By Jeremy Hartsell
“National Certified Peer Recovery Support Specialist (NCPRSS): Peer Recovery Support Specialists are individuals who are in recovery from substance use or co-occurring mental health disorders. Their life experiences and recovery allow them to provide recovery support in such way that others can benefit from their experiences.”
My name is Jeremy Hartsell and I’m a Community Resource Corps member through Dartmouth’s AmeriCorps Program. I am also a Recovery Coach and Peer Support for people who struggle with substance misuse. Currently, I volunteer at The Center for Recovery Resources under TLC’s umbrella in Claremont.
There seems to be confusion and skepticism regarding Peer Support and what it actually is. So I’m going to do my best to explain it in my own words and with my experiences.
So how do we as a community help someone struggling with substance misuse? Usually once the problem is recognized, we try to get them into treatment. That’s not an easy task, whether it’s insurance concerns, common life issues, or even their willingness to go. So let’s say we get them into treatment. That’s great!! But what happens when they get out? They are sent right back into the same environment that they used in. If they are fortunate, they may be set up to see a LADAC (Licensed Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor).
So here’s what happens most times with this situation. Everyone’s addiction is different. Same as each person’s recovery. We are possessive of our struggles and our experience. LADAC’s go to school and study a lot of books, and take a lot of tests in order to get licensed to help people living with addiction. But there is a gap.
Most people that need this help feel that they can’t connect with the LADAC because they got their knowledge from books. They haven’t experienced addiction. They haven’t lived through the hell of it all, so they don’t know what it’s like. LADACS are important and very helpful, but they don’t have the life experiences needed to really connect with the client unless they have been through an addiction themselves.
That’s where peer support comes in. We have been through addiction and found a way to come out on the other side of it. Our experience both with addiction and in recovery makes us invaluable. We can connect with the clients as a community, and that allows us to gain information from them that helps bridge the gap between client and LADAC.
The best way for me to explain this is by sharing a little of my story. I did methamphetamine for 20 years. I was self-medicating for the mental issues I knew I had but never had any diagnosis. When I decided to get help, I left Arkansas and came to New Hampshire. I ran into a problem in my early recovery. The recovery community knew a LOT about opioid addiction, but very little about meth addiction.
I started running out of people willing to stick with me because of my anger, my breakdowns, my suicidal thoughts. Self-medicating had sustained me for 20 years in an unhealthy way, but now, having been off of it for 45 days, my underlying mental health issues were coming to the surface harder than they ever had.
I tried to explain what I was feeling and going through, but I didn’t fit in the usual box of the other people they had helped. So they were giving up on me. There was ONE person out of the hundreds that came through the center in Manchester that had experienced meth addiction himself. He was a peer support volunteer.
He advocated for me, explaining to the “professionals” who had all but given up on me, what it was like for me. What I was experiencing, and how I was feeling emotions that I hadn’t allowed myself to deal with in 20 years. Had it not been for that ONE person that was NOT a licensed professional, I wouldn’t be here today with 17 months of sobriety, helping others struggling with addiction the same way he helped me.
If you’re going to hire someone to build you a house, are you going to go with someone who read how to do it out of a book, or go with someone that has built a few? Recovery Peer Support workers and volunteers are invaluable. We bridge the gap between the client and the recovery services they need, the same way TLC bridges the gap between families and the services THEY need.
At TLC Family Resource Center we support and strengthen all families, children, and youth in Sullivan and Lower Grafton counties with a wide range of free programs, support groups, education, and events.
Media Contact: Maggie Monroe-Cassel
109 Pleasant Street | PO Box 1098 | Claremont, NH 03743 | 603-542-1848 | Fax: 603-542-1846
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