Every attendee has a story; the room is rarely quiet. The stories are shared as the lessons move forward, giving insight to the instructor’s words in a way that makes the room more collaborative than typical classes. Stories from tough times, disappointments, insights into their shared struggles and the ways they keep bouncing back. It’s not a group counseling session, but rather a look into the peer recovery support training that took place at the Delaware-Morrow Mental Health and Recovery Services Board in mid-February.
In the world of recovery, a community needs a broad safety net with doctors, treatment centers, counselors, sponsors and countless others, but a special niche is carved out for the peer recovery supporters. After years of struggles within the DMMHRSB’s provider network to train and employ peer recovery supporters, the Delaware-Morrow Mental Health and Recovery Services Board made funding and hosting the training part of its strategic plan for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
“We’re their cheerleaders,” explained Kathy Nicolosi, who led the training. Nicolosi, also a mediator for the Morrow County Common Pleas Court, doesn’t just lead the course from a textbook; she herself is a peer recovery supporter who is rapidly approaching the 15-year mark of her own sobriety.
“We’re kind of the liaison for the person in recovery, because they always go through these barriers,” said Nicolosi. “You’re there to help them through their barriers.”
Nicolosi also describes a peer recovery supporter as a “sober life coach,” who guides and supports a person in recovery and helps to prevent relapses.
“When you’re in recovery, there is a lot of rebuilding that takes place,” said Nicolosi. “You have to get a job, in some cases get a driver’s license, and you have to hook up with the resources available in your community.”
In all, 10 local residents attended the training, which was held over five eight-hour days at the DMMHRSB’s location in downtown Delaware. This course, while intense and immersive, is only part of the certification course to become an accredited peer recovery supporter. The DMMHRSB covered costs for the attendees, whose requirements called on them to be individuals who have experienced either addiction or mental health struggles and who are actively in recovery.
“I was an addict at one point in time,” said Sharee Sanders of Delaware. “As I was getting clean, I got a peer supporter, and man, it was something great.”
Sanders, who spent part of the training wearing a surgical mask to prevent passing on her flu, said her relationship with her peer recovery supporter inspired her journey into the program.
“I didn’t think I had enough knowledge of (sobriety). I didn’t think I was someone who would be able to help someone else,” Sanders said. “But that’s not true! I’m absolutely capable of helping someone else because someone helped me.
“This is really something big for me.”
Another attendee, Delaware resident Stacey Flood, has seen both sides of recovery. Flood has been sober for four-and-a-half years and now works as a recovery guide for Southeast Healthcare.
“I just have a passion to teach people how to succeed outside of an institutional setting,” said Flood.
Flood represents the potential to turn the experience of living with an addiction or mental health issue into a positive through work or charity.
“The training provides a lot of hope for people because usually if you have had an addiction then you have a past, and it’s discouraging when you try to get a job,” said Flood. “To find that we can use that past for our own good and that people will actually pay us for that … it’s pretty amazing.”
Representatives from Maryhaven and Southeast Healthcare passed that message along as well, as they spent time in the classes talking with the participants and informing them on job opportunities with their respective organizations.
“I’ve made a lot of friends in this training,” added Flood, “but I’d also hopefully like to make some coworkers, too.”
Mental health occupied a lot of the conversation, with addiction issues and mental health being tied so closely together. For Sunbury resident Michael J. Maxwell, learning about the similarities between the two helped build camaraderie with his fellow classmates.
“I don’t have an issue with addiction, but I have had some mental health issues in the past,” Maxwell explained. “Even if you don’t use, there is a wellness plan that you need and you have to keep in place that keeps you mentally healthy.”
Maxwell and the others spent much of the 40-hour course in discussion with each other, learning, as Maxwell puts it, “by dialogue rather than by lecture.”
“There’s going to be a lot of different kinds of people in the room,” said Nicolosi. “We all have our own prejudices and upbringing, and if you’re going to be working with people in the community then you have to be prepared to deal with all kinds of issues.”
With the course ended and the attendees going their separate ways into becoming peer recovery supporters, Nicolosi took special care to impress the importance of boundaries in their work moving forward.
“In this business, there is a level of compassion that can stretch those boundaries,” said Flood, “I’ve witnessed lots of ups and downs, and I have to remember that their recovery is not my recovery, and I still have to maintain my own self-care and my own program outside of my job.”
Recovery is described as a state of being, rather than a destination. Those in recovery describe the process as day-to-day or even hour-to-hour.
“I take my recovery seriously,” said Sanders. “I try to keep myself from bad people, places, and situations. But this class makes me stronger. It makes me want to keep it together and help someone.”
As with anything, the program needs funding and a workforce to keep it up-and-running. The DMMHRSB provided the funding, but for this class, the vast majority of the behind-the-scenes work of tackling logistical challenges, scheduling, providing food, and a vast number of last-minute details were handled by the DMMHRSB’s Community Special Services Director Rhianna Mattix.
“Rhianna has been amazing,” said Nicolosi. “I know everyone in the training was really appreciative.”
Along with Mattix, Nicolosi also pointed out the willingness of DMMHRSB Executive Director Deanna Brant to participate in parts of the training and provide the organization’s boardroom to facilitate the class.
The Delaware-Morrow Mental Health and Recovery Services Board exists to, in partnership with the community, plan, develop, evaluate, and provide for high quality, cost-effective, appropriate mental health and substance abuse treatment, prevention, and recovery services that are accessible to the residents of Delaware and Morrow Counties.
Submitted by the Delaware-Morrow Mental Health & Recovery Services Board.