September is Recovery Month!

Submitted by Lisa Vasquez, MS, CPS 
Substance Misuse Prevention Coordinator
Greater Nashua Public Health Network; Beyond Influence
City of Nashua, Division of Public Health & Community Services
Recovery Month Article Photo 1
We celebrate recovery from Substance Use Disorder and Mental Illness. Why have an entire month dedicated to celebrating recovery you may ask? Recovery Month reminds everyone that Substance Use Disorder and Mental Illness can happen to anyone but it also reminds us that recovery is possible. Let’s take a minute to think about it in a different way. Have you ever broken a bone, had surgery or even had a common cold? You had to somehow recover from those ailments. It was not easy; it took time to feel better.  Everyone recovers differently, some may take medications, and some may use a more natural approach.  In the same way, recovery from Mental Health Illness and Substance Use Disorder has many different routes. For example some people may need residential treatment while someone else may be able to use medication assisted treatment along with outpatient treatment to work towards recovery of Substance Use Disorder. In the case of Mental Illness depending on the diagnosis someone may require medication while others might work with a Mental Health Counselor to increase behavioral tools to manage their mental health symptoms. The goal of recovery is to increase the quality of life of a person. There are many recovery stories both of Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorder. There are currently over 23 million people in long-term recovery from a Substance Use Disorder in the United States alone. The main message of recovery month is a hopeful and simple one “Recovery is Possible” 

Recovery is possible! It happened for me. My name is Ed McDonough, I am in long term recovery. My story began in Greater Boston, coming from a middle class family with a nurse as a mother and police officer as a father. I had a private school education with a childhood that consisted of sports; especially hockey, boy scouts and a good family, but also included other things fears, doubts and insecurities. Alcohol was the first substance I ever used, Recovery Month Article Photo 2it made me feel at ease and able to socialize without thinking about those fears doubts and insecurities. After realizing that I liked the feeling that alcohol gave me all I wanted was to have that feeling more and more often. During this time I started middle school, still played hockey but a perfect storm of circumstances changed this story from alcohol and marijuana to prescription drugs and later heroin. A hockey injury occurred around the same time my grandfather moved in with my family due to his cancer diagnosis. I was prescribed a small amount of opiates for my hockey injury. I discovered I liked the feeling of not having pain both physical and emotional. When my own prescription ran out I didn’t have to go far to access more. My grandfather was in the same home with a large supply of unsupervised opiates. As my grandfather’s cancer progressed and the opiates prescribed became a stronger dose so progressed my opiate use. I could use alcohol but my parents, teachers or coaches could detect the smell of alcohol.  Opiates for me through middle and high school were easily accessible, free, had no detectable smell, I could sit right next to my police officer father after taking opiates and no one would be able to tell.  There were some beliefs that also played a part in this story. I believed I was treating my hockey injury, I believed prescription opiates were safer than other substances after all it was prescribed by a doctor and it was not heroin, I believed I didn’t have a problem. I soon found myself not being able to function without opiates. Withdrawal was awful I needed to continue to use just not to feel sick. When the supply of opiates was no longer available at home I began to purchase it from friends, I saw several doctors for pain and was prescribed opiates but it wasn’t enough. I soon was unable to afford my prescription drug use. The beliefs of right and wrong were replaced by the necessity to not feel sick from withdrawal. I didn’t see any alternatives. Heroin became easily accessible and was cheaper than prescription opiates. When I was charged with armed robbery I realized something had to change.  I went to Detox, tried Medication Assisted Treatment but in retrospect realize that I wasn’t addressing the reason I used, those fears, doubts and insecurities. At the time nothing seemed to work, I couldn’t relate to clinicians. It wasn’t until I found a place that offered me structure and therapy that I was able to have those real and hard conversations with myself. I needed to be shown how to be sober one day at a time by people who were also going through the same struggles I was. That’s when I was able to find recovery. I finally felt that someone was able to relate to how I thought and felt. I knew I wanted to stay sober but now I was working on the “now what”.  My belief changed from “It can’t be me I’m a great kid to it is me”. I realized I didn’t have to do it alone and that I no longer ran the show the substance did and that needed to change. 

Recovery brought me my family back. It has brought me the opportunity to help others, independence from a substance that ruled my life and personal independence. Recovery has lifted a burden from my shoulders, it has brought me relief; no more guilt, shame or remorse. I no longer have to look over my shoulder. But most importantly it has brought me contentment, being ok with myself and knowing that everything will be okay because I have worked on those fears doubts and insecurities but it’s also an ongoing process and I will continue to work on my recovery.
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