Leaning On Community For Sobriety During The Pandemic
Human beings are social creatures and the pandemic is taking a toll on all of us in one way or another. It’s also bringing to light just how important human connection is in our lives.
This week on Inside Appalachia, we’ll hear from folks who are overcoming these challenges on top of maintaining sobriety and staying on the path to recovery.
As we grapple with the immediate health emergency of the coronavirus pandemic -- and celebrate the hope found in vaccines and infections going down -- here in Appalachia we’re also struggling with two other public health crises: the opioid epidemic, and a large uptick in HIV cases. Researchers believe the crises are linked.
West Virginia’s capital city of Charleston is currently experiencing the nation’s worst outbreak of HIV linked to injected drug use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
We’ll learn more about that next week, and hear from folks who worry that stigma and discrimination against people with substance use disorder is exacerbating the issue.
If you, or a loved one, would like to talk with a professional counselor about recovery or addiction call 1-800-662-HELP or 1-800-662-4357. That’s the hotline for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. They offer free, confidential counseling.
Before Ryan Elkins, a recovery coach in southern West Virginia could help others, he had to find peace within himself. “Which is something that I've lost along the way. So, it's really, really nice and comforting to know that I have this inner strength,” Elkins said.
His mother died when he was 11 years old, and as a child, his father abused him. For a time, he found love and support after he left the state to move in with his mother’s extended family. But he said he couldn’t accept that love at the time. “They were so loving and caring that it scared me. I tried to avoid people.”
Elkins is now a recovery coach in Lincoln County, West Virginia, and a student at Marshall University.
Fighting isolation is something that just about every human on the planet is struggling with right now. Some of the best tools for connecting are digital. For people in recovery, meetings on Zoom or Skype have become a lifeline to maintaining sobriety. With the digital format, there’s the opportunity to meet every day.
Ashley Temple is a single mother with three kids who lives in Charleston, West Virginia. She works full time at a hospital and she’s a single mom.
One of the communities hit hardest is Kermit, West Virginia. At the peak of the opioid crisis, drug companies sent 12 million hydrocodone pills to the town of about 350 people. Cars would line up at the one pharmacy with people waiting to pick up pain pills. The so-called pain clinics of a decade ago are gone. In their place, a continued need for addiction treatment and recovery resources.
Telling Difficult Stories
There are heroes among us who are trying to break down barriers. Several of them are featured in two Netflix documentaries, “Heroin(e)” and “Recovery Boys,” both directed by Elaine McMillion-Sheldon, and her husband Curren Sheldon. They are both West Virginia natives.
Back in 2018, just after the release of “Recovery Boys,” Elaine sat down with Sarah Smarsh, host of a podcast called The Homecomers, to talk about what drove her to devote her career to telling stories about both the difficult realities, and the resilience of Appalachians.