Connect with us

Recovery Stories

Dayton’s Recovery Stories are Appalachia’s Recovery Stories

Published

on

Photo: Juliet Fromholt

“Appalachia’s problems are America’s problems.”

100 Days in Appalachia’s Capitol Hill correspondent Jan Pytalski wrote that in a recent reflection on his role covering Appalachian politics in Washington, D.C., but I got to experience that firsthand at an event in Dayton, Ohio, this fall.

100 Days has teamed up with WYSO, the Yellow Springs, Ohio, NPR affiliate, to share a series of personal narratives on how the opioid epidemic has impacted the Dayton area. The result is Recovery Stories, a set of six StoryCorps-style discussions.

On a Saturday afternoon, the 12 people who shared their personal stories in these discussions gathered in a small, black-box theater in the western Ohio city with their family and friends for a first listen. What followed was a personal revelation — and also proof — that even though Appalachians are defined by a certain narrative, the nation is experiencing the same challenges we are.

As the lights dimmed that afternoon, the voices of Andre Lewis and William Roberts filled the small theater. Lewis is a recovering alcoholic, but while struggling with his addiction, he began using opioid painkiller pills and later heroin. Roberts is his sponsor and has experienced the ups and downs of Lewis’s recovery, including relapses and overdoses.

William Roberts, right, reflects on his experience speaking with WYSO during a live event in Dayton. Photo: Juliet Fromholt

“Addiction is a disease where relapse is part of it,” Roberts said. “Each time I had to let go because you weren’t ready, and there was no need in both of us drowning. And so when you approached [recovery] this last time, I think that you finally had hit a bottom and were ready for a different way to live.”

This was the sentiment that permeated the room as the event transitioned from one of listening to one of active discussion. Person after person in recovery in that audience repeated it. You have to let them lose everything, sometimes even their will to live. Let them hit rock bottom.

Rebecca Thayer, who speaks with her mother in the series about a life on the streets in the midst of her addiction, sat behind me at the event. She is two years clean after completing an intensive drug court program, but she shared a story about her brother, who is currently struggling with substance abuse disorder. Thayer said she’s tried everything. She’s offered resources, aid and emotional support, but she told the group that recently, she’s pulled back.

“My brother knows I love him,” she said. “He knows I will help him find a bed in a treatment center, but I can’t financially support him any more. He has to hit rock bottom, she said, before he’ll help himself.”

Rock Bottom to Resilience

Rock bottom. Addiction recovery centers across the country are split on this idea of an addict needing to hit some “bottom” before being able to seek help and turn their lives around, and so far, there isn’t any definitive research that supports or refutes it.

But for these families, research isn’t necessary. They don’t need an academic to tell them about their personal experiences with a deadly disease, and as a reporter who covered the epidemic for years in my home state of West Virginia, the sentiment was difficult to hear.

I spent half a decade covering West Virginia’s demise into an addiction crisis unlike any its experienced in the past. Every year, the state led the nation in opioid overdose death rates per capita, and every year, we struggled to find answers that didn’t seem to come, much like the rest of the country.

West Virginia has tested programs that have made a positive impact– drug courts and needle exchanges among them– but as someone whose life has never personally been touched by addiction outside of the newsroom, the reality of these Dayton families seemed so foreign, so harsh.

In that moment of confronting this reality, the pain and courage it must take for a family to watch from afar as their loved one reaches “their bottom,” I felt an empathy that I hadn’t experienced before, certainly not as I reported about the surge of deaths from fentanyl-laced drugs from the comfort of my desk in a West Virginia newsroom.

WYSO General Manager Neenah Ellis introduces community storyteller Sarah Clay, a recovering heroin addict.

These face-to-face interactions shattered what I knew of addiction, or what I thought I knew. They reenforced for me the notion that reporters should not just report about our communities, but report inour communities about the challenges they face at such a deeply personal level. Recovery Stories allowed that work to happen in Dayton and that Saturday gathering made the work even more impactful for us who got to experience it firsthand.

I do not know how to fix our communities that are struggling with addiction. At this point, it doesn’t seem like many do, but those struggles are universal. The battles with relapse, the families that have been torn apart, the recovery. These are the stories of the opioid epidemic across our country, whether it’s a coal town in southern West Virginia or a steel town in the Rust Belt.

Dayton’s recovery stories are Appalachia’s recovery stories. They may not live in our region, they may not know the beauty of our rolling hills and green mountains, but their hope for a solution exists here too.

At 100 Days in Appalachia, we are working to shine a light on those stories of hope and resilience. That’s what the Recovery Stories series has allowed us to do. We are proud to support this kind of work and can only hope that it helps Appalachian communities — and midwestern communities alike — on their route to recovery.

Ashton Marra is the digital managing editor of 100 Days in Appalachia and a teaching assistant professor in the Reed College of Media at West Virginia University.

More About WYSO’s Recovery Stories

This story is part of WYSO’s Recovery Stories series.

The series was produced by Jess Mador, with assistance from WYSO Community Voices producer Jocelyn Robinson. Original photos by Maddie McGarvey.

Additional project digital support from 100 Days in Appalachia.

Recovery Stories

I’ve Always Wanted To Be A Mother: Starting Over After A Life On The Streets In Addiction

Published

on

Photo: Maddie McGarvey

WYSO’s Recovery Stories series brings you intimate conversations from the heart of Dayton’s opioid epidemic.

In this story, we meet Susan Fitzpatrick and Rebecca Thayer, mother and daughter who describe themselves as best friends. Their voices even sound remarkably alike.

Rebecca, who friends call Becky, is 35 years old and has nearly two years clean. Before entering recovery, her drug addiction led her to a life on the streets.

This year has been one of firsts: Becky recently completed an intensive drug-court program and has a new job. She lives with her daughter’s father and friend in her first-ever apartment, and she’s looking forward to getting her drivers license this fall. Becky also recently welcomed a new child into her life, with a baby girl named Ella.

Listen to the conversation below. What follows is a transcript of their conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Thayer: Because the one thing I’ve always wanted was to be a mother. And I was told that when I’m not on drugs or alcohol that I am a wonderful mother but it’s my addiction that gets in the way. Sophia, she’s my oldest girl. I got pregnant with her right when my heroin addiction started off, which was in 2009. So, I still have so much guilt over Sophia. How can I be a mother to Ella when I couldn’t be that to Sophia –– or to Cameron –– or to Alyssa?

Photo: Maddie McGarvey

Fitzpatrick: And I have a lot of guilt about losing Sophie too because I didn’t come pick her up that night at the homeless shelter.

Thayer: It’s not your fault, mom.

Fitzpatrick: But I just kept thinking to myself she’s going to get her back, she’s going to get her back, because that’s what you kept telling me. And then I find out she’s adopted for good. Why couldn’t you tell me you weren’t going to be able to do it? Why did you keep telling me you could do it? I would have taken her.

Thayer: I was scared. I was scared to admit that I was that I’d been defeated. You know, everybody would ask me, how are the kids doing? For years: they’re with my mom. They’re doing good. They’re getting big.

Fitzpatrick: Aw, honey

Thayer: I didn’t want to admit it, until recently when I got clean. Sophia, when I lost her, I lost it. Everything took off. I did the things I thought I would never do. I was an I.V. heroin and cocaine user. I stayed in abandoned houses, I’ve eaten out of dumpsters. I’ve caught many charges from stealing from stores to support my addiction. I would do whatever the dope boy, the person that was selling me the drugs, if I didn’t have money, whatever he wanted me to do I would do it. I’ve sold myself on the streets. I’ve been raped, robbed, and then go right back out there and do it again just to get that next one. I felt like I didn’t deserve any better, I wasn’t worth anything more than a blowjob, a piece of ass, excuse my language, because I had such low self-esteem. I literally thought I would die in that life.

Thayer lost four of her children in her addiction. “I’ve lost them, but I had to forgive myself for what I’ve done for the cause of losing them to be happy with this child,” Rebecca said. Photo: Maddie McGarvey

Fitzpatrick: I was scared to death to get that phone call. You know every time I would see a 937-number, I’m like, oh my god, what is it? And I’m thankful you made it out alive because I really didn’t think you would.

Thayer: Neither did I. But I caught a felony charge in Women’s Therapeutic Court, a.k.a. drug court. And I was tired. I was so tired. I basically did six months of treatment and I was just so grateful, willing to do whatever it took. And now that I’m clean, eight years just –– poof –– are gone. And I’m able to have my relationship back with you and that means more to me than you can ever imagine.

Fitzpatrick: It does to me, too, honey.

Thayer: I missed you.

Fitzpatrick: I missed you too, honey. And I feel like you’re stable now. Don’t you feel stable?

Thayer: Yes I do. I have a roof over my daughter’s head. I can provide for her. I can provide for myself. I’m not sleeping on other people’s couches, I’m not having to get up early in the morning and go out during the day because I have nowhere to stay during the day. I feel normal. I’ve lost four of my children in my addiction. I’ve developed the bond with Ella and children’s services is not taking this one. I just want to be the mother that she deserves. I want to go back to school, have a degree. I want her to be proud of me. Ella — I can’t wait to send her to her first day of school, to potty train her, little stuff like that. She’s going to lose her first tooth. I’m so looking forward to it.

More About WYSO’s Recovery Stories

This story is part of WYSO’s Recovery Stories series.

The series was produced by Jess Mador, with assistance from WYSO Community Voices producer Jocelyn Robinson. Original photos by Maddie McGarvey.

Additional project digital support from 100 Days in Appalachia.

Continue Reading

Recovery Stories

My Ultimate Hope: Raising Children Who Struggle With Drug Addiction

Published

on

Leanna Perez Green and her two sons. Perez Green’s husband is retired from the Air Force. She says seeking drug treatment for her teenage son meant facing down stigma in the tight-knit Wright-Patterson military community. Photo: Maddie McGarvey

WYSO’s Recovery Stories series brings you intimate conversations from the heart of Dayton’s opioid crisis. This episode introduces us to two women whose children have struggled with addiction: Becky Walsh and Leanna Perez Green.

Leanna’s husband is retired from the Air Force. She says seeking drug treatment for her teenage son meant facing down stigma in the tight-knit Wright-Patterson military community.

“The Air Force is zero tolerance — if you use drugs, you’re out. I would like to see that community talk about it more instead of feeling like my active-duty person may get in trouble,” Perez Green says.

In this conversation, Walsh and Perez Green, who met at a meeting of the Dayton support group Families of Addicts or FOA, open up about the different ways they’ve handled their children’s addictions.

Listen to their conversation below. What follows is a transcript of their conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Perez Green: My name is Leanna Perez Green. I live in Beavercreek, Ohio. We have two boys. My younger son has a problem with substance abuse. He only used heroin, that I know of, for a short time. I don’t honestly know. He won’t tell me. I have a suspicion that he smokes cocaine. When somebody is in active addiction it’s hard to believe what they tell you.

“The Air Force is zero tolerance. If you use drugs you’re out. I would like to see that community talk about it more instead of feeling like my active-duty person may get in trouble,” says Perez Green, whose family is connected to the Air Force. Photo: Maddie McGarvey

Walsh: You know what, I don’t even ask anymore, I don’t ask. My name is Becky Walsh. I’ve been a nurse for 40 years. I’m still working part-time part time now, I’m kind of enjoying a semi-retirement. I live in East Dayton. I have two children, four grandchildren and three great grandchildren. So that makes me 68 years old. Both of my children have been using drugs since they were in their teens and they’re now in their forties. I was honest with them and said, I know that you’re using, if you ever decide to change your lives that I’ll be here. And I knew that that was really all I could do, that and be there for grandchildren. And then it wasn’t long after that when my son came to me and said, I can’t do this anymore, mom. It was kind of a miracle. He said, I don’t want to live like this. He was seeing his friends dying or overdosing and almost dying. And that’s, I think, the reason that he did decide, I can’t keep doing this because it’s going to kill me. I’m very proud of him for doing that.

Perez Green: I remember you had told me that you went through detox with with both your son and your granddaughter. That had to have been a really tough situation. Do you feel like your nursing helped you with that?

Longtime nurse Becky Walsh’s children have struggled with opioid addiction. Photo: Maddie McGarvey

Walsh: My son, he didn’t want me to see him in that much pain. But we stayed in the same room, in the living room. He was on the couch. I was in my recliner. We were up all night long the first night. And I have been a nurse for 40 years. Most of that time has been at the bedside and I’m telling you now, I would never, ever let one of my patients suffer like that. So, that was tough. And he did it. He did all of it. He gave up where he lived. He gave up his job. He gave up his friends. He gave up any money that he had, he turned that over to me. But that’s what it took, and he was OK with it, which surprised me. But it also told me how much he really, really wanted this. And he’s been clean for almost a year. I feel like I’ve got my son back. I’ll always be grateful to him for that.

Perez Green: I tell my son all the time, if you want treatment I can help you with all of that, you just need to tell me. I know that he can have a good future if he could learn how to live with his addiction and get it under control. But, you know, he’s just, he’s not ready. He’s not ready and he’s only 19 and he needs me, yet he doesn’t let me into his life. I can’t help but feel some responsibility, like, what did I miss along the way? Why did he start using drugs to begin with? What did I not see? What did I not do? I have a terrible fear of his life ending. That fear drives me, just drives me. I want to get to a place where I don’t feel like, god, did I make the wrong decision today? Becky, I look at you and I see a living example and that gives me hope. It gives me hope for my son, that someday I hope he’ll be in recovery and he’ll walk in those doors with me and be able to share his experiences. My ultimate hope is that he will decide that he is ready to get full treatment and stop using.

More About WYSO’s Recovery Stories

This story is part of WYSO’s Recovery Stories series.

The series was produced by Jess Mador, with assistance from WYSO Community Voices producer Jocelyn Robinson. Original photos by Maddie McGarvey.

Additional project digital support from 100 Days in Appalachia.

Continue Reading

Recovery Stories

Be There For Your Family: Friendship Forged In The Struggle For Recovery

Published

on

Friends Dustin Aubry and Bob Lloyd first met at a meeting of the Dayton support group Families of Addicts or FOA. Aubry is in recovery from longterm addiction, and Lloyd’s adult son has an active opioid addiction. Photo: Maddie McGarvey

WYSO’s Recovery Stories series brings you conversations from the heart of Dayton’s opioid crisis. Today, we hear a conversation between Dustin Aubry and Bob Lloyd.

They first met at a meeting of the Dayton support group Families of Addicts or FOA. Aubry is in recovery from longterm addiction, and Lloyd’s adult son has an active opioid addiction.

Despite their more than 20-year age difference, Aubry and Lloyd have become close friends and allies in the struggle for recovery.

Listen to the conversation below. What follows is a transcript of their conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Aubry: My name is Dustin Aubry. I live in Fairborn, Ohio. I’m happily married, I have three kids. I’m a recovering addict in recovery. I’ve been clean since April 11 of last year.

Photo: Maddie McGarvey

Lloyd: My name’s Bob Lloyd. I live in Dayton, Ohio. I’m a roofer. I have a boy that’s in active addiction now that I really worry about all the time. We tried to get him help. He keeps dodging me. I even went to an assessment with him to make sure he went. I stayed in the waiting room when they took him in the back and I was there for him. He’s just got to want it. That’s the thing, people have to want it. They have to be tired of being tired in addiction, is what I’ve learned from it. You just hope and pray every day he comes over and says, dad, I’m ready. Until then there’s not much I can do. That’s the bad part is you feel helpless. Either he ODs or gets treatment or he quits. That’s what I worry about. I worry about him overdosing and nobody being there for him. Dustin, what keeps you up at night?

Aubry: I’ve been using since I been 17. I feel like I missed out on a lot of stuff in my twenties just going in and out of jails and prisons. I think about that and I think about the time I wasted. I think about what my life could have been like but talking to Bob, I can just tell he cares and he is just always there for me. We have the same interests, we have the same hobbies, we collect knives, we collect racecars, we collect models.

Lloyd: We watch the same TV shows.

Aubry: Yeah, [the television show] Street Outlaws.

Lloyd: That’s what we talk about a lot is Street Outlaws. And it is like a father-son relationship. We’re good buddies, you know?

Aubry: Being an addict, it’s hard to find somebody that will trust you and actually want to be your friend. And it ain’t as easy as you think, like, people being accepting like that.

Photo: Maddie McGarvey

Lloyd: See I kind of flip-flopped. I was kinda down on drugs and stuff. I was one of them guys, how many times do we bring them back with the Narcan or whatever? And then I started understanding more through going to FOA. And then I listened to the people and listened to their stories. Some of them just break your heart, you know, there’s a lot of grandparents raising grandkids now because their mothers and fathers are all messed up. My boy come, we got him to actually come to one FOA meeting — I’ve been trying to get him to come for a couple of years — and him and Dustin talked a lot and he told him a lot of what he went through.

Aubry: It basically comes down to, unless you want it, you’re not going to change. I’ve been to 13, 14 rehabs before I finally got it. The one thing is is never be a quitter and never be scared to ask for help. That’s one thing that keeps me thriving. I don’t want to let nobody down no more. I want them to be like, you know, Dustin was a good dude. He’d a gave his shirt off his back to anybody. He might have messed up but he did change. I’m part of the society, I’m not a menace no more, I’m not committing crimes. I go to work every day, I cut my grass, I take care of my house, paying bills. I never worried about that stuff before.

Photo: Maddie McGarvey

Lloyd: Dustin’s like I would want my son to be. I would want my son to do the things that I do with him. I know he’s a good hardworking family guy. I know he takes care of his business and I respect that. I want him to stay clean. That’s the main thing: stay clean. Stay with your family. Be there. Be there for your family.

Aubry: And I love you man.

Lloyd: I love you, too, dude.

More About WYSO’s Recovery Stories

This story is part of WYSO’s Recovery Stories series.

The series was produced by Jess Mador, with assistance from WYSO Community Voices producer Jocelyn Robinson. Original photos by Maddie McGarvey.

Additional project digital support from 100 Days in Appalachia.

Continue Reading

Trending