Putting a Sign Out

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By Casey Coughlin

“Hello,” he opens, “My name is John and I am a recovering Alcoholic.” He is plaid head to toe in Red Sox paraphernalia, his long goatee controlled in two braids that dangle from his chin.

“Hi John,” the group of twenty or so responds. He drops his head and mumbles off the meeting’s rules; his voice muffled by the visor of his baseball cap.

“Today’s meeting is going to be about gratitude, I’ll start…”

The room is crowded with people of every age, gender and race. Some stare deeply into the speaker’s face, others watch the creamer in their coffee spin. John talks about being thankful that he got up this morning, that his mood was foul for no particular reason but now, now he is here he feels a little bit better.

He passes the floor to Jessica. Like John she is grateful to be alive. She passes to Corey, Mark, Steve, Jennifer, and eventually in an hour’s time everyone sitting around the room has had a chance to talk. They all have their own story, something small that separates their gratitude from the next: God, family, even prison. But in the end they are all thankful for the same thing, the glue that keeps them in recovery, this opportunity at Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery.

CCAR started twelve years ago as a volunteer advocacy organization working to build legislative support for addiction recovery. Diane Potvin, now Center Manager of the Windham branch, was one of the original volunteers working to draw attention to this cause.

“I guess the first thing I should say is that my name is Diane, and I have been in recovery since Valentine’s Day 1987.” Diane explains that when she was approached by founder Bob Savage to join in his efforts the outside community did not understand addiction. They saw it as a self-inflicted habit, something a person had knowingly done to themselves, and thus they needed to be punished and sent to prison. They didn’t understand that addiction is a disease. “What [addicts] need is treatment, a different way of thinking so they can live differently,” Diane explains.

CCAR quickly evolved from strictly an advocacy organization to an agency that provided soft services to assist the recovery community across the state. They held public forums and came back with “a safe welcoming place” accessible to those who need it.

CCAR’s strongest communal goal: to put a positive face on recovery. By changing the mindset from embarrassment to embracement they are able to do something extremely foreign in the recovery community, hang up a sign. Before they opened shop, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) were the two major treatment centers. Both of these programs lived under the secrecy of anonymity. Meaning, if a person desires treatment they must know where the meetings are held. There is no building labeled in any community for these organization. CCAR does not agree with separating real life from recovery. They embrace the recovery community and stand as a voice to support them.

Other small differences separate CCAR from other treatment regimens. The typical, “Hello my name is, and I am an alcoholic,” opener can be changed to whatever a person identifies with, for example. Diane prefers to substitute I am an alcoholic with I am in recovery. This subtle change in labeling can mean so much to a person’s self esteem.

Another difference: they accept every type of addict. Where AA and NA are only for specific types of drugs, CCAR welcomes everyone including people with gambling and food addictions.  Their twelve step program is open to interpretation and individual molding. And if a person slips up and uses again, the community at CCAR embraces them back into recovery right away.

Last year alone the doors to the three locations where opened over 45,000 times. With only two full-time staff at the Windham branch Diane says, “If it wasn’t for our volunteers we probably wouldn’t be open.” The volunteers do everything from running support groups to cleaning to manning the front desk. But what Diane considers the most important aspect of their contribution is the Telephone Recovery Support system.

Exclusive to CCAR, volunteers from the community call CCAR clients once a week and check on their progress. For some who are separated from friends, family and trying to curb old habits this check up system can be a real cornerstone of recovery. In fact research has shown that over 90 percent of participants in TRS don’t recidivate. Melissa, a volunteer with CCAR for the last three months, gives two to six hours a week to help CCAR. She enjoys her time at the phone and has formed a special bond with one participant, a 21 year-old boy who opened up to her about his past during one of their phone calls. The best part about this work for Melissa is “being able to connect with him, somebody who has been through as much as somebody my age except all negative. I know it must be hard for him at his age to connect with other kids.”

Corey has been participating with CCAR for the past ten months. Now 40, he has the face of a 25-year-old. He sits, arm crossed, leaning over the table, his Yankees hat shadows his eyes as he speaks about his lifelong tango with drugs. At age thirteen Corey started smoking Marijuana in an attempt to hang with his older brothers and their friends. His juvenile habit quickly escalated to selling, and then to harder drugs: alcohol, cocaine, and crack. “After I started smoking crack everything just started going downhill, I became my own best customer.” He spent the next 20 years in and out of jail. In February of 2011 Corey decided he needed to change, “I woke in a crack house and said I don’t want to live like this no more.” So he checked himself into St. Francis Hospital and from there was sent to a detox center. “I got sick and tired of getting high and running the streets and just existing.”

Now, Corey is living on his own working a part-time job and attending around 10 meetings a week. He has plans to attend a local community college and hopes to one day work in the field of recovery. CCAR has given him the voice and support he had been looking for his entire life. He reaches down to pat the little terrier at his feet, and tells me, “It’s family here.”

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