The pillars of recovery
May 24, 2017 10:19AM ● Published by Richard Gaw
For 52 consecutive weeks in 2015, the Cecil Whig published the stories of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and husbands and wives.
Now posted on the front lobby walls of the Alcohol & Drug Recovery Center at the Cecil County Health Department in Elkton, each story is like opening up 52 autobiographies. The stories are real. They are painful, and yet they are each filled with tales of revelation and resiliency, and every one of them -- from the story of the biker dude to the story of the mother of three -- points in a direction that feels like hope.
“It was our deliberate intention to illuminate the recovery of those who have had successes, in order to inspire hope for others,” said center director Ken Collins, who has served in his position for the past 11 years. “Eventually, a few of those individuals who were profiled came to work for us as recovery specialists, in order to continue spreading their message of hope for others.
“The people in these stories are proof positive that addiction is not a dead end, and their stories showing others that their own healing is attainable.”
The Alcohol & Drug Recovery Center works with as many as 1,200 patients every year, providing substance abuse education, assessment, intervention and treatment services to adult and adolescent patients and their family members throughout Cecil County. Services are delivered from community and detention center-based programs. Program services include crisis intervention; adjudicated adult treatment programs; DWI/DUI assessments, referral, and treatment; family education, therapy and resources connections; group and individual counseling for adults and adolescents; drug and alcohol prevention services, both at the center and in schools; substance abuse diagnostic assessments; and therapeutic case management.
Family support and counseling sessions are offered to patients and their families to help increase understanding of the dynamics of addiction. Patients are also encouraged to attend recovery oriented support groups, including Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, several of which are held at the Health Department.
The center recognizes that addiction is a disease that causes changes in the brain, and that substance abuse is influenced by environmental conditions and behavior; recovery from addiction is possible with appropriate treatment and long-term lifestyle changes.
Through the Stages of Change model, the department meets the patient where he or she is in terms of their addiction, and adjusts its treatment processes based on what stage the patient is in his or her life, and their willingness to accept help. Deputy director Mike Massuli said that some may need immediate treatment, some need medication, while many others simply need to be educated.
“Everyone's story is different, and one of the things that has become more successful is spreading awareness -- not just the illness but the resources for recovery -- which helps shed the stigma and shame and guilt that has in previous years kept people from reaching out for help,” said Massuli, who has been with the department since 1998. “Originally, people only came to us when they had to -- through probation or court order mandates -- but this increased awareness has broken down barriers.”
If there was a year when the community, individuals and organizations and county and state government came together to address the rise in drug abuse in Cecil County, it was 2013.
A report delivered that year by the Cecil County Health Department entitled, “Cecil County Plans for Overdose Prevention,” stated that in Cecil County, illicit drug use ranked among the highest of any county in Maryland. The average number of people reporting illicit drug use or dependence in the county -- nearly 5 percent -- exceeded the state average of 2.88 percent, and nearly 30 percent of young adults aged 18 to 24 reported a history of drug abuse.
Equally as alarming, the rate of drug-related public school suspensions in the county was reported to be among the highest in the state. Between 2007 and 2011, Cecil County had the second-highest drug-induced death rate in the state, resulting from ingestion of excessive amounts of alcohol or heroin, cocaine, prescription opioids and other prescribed and unprescribed medications. The only other county in Maryland with a high number of per-capita deaths attributed to illicit drug use in Maryland was Baltimore County.
Stemming from the shocking findings of the report, and from conversations with then Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Cecil County government and the public, the county embraced the idea of addressing substance abuse through the establishment of four pillars: Prevention, establishing connection with individuals before abuse begins or escalates; Treatment, working with those with substance abuse; Recovery Support, providing patients with resources to help them maintain their recovery; and Public Safety, engaging emergency services, law enforcement and the public to galvanize the community in recognizing the problem and finding collaborative solutions.
In 2013, the Alcohol & Drug Recovery Center also introduced peer recovery specialists into its workforce -- individuals who have successfully maintained recovery from substance abuse and provide one-on-one and group counseling. Almost immediately, peer recovery specialists changed the entire matrix of how the department works, because it provided patients with someone who understood how their addiction began, how it progressed, and the many roadblocks to navigate from addiction to recovery.
“Introducing peer recovery specialists into our mission gave us a new tool in our toolbox,” Massuli said. “These are individuals in recovery, who are trained to become recovery specialists who are able to speak to those suffering from addiction on a different level, because they have been there themselves. They engage, communicate, and inspire these people to believe that they can change.”
“We peer counselors have a saying here," said Amy Baumgardner, a peer recovery specialist in the department. "We call it, ' We do it until,' which means that our opportunities and our patience and our do-overs and our attempts are limitless. We do it until the person seeking recovery gets it. We're all in recovery ourselves, so we've been there, and we know the struggle, and we can have empathy for them.
“When we see a person come here for the first time, they're here because it's court ordered or their family has pressed them to seek recovery. They're at our doors, reluctantly. We still plant our seeds of hope, and tell them there's a better, softer way toward recovery.”
Baumgardner's sense of hope came from her children. Seven years ago, Baumgardner, a mother of three, was in a car accident while driving intoxicated. Her youngest daughter suffered a level four lacerated liver. She didn't know if her daughter would live or not. While recuperating in the hospital, Baumgardner kept thinking that if her daughter didn't survive, “I was going to kill myself,” she said. “How could a mother do this? How could one drink mean so much that I would be willing to give up everything else? When I was told she was going to survive, that was my moment. That's when I told myself that if something good that will come out of this tragedy, what will it look like? How do I start again from this dark, desperate place?”
In counseling others who are attempting to overcome addiction, Baumgardner recommends that the addict establish a support network.
“You need a good support system and establish a good life line to hope,” Baumgardner added. “My hope came in knowing that what I did, I didn't have to repeat. I made my priorities as a mother as the most important thing in my life. Once you find your recovery, it's your call to action. There is someone else out there that's going to want to know what you did, to attempt to find sustained stability.”
Rewrite Your Script
In an effort to increase the amount of overdose prevention planning throughout Cecil County, the Cecil County Local Overdose Fatality Review Team (LOFRT) was established in 2013, in collaboration with Cecil County Adult Drug Court, Cecil College, Cecil County Drug Task Force, Elkton Police Department, Department of Emergency Services, Haven House, Cecil County Health Department, Department of Juvenile Services, Cecil County Public Schools, Serenity Health, Department of Social Services, Union Hospital, Upper Bay Counseling and Support Services, and other local organizations. LOFRT's mission was complex but intended to find solutions: By investigating intoxication deaths within Cecil County, it determined methods of preventing future deaths.
“Everyone came with information they had compiled on the individuals who had passed away, and we began to ask, 'Where did the system fail this person? What could we as a community have done differently, to prevent this overdose?'” Collins said. “From those discussions, we realized that there were a lot of gaps, and one was that we needed to better educate the community about overdoses and resources in order to get help.”
Two years later, in 2015, LOFRT launched the Opioid Misuse Prevention Project (OMPP) Coalition that kicked off the Rewrite Your Script campaign, an effort to increase public awareness focused on opioid misuse prevention in the county. Supported by a strong graphic identity and a positive-looking message, the campaign increased community perception of risk/harm for non-medical use of opioids, increased community knowledge for, and utilization of, appropriate disposal methods for unused prescription medications, and increased public awareness of resources for treatment and overdose prevention.
Seeing the light
When a patient arrives at the Alcohol & Recovery Treatment Center for the first time, their look and their emotions are very often taken from the same playbook. They view the center as merely an extension of the system, just the latest obligatory and temporary stop along their long journey of cover-ups, deceit, guilt and self abuse. Their defenses have built not only a wall around them, but an impenetrable fortress. They have fashioned their dysfunction into an art form. They blame everyone else and yet hate themselves for what they have done. Over and over again, they attempt to confront and solve their addiction on their own but they stop, because to do so would reveal too much truth and subsequently, far to much pain that they can handle.
Then one day they begin to start talking to a counselor. They begin to speak up in groups, and through time and education and expressing their vulnerability with others who have the same life experiences, they begin to understand that they are not the only broken people in the world.
"We don't give up on them," Massuli said. "We respect and value the dignity of the individual as a human being. We have seen that our program has been the place where people come when there's nothing else available to them."
"Initially, this is a department that receives more 'F-Yous' than 'Thank Yous,'" Collins said. "Conducting those initial assessments is challenging, but there really is magic in recovery. Our message is about planting seeds, and it's about offering help, not once, not twice, but maybe many times and keep offering help until that patient responds to treatment.
"When you plant a seed, it may not germinate until many years later, when a long-term recovery is sustained," he added. "Maybe the light at the end of the tunnel is at the end of a distant tunnel, and maybe the light at the end of it isn't so easily seen. And yet, there's a real reward when we begin to see that person finally reach that end, and begin to see that light for themselves."
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Division of Addiction Services -- Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center
Cecil County Health Department
John M. Byers Health Center
401 Bow Street
Elkton MD 21921
Telephone: (410) 996-5106
To learn more about the Cecil County Opioid Misuse Prevention Project, visit www.rewriteyourscript.org