September is National Recovery Month, an observance to help shed light on new evidence-based treatment and recovery practices and to support the nation’s recovery community and service providers.
Michelle Nance, addiction counselor and mental health worker at Pacific Clinics in the Inland Empire Region, says that in the era of a deadly fentanyl epidemic, our primary goal is keeping those with substance use disorders clean.
Any time someone in recovery relapses, it’s dangerous because of the body’s reduced (back to normal or close to normal) tolerance levels, but now it’s deadly, she says.
By some metrics, a higher number of people are choosing to drink less than a decade ago, but on the flip side, due to fentanyl, the numbers of those in dangerous levels of addiction are increasing. “The homelessness crisis is unreal,” she says, “and some of the issues are due to fentanyl.”
The Yucca Valley and surrounding areas are in dire need of addiction and mental health care, she says. In fact, the residents in this area are more likely to experience poor mental health, depression, poor physical health, and arthritis than residents across the state.
Michelle is a proponent of 12-step programs for her clients—and from personal experience as someone with 21 years of sobriety—but she knows they are not perfect and don’t work for everyone.
Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are effective for many, but there can be judgment and gossip if a member is not conforming to the culture, she says.
“Many times, clients don’t feel comfortable opening up in a meeting, but here, [at Pacific Clinics], we are an official safe space, bound by strict confidentiality laws and oaths.”
“The first impression someone has in treatment is critical, and if that includes being shamed or guilted, it turns people away. In this office, we don’t do that. It makes me proud to work for Pacific Clinics.”
There are many effective alternatives to 12-step programs, and they come in different forms. Because addiction is a co-occurring disorder, success staying sober means doing some type of inner work. “You can’t treat one without treating the other.”
“As long as a person is continuously working on themselves, their chances of staying clean and sober is greater than those not doing any work,” Michelle says. Below are some successful alternatives she has seen clients choose:
- SMART Recovery (a non-12-step program about changing behavior and developing coping skills)
- California Bridge (a Public Health Institute program in partnership with hospital emergency departments in California to provide immediate access to medication for addiction treatment, also known as MAT, to anyone seeking help)
- Christian-based Recovery Programs (that don’t involve 12 steps)
- Support Groups (for co-occurring disorders)
- Medication (for addiction or a co-occurring disorder and in conjunction with one of the above options or a 12-step program)
The care Michelle provides is fueled by the quest to help others and her own personal story of hope and loss.
Michelle’s son struggles with fentanyl use and other substances. She has not heard from him in more than a month and has not seen him in more than a year. “The disease of addiction is horrid. I just pray every day and keep moving forward.”
To those seeking help and hope, she says: “Don’t give up. Keep coming back. Relapse happens. There’s no shame. We love our wounded, and we keep loving them until they can love themselves.”