Hope in recovery
Recovering addicts find purpose in helping others overcome
Editor’s note: This is the third in a three-part series on addiction and recovery.
Those who are in recovery know what it means to them and how important it is in their life. They don’t need a formal definition.
For those not familiar with the concept, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines recovery as the “process of change whereby individuals work to improve their own health and wellness and to live a meaningful life in a community of their choice while striving to achieve their full potential.”
“People can heal by virtue of surrounding themselves with nurturing, loving, caring people,” said Michael Brunner, a psychologist and the clinical director of Fountain Centers in Albert Lea. “A lot of folks actually already have that, it’s just that they’ve damaged those relationships. So the key is finding ways to rebuild and reconnect with other people.”
Finding help in the community
Jenine Koziolek has been an outreach specialist at Fountain Centers for four out of her nine years at the treatment center. She has been a licensed alcohol and drug counselor since the late ’90s.
She said those looking to find help for themselves or a loved one battling addiction can find various groups in the community like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Al-Anon. Fountain Centers also has a number, 1-800-533-1616, that can be called for those trying to find help, either for themselves or someone they care about.
“There’s 23 million Americans that we know today that are in recovery that have made it work for them. If we want this disease to be recognized as a disease — as something that is chronic, that is treatable, that people do recover from — we have to reduce the stigma,” she said. “What society sees is the mugshot on the front of the paper. … What we do as a society, unfortunately, is judge others — because it’s unpleasant, because it’s scary, because there’s not a quick, easy answer for it.”
Power in forgiveness
For Ashley Casey of Ellendale, almost her entire life has been impacted in some way by addiction.
When Casey was 2, her mother was killed in a car crash. The driver of the other car was drunk and was a professional golfer out celebrating. He was told by multiple people that night not to get behind the wheel. Casey’s mother was in the process of moving back to Albert Lea at the time and was driving back from the Twin Cities that night. She was killed eight miles north of Faribault.
Casey, now 29, said the man was charged with vehicular manslaughter and went to jail for three months. He was assigned work release, community service and had to sit in on victim impact panels with Casey’s grandmother, Mary Kay Malakowsky. Casey said while the man told the judge he was sorry, he never directly addressed her family.
“There are times when I feel resentment towards him because of all the ways that it could’ve been prevented, and just the lack of remorse that was shown,” she said. “I would like to know where he’s at and how he feels about things, how it’s affected his life. I’m sure it’s had to have affected his life greatly, too, whether or not he shows it. I hope that he’s OK, that he’s not still struggling with whatever issues he may have. And I would just let him know that I forgive the situation. … There’s a lot of power in forgiveness.”
Casey has no memories of her mother and said she grew up with severe separation anxiety. Any time her grandmother would leave to go somewhere, Casey feared she’d never return. She said some of that anxiety still makes an appearance today, as Casey now has children of her own, ages 11, 9, 7 and 2.
“It’s the absence of things,” she said. “They won’t get to know their grandmother. We celebrate our holidays and birthdays at the cemetery.”
Casey is a counselor at Fountain Centers and has worked at the center for about two years total. In addition to the circumstances behind her mother’s death, Casey said her husband’s experience with methamphetamine addiction also played a factor in her career choice.
“They’re two opposite ends of the spectrum,” she said. “The situation with my mom made me want to be more involved with the community and helping people, and then with my husband’s addiction I wanted to help that specific population.”
The couple has been together for 12 years and married for 10, and Casey said her husband has been sober for seven years.
“We feel hopelessness; we feel guilt and shame,” she said. “Everything the addict goes through, we feel, too. When they’re not sleeping, we don’t sleep. There’s a lot of stuff that goes on in an addicted family. Just know that there is hope and just be able to support them the best way that you can.”
When Emmons resident Joey Honsey and her husband had been married for 25 years, she finally reached her limit in terms of her husband’s alcoholism.
Honsey said her husband, Dean, started drinking when he was a teenager, but that his drinking didn’t really start to become a problem until 1988. It was that year that Honsey was hit by a pickup truck as a pedestrian and sustained trauma to the thought and memory part of her brain.
“He wasn’t kind; he always looked for an argument. When he was drunk he was always right. When he wasn’t drinking he was just wonderful — a very kind, thoughtful man. I always thought that someday he would be like that again,” she said. “I stayed because I loved him. I didn’t love the disease, I loved Dean. I hated the disease.”
Honsey said her husband struggled with his addiction for a solid seven years. He would tell her over and over that he would quit, and when he wouldn’t — Honsey said they’d yell, argue and threaten to leave each other.
“It was one lie after another. … He couldn’t stop, but the disease was the reason he couldn’t stop,” she said. “All those years I would say ‘I’m leaving,’ but I always came back. ‘I’m going to do this,’ and I’d never do that. … I was just as much a part of it as he was. Only I was doing all my stuff sober, and he was doing his stuff drunk. … I learned I had to follow through.”
In 1995, Honsey said four people from Alcoholics Anonymous helped her stage an intervention for Dean. They told her that if he wouldn’t go into treatment, Honsey had to follow through with leaving their house.
“I said I would. I would do anything, because I didn’t want anymore of this. I was ready for a change,” she said. “We both hit our bottoms that night, and we both started a new way of life.”
Dean went into treatment that night, and less than a week later, Honsey attended her first Al-Anon meeting.
“My life has changed a lot. I’ve learned to use the Al-Anon program with other things, with cancer,” she said. “I learned to get rid of my resentments from my accident that I had years before I even got there. I’m a cancer survivor of 14 years now. … Recovery helped me get through it because I needed to live one day at a time.”
Honsey said Al-Anon has taught her that she can still support the people she cares about who struggle with addiction, without enabling them to stay sick.
“I learned to take care of myself. I learned to mind my own business. I learned not to caregive and caretake all the time. If there was any caregiving or caretaking that needed to be done I needed to do it to myself,” she said. “They have got to learn to be self-supporting, and I have to stop supporting them. If I want to give them something, I can give them something. … Until I get resentful. When I get resentful, I have to stop. When I give someone something I have to realize it’s a gift; I’ll never get paid back.”
Ric Staloch entered a Fountain Centers recovery plan in December 1989, for a 30-day program that finished in January 1990. Thirty days turned into 60, and then 90. When he hit 90 days, Staloch said he just took his sobriety one day at a time.
“Just for today. Don’t worry about yesterday, don’t worry about tomorrow. You do what you can today so your tomorrow works out and yesterday’s gone,” he said. “It actually got a lot easier after that. … Somewhere along the way it’s not a job, it’s not a struggle to stay sober anymore. I think that when you figure out your life is better because you’re sober, it starts getting a lot easier.”
In December, Staloch will have 26 years of sobriety.
About 18 months after he sobered up, Staloch said he started going to meetings more and more, and got more involved with others in recovery. He started volunteering in different capacities at Fountain Centers, including in detox. He remembered seeing how sick some of the people were that would come through, and said he told his wife once when they were in the car that he was glad he was never that sick.
“She looked at me and said, ‘Where were you?’ And for the next 30 miles she gave me example after example of how that was me. That was me spending money that should’ve been paid on bills, her going to ask the landlord to give us some more time for the rent or to our parents to help get the lights back on. How can you forget that? How could I have ever forgot I went through that?” he said. “To me, that part of addiction is still there even after you sober up, that denial part. You don’t ever want to think it was that bad. … I didn’t think I was as sick as those people, but in reality I was just as sick as they were. But for the grace of God I found a way out of it. I got the help I needed and I was able to put it together.”
In 2004, Staloch started working at Fountain Centers full time. For the past three years he has been a recovery specialist, working with program alumni to check up on them, help them find resources in the community and offer them support.
“I enjoy coming to work, I enjoy what I do. It’s rewarding. It feels like it’s my purpose,” he said. “My recovery has gotten better and stronger.”
Have an exit strategy
After Matthew Peterson returned back from his first treatment, he started going to meetings the next day. He was going to about five meetings a week and got a sponsor.
“I did use about everything they told me to do,” he said. “I took it seriously.”
Peterson has been sober more than 19 months now. He said he typically goes to about three meetings a week, and twice a month he leads AA meetings at the jail.
His relationship with his children has greatly improved since his sobriety began, Peterson said. He plans to be open with his children about his recovery when they’re older, as they’re currently 4 and 6. He thinks they know some of the general terms — that he was sick and had to go away for a little while. He believes he has always had a good relationship with his children, but that they’re even closer now thanks to Peterson’s sobriety.
For the most part, Peterson said he makes a point to avoid situations that will put him around other people who are drinking. He has gone to weddings and concerts and not felt the temptation to drink, but he will make an early exit if there’s too much of a party atmosphere.
“I haven’t felt really strong pangs of temptation for a while now,” he said. “I usually have a pretty good exit strategy for situations.”
To others going through recovery, Peterson said it’s important to talk to the right people — people who have gone through the same situations and who have practiced patience and strength.
“Whatever you can use for that moment to stay sober, use it,” he said. “Use every trick in the book to not drink or not use. I know I did.”
Learn to let go
For Rochelle Kirsch, her third time going through treatment is what jump-started her recovery. She said while her parents and extended family didn’t give her the support she felt she needed, her children and her fiance have been a constant source of strength for her.
“I’ve gotten to the point where it wasn’t my fault. I’m not damaged, I’m not broken. … That was huge,” she said. “Ever since then I’ve done everything I needed to do.”
Kirsch will have two years of sobriety in October.
She goes to meetings, has a sponsor and two sponsees, and speaks regularly at both the Fountain Centers in Albert Lea and Austin. Anonymity no longer scares her.
“I’m not going to be quiet anymore. I was quiet my whole life and that didn’t work out for me. It had severe consequences,” she said. “I’ve gotten to the point that, you know what, this is who I am. I’m a drug addict. But a recovering one.”
Kirsch said she has been very open with her children — now 22, 16 and 9 — about her addiction and her recovery.
“I try not to bring up the past that much, but every time I can I say how sorry I am, and that none of it was their fault — at all,” she said. “I couldn’t cope through the divorce, and I’m an adult. My poor kids had to just flounder. It was horrible.”
Kirsch works at Larson Manufacturing in Albert Lea but has been working the past two years to earn her nursing license back. She said she was given 12 pages of mandatory tasks she’d have to accomplish. Last week, she met with the board and received news that her license will be reinstated Oct. 1.
It will have conditions for the first two years, Kirsch said, where she will have to pass random drug screens and the nursing board will check in with her employer. Once she passes those two years, her license will be free and clear of any conditions.
“I’ve had to learn how to let go. … I can only control me,” Kirsch said. “I have a choice, I get it. I don’t need to drown my existence or numb my feelings anymore. It’s good. It’s really good.”
Accept and embrace
Sandy Roe found recovery during her third treatment, as well. She said she knew her addiction was progressive — every time she relapsed after being sober for a period of time, her drinking would get worse and worse.
Following Roe’s third treatment, she got a sponsor and has continuously gone to meetings.
“Sobriety is fun, but you’ve got to get involved. … It’s really hard, too. It’s getting out of your comfort zone,” she said. “I can still have fun sober, and that’s huge.”
Roe has been sober since Feb. 20, 2013, and she has no plans of ever going back to her old life.
“My life is amazing sober. I could never even imagine going back to using again,” she said. “This has been truly amazing, getting to know myself and working on myself. … My life is so full.”
All four of her children — including the daughter she gave up for adoption at 16 — and all of her grandchildren are back in Roe’s life.
Roe said her first year of sobriety was the most trying. She found herself calling her sponsor multiple times a day in the beginning. She now makes a point of not putting herself in situations where either hard liquor or marijuana would be present, as well.
But, she stressed, it does get easier.
“It’s scary going out and living real life right away. … Before, if I thought about drinking I’d just drive right to the liquor store. Today, I think about the consequences,” she said. “I think about things today, whereas before I didn’t. It’s a whole mind process, just to get out of your head.”
Roe said people going through recovery shouldn’t feel ashamed. They’re making a change and are pulling themselves out of something that can be all-consuming, she said, and that’s something to be proud of.
“Today I accept it and embrace it,” she said. “Today I can honestly say that I’m a proud alcoholic and addict, because it has made me the woman that I am today.”
Rey Reyna believes in the importance of speaking up about addiction and recovery.
“Nowadays I think a lot of people either know somebody or have been affected, and if not I think awareness and education is huge,” he said. “Recovery’s possible. It’s OK to be a recovering addict. It’s OK to talk about it when asked.”
Reyna has been sober for 10 1/2 years.
In his decade-plus of sobriety, Reyna said one of the things he has had to do is rebuild the relationships strained by his addiction.
“Having to deal with courts and fines, other people’s lives that you affect in a negative way — you’ve got to rebuild those relationships. … Sometimes people don’t forgive what you did and where you come from,” he said. “It can be a long process to get back on our feet and rebuild those relationships that we’ve kind of wrecked. I think that’s the most important thing, too, is just rebuilding relationships and having good relationships with people.”
Reyna works full time as a welder at Herman Manufacturing in Wells and has a 7-year-old daughter. He said recovery has made him a better father, family member, employee and person in the community. His daughter sometimes comes to meetings with Reyna, and — when he thinks the timing is appropriate — he talks about his recovery with her.
As far as how recovery has impacted his parenting, Reyna said that he always encourages his daughter to stay positive.
“Sometimes we fall short, but we continue to seek the good in everything,” he said. “Even if we’re not doing so well.”
Reyna stressed that there are groups for everyone when it comes to recovery — no matter a person’s spiritual or personal beliefs.
“There is hope, and there is a suggested solution, and there are ways to recover and it’s OK to ask for help. … There’s a lot of benefits to recovery,” he said. “Recovery is about a lot more than where we were.”
Do the next right thing
Jayne Stout has found one of the biggest benefits of recovery is the sense of community she found.
Stout went directly into outpatient care, following 60 days in jail and 34 days in an inpatient program. All in all, her treatment was a one-year plan put together by Fountain Centers. The people she has met since being in recovery are now some of her closest friends, she said.
“It would be hard for me to go back to it — if I wanted to — just because they’ve been so great about reaching out to me long after my treatment was over,” said Stout. “Once you get a taste of recovery — of the gifts and the blessings it brings you — I don’t know a lot of people that are happy when they go back to that life. If they’re still stuck out there it’s because of just that — they’re stuck. … Everyone chooses their own path. I certainly don’t look down on anybody who’s in active addiction because, in my mind, they’re sick with a disease and they can’t help it.”
Stout has been sober since Feb. 22, 2012.
“When you’re using, your days are consumed by the needing and wanting and finding of drugs,” she said. “When you get into recovery, it’s really a discovery process of learning, you know, who you are and what you like now that you’re not under the influence.”
Since finishing her treatment program, Stout has attended meetings and other sober events like picnics and alumni benefits. She won last year’s Recovery’s Got Talent talent show with a rendition of “Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin. She speaks in the women’s unit at Fountain Centers every five weeks, as well.
“They think that I’m there for them, and really, the gift that they give me back is huge, 10 times as huge,” she said. “That opportunity to share my experience and my strength and my hope with other people, it gives you a great sense of pride and is great for self esteem building.”
Stout does have some lingering health issues from her meth use. At 35, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and she has been diagnosed with social anxiety, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. The depression was most likely a result from the chemical changes in her body from the drug use, she said.
“The PTSD comes from living your life like a criminal — always having to look over your shoulder, the paranoia that comes from the meth use — it doesn’t just go away when you get sober. It takes time for your body to heal itself, and your mind,” Stout said. “There are days, early in recovery, where I’m still training my brain not to think like a criminal.”
Stout said her mantra has been to “do the next right thing.”
Her peace of mind is something that has come with her sobriety, Stout said.
“There’s so many great things that recovery has given me and I really am happy in my life. … The longer I stay sober, the easier it is,” she said. “My recovery has been a lot of work, but it’s a culmination of all the things that I’ve done. … I like to look at my life like, ‘OK, this is what I was doing then, and I have a lot of things that I’m not proud of, but I can be proud of who I am today.’”
Because of her sobriety, not only has Stout’s life changed for the better, but the lives of her children have, as well. Stout has a 17-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter and also has her 17-year-old nephew living with her. Her nephew’s father — Stout’s brother — is serving 25 years in federal prison on meth-related charges, and her nephew’s mother died from a drug overdose. Stout said she has been completely open with her children about her road to recovery.
“Today, my kids know everything about me. They know all my secrets; there’s nothing I can’t tell them. … Because they know what I’ve been through, they can come to me about anything,” she said. “I tell them, ‘I don’t guarantee that when you have to tell me something important that I’m not going to be angry or concerned or scared for you,’ but I always am willing to openly discuss stuff like that with them because I just don’t want them to go down the same road I did. … It’s OK to have flaws. It’s OK to make mistakes.”
Read part one here.
Read part two here.
See video from the series here.
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