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Stories

Taking the First Step on the Road to Recovery

Maile ShoulMaile Shoul, Project Manager, Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region

Third in a three-part series.

While much has been written about the devastating effects that drug and alcohol addiction has on individuals and society, it is less common to hear stories of recovery. When we do see portrayals of recovery in the news or in popular culture, it often doesn’t reflect the different paths that are available. In shows such as ‘Intervention,’ the documentary television series on A&E, the story usually follows a familiar pattern: a person who has hit ‘rock bottom’ is confronted by friends and family; they go to a residential rehab program for 30 to 60 days where they attend groups based on the 12-step philosophy; and they emerge transformed, having found the power to abstain from drugs and alcohol. While there are many people whose lives have been saved by this approach, there are also millions of Americans whose recovery has looked very different. 

According to Dr. John Kelly, Founder and Director of the Recovery Research Institute at the Massachusetts General Hospital, there are over 22 million Americans, or 9.1% of the population, who have resolved an alcohol or other drug problem. If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction, it can be hard to know what step to take first on the road toward recovery. 

If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction, it can be hard to know what step to take first on the road toward recovery.

Abbi Cushing works as the Recovery Coach Supervisor at the RECOVER Project, a peer recovery center in Greenfield, Massachusutts. She entered recovery in 2009 after living with opioid- and alcohol-use disorder for years. “Back in 2009, things looked different than they do now. Back then, twelve-step [such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous] was the most well-known path of recovery,” says Abbi. “Twelve-step provided a foundation for me, but I needed more than that. I was also facing homelessness, pregnant with a baby with high medical needs, and had mental health issues that weren’t being addressed.”

One of the tools that aided Abbi in her recovery was methadone, a daily medication that blocks the cravings for opioids. Taking methadone allowed Abbi to be able to feel physically well enough to focus on getting her life stabilized; she was on methadone for a few years before weaning off of it. The use of medications, including methadone, buprenorphine (marketed as Suboxone) and naltrexone (marketed as Vivitrol) to treat opioid-use disorder is known as Medication-Assisted Treatment or MAT. 

When Abbi’s daughter, who is now ten, was a few months old, Abbi first got involved in The RECOVER Project in Greenfield, attending groups and programs for parents. “They gave me community,” she says. The RECOVER Project, like the North Quabbin Recovery Center in Athol, and Alyssa’s Place in Gardner, is a drop-in community center with an active calendar of activities. Events include all-recovery meetings, writing workshops, parenting groups and much more. 

In her work as a Recovery Coach, Abbi helped people in early recovery to decide what unique path would work for their individual situation. Options include inpatient care, such as detox or clinical stabilization; residential treatment, which can range from a few weeks to several months or longer; intensive-outpatient programs (also called IOPs), which consist of group and individual therapy; outpatient programs, including MAT programs; and other community-based programs. Abbi stresses that it is vital for people seeking treatment for substance-use disorder to also make sure that their mental health needs get addressed.

“Many people think that recovery equals going to detox and then attending meetings. But it’s so much more than that. What people really need is purpose and community,” says Abbi. One of the places that was most instrumental in her recovery was Greenfield Community College (GCC). “GCC became my home away from home. They didn’t shame me about my recovery. They saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself. They helped me find my purpose through education.”

Greenfield Community College has several resources specifically for students in recovery. On their main campus, the Community Resource Studio is a space for students who are on the journey of recovery, thinking about recovery, or who are affected by addiction or trauma. Students can attend recovery meetings and access recovery coaches. GCC’s Growth and Recovery Through Learning Initiative, developed with funding from and in partnership with the Opioid Task Force, offers a free, 10-week non-credit College Success course for students in recovery that teaches strategies for navigating the community college landscape as well as stress-management techniques. If students successfully complete the course, they are eligible for a $1,000 scholarship to help defray the costs of tuition and fees to help cover their first semester at the school. 

As Abbi’s daughter grew, Abbi found she needed more resources to support her recovery. “The same way that my addiction affected my whole life, my recovery affects my whole life,” explains Abbi. She got involved with other community-based programs, including ones at the Salasin Project in Greenfield and at Montague Catholic Social Ministries in Turners Falls. 

Abbi acknowledges that taking the first step towards recovery can be scary and confusing. There are many options for treatment and the differences can be bewildering at first. If you or a loved one is ready to seek treatment, talking to a trained Recovery Coach or visiting a peer recovery center can be a great place to start. Another excellent source of information is Learn to Cope, a family support group that holds weekly meetings in several locations, including Greenfield and Gardner. More information can be found at Learn to Cope. For a comprehensive list of treatment resources, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS) maintains the Massachusetts Substance Use Helpline. To reach the Helpline, call 800.327.5050 or visit helplinema.org.

“The RECOVER Project and my other recovery resources provided me with community,” says Abbi. “I felt accepted and embraced. I was looked at as a person of value. I hadn’t experienced those things before.” While each person’s recovery will look as unique as that individual, there are two things that every person recovering from a substance-use disorder needs: community and purpose. 

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