in recovery stay clean? The Opioid-Free Island Partnership and Healthy Acadia brought two men and one woman to the Island Community Center on December 4 to share their stories of addiction and recovery.
Opiate-Free Island Partnership formed in 2016 as opiate use spiked in Deer Isle and Stonington, mirroring the nation at large. Recently, it paid for seven volunteers to undergo recovery coach training, to work one-on-one with people with substance abuse disorders, as Healthy Acadia develops the framework for the coaches to operate in.
“But the simple fact is that all of these resources are going to be for naught if we, as a community, don’t talk about addiction,” OFIP co-chairman Charlie Osborn said.
Jim H., Rachel H. and Jesse C.’s stories of addiction may have been harsh but their present success in getting and staying clean was evident.
“This is what recovery looks like,” said Denise Black, a certified recovery coach and Healthy Acadia’s Drug Free Community Program Coordinator.
None of the three stayed sober the first time they entered recovery. Two had learned about drugs and alcohol from watching their parents, all have spent time in jail or prison, and at least two found their present recovery while enrolled in the Adult Drug Court Program. Operated by Hancock County Unified Court, it offers deferred prison sentences for those willing to undergo rigorous, structured treatment and accountability.
“I was forced to come into recovery. I had the heat on my back. Jail was the easy way out but I knew if I did that, I’d come out and be in the same spot,” Jim H. said. A drug and alcohol abuser from a young age and from a family that taught him that was normal behavior, he moved from smoking pot and drinking to using heroin by age 15, he said, and stayed there for 20 years.
He had tried replacement therapy, using suboxone to replace opiates, but said without any support he relapsed. He found support in recovery in 12-step groups.
“Addicts helping addicts is without parallel, and I believe that to my core,” he said, adding with a wry laugh: “[It’s] an easy program—all you have to do is change everything about you.”
His wife, Rachel H., spoke of twice losing custody of her children to the Department of Health and Human Services. The first time, when her daughter was 3, Rachel moved into Hill House, an Ellsworth program that houses mothers and their children while the mothers undergo treatment.
“I did what I needed to, to get my daughter back,” Rachel said. “Then I went back to drinking and hard drugs. Within two years I had lost my daughter again, [and] my son. I lost my house, I lost my job, everything. I ended up in jail.”
Now over two years sober, Rachel lives with her children and works full-time managing a restaurant.
“I am able to get up and show up today,” she said.
Rachel also credits her recovery to a 12-step program, which emphasizes service work with those in or seeking recovery, and staying close to the recovery community.
“I’m with people in recovery all the time,” she said.
Jesse C. echoed the need “to change the people around you. For me, the hardest part was to let go of people,” including a friend who had twice saved his life, he said. “I wouldn’t have anything I have today if I hadn’t met the people I’ve met in recovery programs.”
Coming from what he described as good parents and a good childhood, Jesse began using painkillers in college.
“It didn’t take long from that first use when it turned into something else,” he said. He described “putting a mask on in the morning,” to function in the world while in active addiction.
The first time he sought recovery was when he got out of jail, and even though he relapsed, he said, “recovery programs plant the seed in your head. The people will always welcome you with open arms after relapse.”
“I had to lose everything,” he added. “I had to open up and be honest, not only with myself but with others. I feel pretty good today.”
Audience questions highlighted that without support recovery can be elusive.
“Where did you live?” one person asked the three, who had all lost their homes and spent time in jail.
The fact that a family member provided a place to live when, as Jim H. said, “I got out of jail with $50 and a bus ticket,” made a crucial difference.
Community programs can provide food, clothes, a job, “but it’s all for nothing if [people] don’t have a place to live,” Black said, noting the lack of transitional housing in Hancock County.
“Do you think somebody like me, who doesn’t share the history [of drug addiction] can be useful, and how?” another attendee asked.
“Become a recovery coach, be a recovery ally,” Black said. “There are ways to get involved.”
For information on recovery coach training, contact Denise Black at email@example.com or 667-7171.