National Recovery Month is coming to a close, but recovery from substance abuse is an ongoing condition requiring daily diligence. That was the message conveyed by a panel of seven recoverees at "Living Life Sober" Wednesday evening at North Central Ohio Educational Service Center.
Attending were about 60 people, including Heidelberg and Tiffin University students in criminal justice, counseling and social work. Community Action for Reducing Substance Abuse organized the event, and Rev. Bernie Dixon of Fostoria served as moderator. Sponsors of the event included the Mental Health Board of Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot Counties, Firelands Counseling and Recovery Services, CARSA, Oriana House Inc. and NCOESC.
Charla Van Osdol, head of the CARSA coalition, gave introductory remarks and pointed out displays and literature in the back of the room. Then she gave the floor to the panel. Ranging in age from 22 to 60-plus, the panelists told their individual stories of addiction and recovery. All made references to a "journey" each had to take to reach sobriety. They gave permission to use their first names and summarize their remarks.
The first to speak was Mark, who attended college in Atlanta. In high school, he played football, ran track and was student council president; however, he fell into bad habits after graduation.
"When I got to college, I started partying and hanging out. It was a lifestyle I thought was OK. It started out as fun. Over the course of time, I became dependent," Mark said.
In the 1980s, he became addicted to crack cocaine. His family didn't want him around, and he became homeless for a time. When he could no longer deny his addiction, Mark joined Narcotics Anonymous. In 2001, he "surrendered" and turned his life around. Now he does prison ministry and meets with addicts in other Ohio communities.
Glen lives in southern Seneca County. He is married and has two step-daughters and two grandchildren. Educated at Youngstown State University, he also is a Vietnam veteran. He has been sober for 28 years and employed in chemical dependency work for 25 years. He credits his survival to "the amazing grace of God."
He recalled hitting bottom while living in Florida. Homeless for three days, he slept on picnic tables looked for cans and pop bottles on the beach to redeem for a few cents.
At that point, Glen decided get into a program for help. He told the group for recovery to happen, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of addiction all must be treated. To keep himself on track, he works out, reads, monitors his emotions and sticks to his program.
Mary Ann was on the panel to represent Al Anon, a support group for people with friends and family members struggling with alcoholism. Although she does not, and did not, abuse alcohol herself, she described the stress she endured as someone "addicted to the addict."
Her mother and first husband were alcoholics, and her current husband is a recovering alcoholic. Exhausted and frustrated from trying to change their behavior, she turned to Al Anon to regain her own sanity. Learning that no one can control an alcoholic gave her new ways of looking at the habits of her loved ones.
"People in these meetings are like my family," MaryAnn said.
A single mother with three children, Tearanny is a recovering addict. Growing up with parents who used and sold drugs, she started using at age 11, thinking everyone else did the same. When an after-school DARE program became available, she learned otherwise.
"My mother did not want me to go there," Tearanny said.
Her new knowledge turned her into a bully to conceal "the secret at home." Besides the presence of drugs, she had been abused by a stepfather. When she started to use and sell crack, her problems escalated.
In the penitentiary, she attended NA meetings and did well. When Tearanny was released to her old environment, it was difficult to keep up with NA on her own. Somehow, she managed to stay with the program.
"I'm not controlled by drugs today," she said, "but I've been down a long road ... God is still working on me."
The last to speak was Logan, age 22. He said marijuana was his drug of choice. Although most people do not consider "pot" very dangerous, Logan said it became a crutch for him to cope with rough spots in his life.
In 2007, he and his dad experienced a serious automobile accident that totaled the car. He also lost two good friends from drug-related events. Going to the funerals made a lasting impression on Logan. He decided to turn his life over to God.
"Not using and getting high is God's will for me ... He'll give you the support you need," Logan said.
During a question and answer period, Glen said groups such as AA and NA are not for everyone, but it worked for him, and they have helped millions of people. Mark said changing one's thought patterns and belief systems is crucial for recovery. Just realizing how much hurt one has caused is "a hard pill to swallow," but it is essential.
Tearanny called her NA program "surgery of the spirit." She told the crowd NA also can stand for "never again" and "never alone." Logan and Mary Ann agreed that sharing experiences with others has been healing for them.