We’re grateful for those of you willing to share your personal stories about Substance Use Disorder (SUD), the recovery process, and the real life struggles that so many face here on the Island and beyond.
In planning for this section, we wanted to share — as we have in other Voices sections on race, the pandemic, and housing — the very real and sometimes painful stories of Islanders in their own words. We find it a powerful way to get across a single topic subject. Our goal is not to exploit and our hope is that we can make a difference in our Island community.
We struggled in coming up with a name for this series of stories. While SUD has become the go-to, it felt somewhat clinical to us. We certainly did not want to add to the stigma that is so prevalent for individuals dealing with SUD by using words like “substance abuse” or “addiction.” We tell you this, we hope, to demonstrate that we understand that there remains a stigma that we need to overcome. We don’t want to be part of the problem.
This is how one reader reacted: “A note of thanks for the great job on the Voices of Recovery section for the Speak Out series! The section communicated authenticity and good information about this condition. The Times has played an important role in helping Island residents understand that substance use disorder is not a ‘bad choice’, but a treatable health condition with available resources to help here on Island.”
We were moved by these stories.
Tyler Paulson told us he began drinking heavily when he was 12 or 13 years old. “I think there are things that are impossible in this world, and overcoming addiction is one of them. Addiction is a disease that talks to you in your own voice. It’s not like, Oh, I’m craving potato chips. It’s like I’m having a panic attack. I can’t breathe, I am sick, I need this or I’m going to die.”
We heard from Tyler that “being able to forgive yourself for the awful things you’ve done is not an easy step, but it’s the most important one.”
Our own Nicole Jackson, a graphic designer at The Times, shared her struggles with alcohol and offered this advice: “Be gentle with yourself.”
Recovery coach Tim Wolff reminded us that recovery isn’t a straight line. “I never give up on somebody. Even if they relapse. They might relapse 120 times … To be a good coach you can’t judge that person and feel negative about them. You’ve got to feel like they’re wonderful people who unfortunately have problems. But we all have problems in our own way and we can help one another.”
Adam Gendreau provided a window into the programs that are available at the Peer Recovery Support Center at the Red House. “I just want people to know we are an available resource for the recovery community, helping out in the community as a whole, not just the recovery community.”
Trip Barnes demonstrated that recovery can last a good long time. “My relationship with AA started in 1962,” he said. “I finally stopped for good in 1988. I was in and out, in and out, in and out.”
Chip Coblyn told us how losing a friend inspired him to become a member of the Substance Use Coalition on the Island that has done so much to shine a spotlight through its film, “On Island.” “I wanted to give back to the community, and having lost a good friend to substance use disorder, it pissed me off. I decided I had to do something about it.”
And Howard Marlin’s journey to recovery coach took twists and turns beginning from his own dalliance with substances. “I jokingly tell people I desperately tried not to do this work for 30 years — that I’ve been avoiding this work for 30 years.”
We know of no one who has not been touched in some way by the use and overuse of substances such as alcohol and drugs. In some cases their stories are uplifting ones of recovery. In other instances, their stories are of lifelong struggles, estrangement, and sometimes, tragically, death.
What we hope this section makes abundantly clear is there is help for individuals struggling with Substance Use Disorder and you’re not alone.