Peer recovery coaches share advice for people struggling with substance misuse

Addiction Resources

BAY MILLS INDIAN COMMUNITY (WJMN) – People in recovery from addiction are using their experience to help others. We spoke with two Peer Recovery Coaches, who shared their stories and how they are impacting lives in their community.

The Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan has an entire website dedicated to behavioral health services. According to the website, “The Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan (ITC), Anishnaabek Healing Circle Peer Recovery Support (ITC/PRS) Initiative provides trauma informed, evidence based, and culturally responsive peer recovery support services for American Indian/Alaskan Natives (AI/AN) with an opioid use disorder (OUD).  Participants must be 18 and older and reside within the service area of one of the twelve federally recognized tribes in Michigan.  (See general client eligibility for AHC services)

Lucas Gardiner is a Peer Recovery Coach. He has been in recovery since 2013. He told us how his addiction began.

“When I was a kid I always felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I felt like I was weird and different and stuff. I wanted to feel a sense of belonging and identity. I always naturally identified myself with the ‘bad’ kids. When I got to a certain age, that’s what they were into.” Gardiner continued, “Once I did it, it kind of became my life. It’s how I defined myself. Then I found out you can sell it, so that was my life plan. i was going to be a drug dealer. I started having the consequences right after I started doing it all. The consequences to me didn’t outweigh the benefit, which was feeling like I was part of something.”

Gardiner then shared with us the challenges of getting on a path to recovery.

“I had a friend that died. That was the first friend that died. Now I have like 50. It’s a lot. Then I went to jail for a year for something related to the drug dealing was doing. While I was in there it was affecting my family. You communicate with people while you’re in jail. So you know what’s going on. You know the effect you’ve had because they tell you through the phone or the visit. You can’t do nothing about it because you’re in jail. What can you do, just tell them something that sounds good. In my mind while I was in there, I was like, I’m done with all of this. But then I got out and didn’t know how to be done. I had to deal with reality and soon as reality hit me and I didn’t know how to cope, I started coping with how I knew how to cope. You know with the drugs and whole lifestyle I’d been living with before that,” said Gardiner.

He said breaking the cycle of addiction wasn’t easy. Gardiner was not only using, but selling drugs.

“I had a thing in my mind where I was addicted to that to. To selling drugs. To making that kind of money. I had an idea in my head to if I made a certain amount of money that I can stop and go to treatment or whatever and that never happened. You know things were going wrong. People were trying to rip me off or I was doing to much of the drugs and not selling enough. I was repeating that for months. Then a bunch of weird stuff happened on one of my drug runs, which now I kind of look at like it was fate or God or whatever you want to call it. At the time it was just crazy and that’s how I ended up saying I’ll just go to treatment or rehab. I’m going to try and do this. I didn’t believe it was going to work, but I was desperate to try anything to have a different life.”

Eight years later, Gardiner is drug free and helping others. He said a lot of what he does is listen. When it comes to family or friends who have loved ones suffering from addiction, he offered some advice.

“The first thing I always tell people is don’t give up on them. Some people think they have to do tough love and cut off all ties and communication. I understand some people have to do that for their own well-being because they can’t handle it. So I get it. But if you want to do the best thing for them I think it’s really important to let them know you’re not giving up on them, that you still have hope. You still believe they can have recovery and a better life. But you’re not doing things like here are the car keys or here’s a hundred dollars. Or here’s your rent payment. You don’t want them to be comfortable staying in their addiction. If I were to stay comfortable, I would have never stopped.”

Trista LeBlanc is also a Peer Recovery coach. Her substance use started in high school. She spoke with us about what changed in her life.

“My children were taken from me. I have three of them and I was jumping through the hoops for CPS and the courts and things like that. In the beginning I was just doing what I needed to do to get my children back. Somewhere in there I found that desire and that hope and really started digging deeper into my mental health and started to be happy with myself and love myself. When I was done with all of that stuff was mandated to me, I really loved who I was becoming and ran with it,” said LeBlanc.

LeBlanc echoed what Gardiner said, that listening to people without judgement opens a lot of doors to connect with people.

“I just meet them where they’re at. I definitely do a lot of listening. One of the biggest things is, people’s minds really mess with your thinking and the way you feel. I’m constantly reminding people what they’re going through is okay. It’s okay to feel the way you feel. It’s okay to have bad days and bad moments and you just have to hope and pray that we’re going to learn from this and move forward in a positive way,” said LeBlanc.

Trista and Lucas were some of the first Peer Recovery Coaches in their area. They suggest connecting with Families Against Narcotics (FAN). According to FAN’s website, they are a, “Community-based organization for those seeking recovery, those in recovery, family members affected by addiction, and community supporters. FAN seeks to change the face of addiction, dispel the stigma of addiction, and educate the community, as well as those affected by addiction.

Another community resource mentioned during our conversation was Needle Exchange Chippewa County.

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