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Issue 5

Across the state, recovery support organizations are grounded in community

With a multifaceted issue like addiction, there’s no one road to recovery. In fact, there are many. Community approaches are just as unique.

The Bangor area has a community center that approaches recovery much like a YMCA approach fitness – with a menu of classes, groups and social events. In the Midcoast area, a nonprofit has opened two sober houses. And in the Kennebunk’s, partnerships between the police, recovery coaches and a mental health agency have transformed the community’s approach to addiction – and become a model for the rest of the state.

“Treatment is an individual strategy,” says Bruce Campbell, vice president of operations at the Bangor Area Recovery Network, a regional hub for recovery support in Eastern and Central Maine that has been around for a decade.

“But recovery happens over time, during life, living life with people who have been there, done that, got the T-shirt.”

Despite its agricultural sounding acronym, the BARN is in downtown Brewer in an 8,000-square-foot space that used to be Pam’s Used Furniture. The BARN hosts 12-step groups, classes, recovery celebrations, fundraisers and social events. On any given Saturday night, 125 people may show up for peer support meetings followed by a deejay dance.

Campbell thought that organizing the recovery community would be challenging – and it was until the organization started creating meaningful opportunities for people in recovery to volunteer, sharing their journey with others. The BARN is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and runs on 800 to 900 volunteer hours a month and community fundraising. “Our biggest goal is to have someone walk through the door,” Campbell says. “That means they’ve walked into an area that supports them if they want a recovery coach, or want to be referred to treatment or just want to be in a safe place.”

The BARN’s four pillars state that (1) recovery is a process, (2) there are many pathways to recovery, (3) recovery overcomes shame and stigma, and (4) last but not least, recovery is a community responsibility.

Ned Bachus, a devoted volunteer with the Mid-Coast Recovery Coalition, says, “Just as other people factor into your addiction, other people factor into your recovery.”

Across the state, recovery support organizations are grounded in community

A three-year-old nonprofit, MCRC trains recovery coaches and has purchased two properties, turning them into a men’s recovery residence in Rockland and a women’s recovery residence in Camden where they live with their children under 12. At the heart of this approach is the belief that people doing recovery together in community are more likely to succeed.

“People who recover seem to be individuals who find grounding in something larger than themselves – in God or whatever it is that humbles them and makes them realize that they’re not the center of the universe,” Bachus says. “The way to gain control is through surrender to the fact that you need other people. For most people for whom recovery is working, I see a humility that affords them to become far more stable and independent. But it always involves interdependence, too.”

For some, recovery begins when they hit rock bottom – which may involve criminal activity and a law enforcement response.

“From what I’ve seen, substance abuse disorder isn’t something that law enforcement can solve,” says Kennebunk Chief of Police Robert MacKenzie. “It has to come from a community and a societal level. Law enforcement goes out and arrests the so-called ‘bad guy.’ But the majority of people we encounter in criminal activity are using a substance, and putting somebody in jail doesn’t solve the problem.”

A few years ago, this 31-year veteran of the law enforcement profession started leading overdose recognition and response classes – first with the Kennebunk Rotary, then the Kennebunk/Kennebunkport/Arundel Chamber of Commerce, and eventually even interested clubs at Kennebunk High School.

“It reduces stigma,” he says. “I think we’ve seen some change in societal views. But, overall, people are uninformed on substance abuse disorder.”

Two years ago, five friends from the Kennebunks formed a group called Above Board to host a glitzy end-of-summer bash and raise funds for something to make their community stronger, and they chose to get behind MacKenzie’s addiction response efforts. “Bob is forward-thinking, cutting-edge, and he needed community support to move his ideas forward,” said Kristen Martin, a co-founder of the Above Board.

In August 2018, Above Board raised $50,000, which the Kennebunk Police Department, in collaboration with treatment provider ENSO Recovery, used to establish the Recovery Coach Training Academy of the Kennebunks in January.

Forty new recovery coaches and 35 first responders have gone through an eight-hour training. Based on participant feedback, aspects that were most useful to law enforcement officers became the content of a two-hour training block, called Law Enforcement’s Response to Substance Abuse Disorder, that will be mandatory for law enforcement officers statewide in 2020.

For the annual event this August, Above Board raised $60,000 to fund a program in which crisis workers from Sweetser will ride along with Kennebunk police officers to provide mental-health follow-up.

“This is a fairly unique partnership,” said Debra Taylor, Sweetser’s president and chief executive officer. “The idea here is to not only ameliorate a crime in the moment but to stick with a person. When an individual experiences a moment of crisis, it is often the first time they are receiving support for their addiction and mental health issues. It’s that moment that leads them to the community connections and treatment that will set them on the path to recovery. There will be successes. Lives will be saved.”

All of this started with a police chief sharing a message of respect, compassion, and harm reduction – and some regular people asking what they could do to help.

“If we can do it in this community,” MacKenzie says, “I think we can do it everywhere.”

Amy Paradysz
Amy Paradysz
Amy Paradysz is a recovery ally and freelance writer and editor from Scarborough with more than 20 years of experience. She can be reached at amyparadysz@gmail.com..

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