A representative from a national organization focused on empowering people suffering from addiction met with members of the Kenai community last week to discuss the group’s recovery strategies.
Faces and Voices of Recovery is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation founded in 2005, whose mission is to give a voice to the millions of Americans in recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. Patty McCarthy, CEO of the organization, visited Kenai last Tuesday as part of a tour across Alaska to share information about the work she does and to teach people how to make their town or city a “recovery-ready” community. McCarthy’s organization also advocates for policies on the federal level that address the nationwide epidemic of addiction and substance misuse.
McCarthy’s presentation at the Quality Inn in Kenai was attended by several dozen people, some of whom represented local organizations that provide recovery services, such as Change 4 the Kenai, the Cook Inlet Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (CICADA) and Set Free Community Center and Church. Some were parents, grandparents or friends of people currently in recovery, and some in attendance were actively in recovery themselves.
McCarthy began the presentation by explaining that she, too, considers herself in long-term recovery and has been sober for the past 30 years.
“I share that with you because if it wasn’t for my recovery, I wouldn’t be the wife, the mother, the taxpayer, the grandmother, actually, of a 7-year child, and I wouldn’t have the career that I have today, that’s for sure,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy said her own journey through recovery from substance use is what inspired her to be a voice for others on that journey.
“This really is important, because there’s so many of us,” McCarthy said.
During her presentation, McCarthy touched on four dimensions of life that she said need to be addressed in order to facilitate a person’s successful recovery from addiction: health, home, purpose and community. McCarthy also had those in attendance split into groups to discuss where in those four dimensions the Kenai Peninsula does well, and where it struggles to provide adequate resources.
When it comes to health, McCarthy said that people struggling with substance use often neglect other conditions that might be affecting their mental and physical health, so part of the recovery process includes managing one’s well-being and making informed lifestyle choices. Many attendees agreed that while most medical services are available on the peninsula, some specific areas including mental health care are lacking. With only a handful of licensed therapists, counselors, psychiatrists, and psychiatric nurse practitioners in the area, the accessibility of mental health services is limited and the wait time to get prescribed medication can sometimes be as long as several months, participants said.
Having a stable home also goes a long way towards long-term recovery, McCarthy said.
“It’s really hard to help someone stop using alcohol or drugs or find their pathway to recovery if they don’t have a safe and stable place to live, isn’t it?” McCarthy said. Some local organizations like Freedom House offer faith-based transitional housing for those in recovery, but no emergency shelter currently exists on the peninsula.
Finding a purpose, McCarthy said, means allowing someone in recovery the opportunity to participate in society in a meaningful way.
“Purpose is so important,” McCarthy said. “It means finding people volunteer opportunities, finding them a role at their local recovery center, taking care of a family member who’s ill, being a parent. All of those things are important in addition to finding a job and having some income.”
The fourth aspect, community, is the idea that a person in recovery is strengthened by having a network of friends, family and peers that can support them.
“There’s a phrase that the opposite of addiction is connection,” McCarthy said. “So if we have relationships and social networks that provide that support, friendship, love and hope, we will feel connected.”
McCarthy used her own story of recovery to explain that by joining the organization she now runs, she got to know many people who were on similar paths as her and began to feel like she was part of something bigger than herself.
“We don’t want to be forgotten,” McCarthy said. “We want people that know a little bit more than us right now and have more resources than us to help us.”
Two people at the presentation, Amy Lynn Burdett Belue and Dana Glenn, spoke to the Clarion about how purpose and community have helped them in their own recovery process.
Glenn is a new volunteer at Set Free, a community center and church in Kenai that offers faith-based recovery services and free food during the week. Belue is the director of Set Free and one of their recovery coaches.
Glenn said that from the moment he walked in the door at Set Free he felt that it was the right place to offer him healing and support, even though he went there thinking it was just a new pool hall.
“They were healing my soul from the minute I walked through the door, and I just never stopped coming back there,” Glenn said.
Everyone’s road to recovery looks a little different, and Glenn said that, for him, a big step on his journey was embracing his faith, which the people at Set Free helped him do.
“They help heal the dehumanized souls that walk through the door. When I walked through that door I was dehumanized. Today, I’m human. I have value. I have worth,” Glenn said. “And every day, they put that worth back into me … They will not give up on you, even when you’re ready to give up on yourself.”
Belue said that her own story of recovery started in July of 2016 in South Carolina. After completing her long-term treatment there, she moved back to Massachusetts, where she was originally from, to regain custody of her daughter, which she accomplished within 10 months. Just over a month ago, Belue and her family moved to Alaska to help start and run Set Free’s recovery program.
Belue had actually met McCarthy and learned about the Faces and Voices of Recovery while in treatment in South Carolina. As soon as she moved up here, she said, she was pushing to get the organization to pay a visit to Kenai, only to discover that McCarthy was already on her way.
“She’s (McCarthy) my mentor. She’s my all,” Belue said. “God has put me in the right place at the right time.”
Belue has only been in Alaska for a little over her month, but she said that she has found her purpose by helping people like Glenn on their paths to recovery, so she brought several members of the Set Free community to McCarthy’s presentation because she felt it was important to hear.
“Everybody here comes to the table with different gifts,” Belue said. “You saw Dana speak. Everybody that joins, every volunteer, has gifts. I want them to learn everything I know and be better than what I am. That’s what a true leader is, right?”