Addiction is never far from the headlines - from horrifying stats about the heroin epidemic as it continues its rampage through Horry County, racking up scores of overdose deaths in its wake – to television shows like A&E’s “Intervention,” where we see firsthand the struggles of addicts of all stripes and the heart wrenching efforts of their loved ones to convince them to seek treatment.
Interventions can be a crapshoot and sometimes a last-ditch effort, but inroads are inroads, and if the recovery process is set in motion, lives can be changed and families healed.
Of course, the stigma attached to addiction is obvious – but we often see that there can also be a stigma attached to those in recovery – stereotypes and misconceptions that call into question core issues like trustworthiness or employability – stereotypes that can become roadblocks to reintegration.
The Grand Strand chapter of a group called Faces and Voices of Recovery – or FAVOR – is working to dispel these stereotypes.
Local FAVOR chapter chairman Dr. Victor Archambeau said the goal of the group is comprised of multiple parts – the primary purpose being advocacy for those in recovery, their families and people who need to be in recovery.
“We want to help reduce the stigma associated with addiction and educate the public that it is a disease and not a personal choice – and encourage businesses and our community leaders to take positive stances as far as hiring practices and opportunities for treatment,” he said.
He sees discrimination against people in recovery, especially regarding employment.
“Eventually, we would like to have a recovery community center where we can have volunteers who are trained peer support specialists to work with people in recovery and their families to help then transition and be successful in their recovery,” he said.
Archambeau is a family practitioner who said he has been in recovery for 23 years. He is also chairman of the committee for the South Carolina Alcohol and Drug Issues Conference, which is held every year in Columbia.
FAVOR has been in operation on the Grand Strand for three years, meeting at 7 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month at the offices of Startup.SC at the Litchfield Exchange. One of the organization’s core tenets is “Advocating with Anonymity.”
To some, this might be considered a dance between shielding 12-step programs and the people in them and coupling that with the need to speak out.
“The 12-step programs have a tradition of anonymity. The spiritual aspect of that is that for the people in a 12-step program, it doesn’t matter whether you are, pardon the old saying, a ‘doctor, lawyer or Indian Chief.’ You are all equal in recovery. My opinion, because I am a physician, is no stronger or weaker than anybody else’s,” he said.
Part of this anonymity, according to Archambeau, is to protect those who are particularly new to these programs because of the societal stigma involved.
“They need to know that they can come to a place where they are safe and their identities won’t be bandied about in the community. They won’t have to have concerns that perhaps family members or ex-spouses or employers will find out that they are seeking recovery.”
As an advocate, Archambeau said he can talk about the fact that he is in recovery, the benefits of recovery and his willingness to help those in recovery – but he does not identify what personal program he is involved in.
Are there multiple roads to recovery?
“I believe there are,” he said. “I know people who have found very strong, good recovery through religious or faith-based programs. I know people who have done it through 12-step programs – or private counseling and utilizing more individual services rather than a group – I know people have done it with medication assistance. I truly believe that there are many paths to recovery.”
There can be a chance for staunch individualists to recover as well, but Archambeau said humans are social creatures, and most us find strength and support in a group setting.
“It’s where we learn to pattern behaviors,” he said. “We learn to trust and communicate at a deeper and more intimate level.”
Many have heard people speak of being in recovery, but it is uncommon to hear a person say that they are fully recovered – and there is a good reason for this.
Archambeau brought up issues like high blood pressure and diabetes, which can be treated with medication, and cancer can go into remission.
“I think the concept for substance abuse disorders is that it is a chronic condition,” he said. “I think we get well, but I think it’s more that I am in remission. I may remain in remission for a lifetime, but there is always the possibility that my disease could come out of remission.”
FAVOR currently has between 20 and 30 active members, but attendance can vary at the monthly meetings – and it is important to note that the organization is not a recovery program, but a group united to speak out about recovery.
“We are always looking for opportunities to speak to the community to get word out that we want to advocate for people in recovery and to get businesses to give recovery people a chance.”
This outreach has included Rotary Clubs and the Seroma Club, as well as forums at local police departments.
“We have several licensed peer support specialists that we have sponsored. They go to jails and to treatment centers and work with the women at Shoreline [Behavioral Health Services]. We have a recidivism prevention program that we are working on with the Georgetown County Detention Center – so we are really involved in support for the recovery community,” he said.
This also includes a push for more beds in treatment centers and recovery houses.
“We know that the medical literature has shown that 90 days of treatment is optimal. That is when the fog starts clearing up and we begin to make some rational decisions – but nobody covers 90 days of treatment. Very few insurances cover 30. Most of them – you get 5-7 days in a detox center.”
In September, FAVOR sponsored the Grand Strand Recovery Month Celebration Recovery Awareness Community Meeting at the Horry Georgetown Technical College Conference Center at the Market Common – bringing together public and private recovery agencies and organizations.
“We participate in the Addiction and Recovery Lecture Series at HGTC – helping them financially and providing support with the dinner. Our members and volunteers plate the food and clean the dishes,” he said.
Plans are in the works to host the state FAVOR meeting on the Grand Strand – a three-day event planned for spring 2017.
“Next September, through Celebrate Recovery, we are sponsoring a play – “Bill W. and Dr. Bob,” about the beginnings of AA, which is really the roots of the modern recovery movement.” The production will take place at Theatre of the Republic in Conway.
“At the play each night, we will have a couple of our members available after the show to answer questions about recovery or how to get help,” he said. “I think that’s really going to be a good thing.”
FAVOR secretary Susan Shirley is one of the certified peer support specialists mentioned by Archambeau. She is also a recovery coach.
Her certification comes from the Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, or DAODAS.
“I am willing to come out of my anonymity group and advocate for addicts in all ways possible,” she said, adding that she is a recovering addict herself.
“For eight years, I haven’t seen it necessary to use drugs or alcohol, and I have reentered society as a useful person. I am happy, and I hope that for every other drug addict – that any addict can get clean and stay clean. We consider alcohol a drug.”
Shirley said that FAVOR wants to change the language and focus on recovery rather than on the addict with an eye to removing the stigma.
“We can be hardest on ourselves. If we run around calling each other drug addicts – it just doesn’t do anything for your soul,” she said.
Shirley said she started drinking in her twenties, and that much of her using time was fun. She started on cocaine and later, crack – and said she was off to the races. Ultimately, she almost lost everything.
“I walked into a 12-step program one day and it stuck. It saved my life,” she said.
Shirley said that FAVOR wants to prove that people can get better.
“You have to work at it, and I have to be mindful of who I am with and where I am.”
Shirley has a dog grooming business, and is not skittish about telling her clients that she is in recovery.
“It’s important for me to talk about it – and to talk about that it is a community thing. Most of the time they will share with me that they have a niece or nephew, son or daughter – or a dad or somebody in their life that drugs and alcohol have touched in an unfavorable way. Most of the time, it opens up a conversation.”
She said that, as far as FAVOR is concerned, recovery is recovery.
“It doesn’t matter if you come in through religion, a managed case-assisted program, if you come in from a treatment center or death row. You don’t have to claim a camp,” she said.
As a certified peer support specialist, Shirley regularly visits the Georgetown County Detention Center. She cited one woman’s progress with recovery and re-integration into society.
“As a peer support specialist, I see them eye-to-eye – as another person who has just gotten clean from the streets – and she came off heroin and is doing fabulous. She got a boyfriend, has a baby and her life is good. She hasn’t returned to heroin,” she said.
Peer support specialists are trained for what is called motivational interviewing.
“We help people recognize what kind of capital they have and where they want to go – because recovery is in them already. We just have to bring it out.”
Professor Casey King began the HGTC Addiction and Recovery Lecture Series in 2008.
“Two and a half years into my own recovery, I started it from the ground up, and it has grown over the years,” he said. “If I was to put it into one sentence, I would say that it demonstrates that recovery is possible – and that anyone can be addicted to anything.”
The series includes panel discussions, a dinner and well-known guest speakers such as Meredith Baxter, Louis Gossett Jr and Steve Ford – son of former president Gerald Ford and Betty Ford.
“I have tried to get speakers across the demographic spectrum. My next speaker is Hispanic. I had [actress] Jodie Sweetin set to speak in February. She had signed a contract, but Netflix moved up production for ‘Fuller House.’”
He told The Sun News that FAVOR provides hands-on help during the series and is also a financial contributor.
“They have been very beneficial in assisting. They are an umbrella group that covers all forms of recovery and they assist all of the local groups,” he said. “I see their involvement in getting recovery into jails and institutions as beneficial to the community.”
For King, there is hope for those still struggling with addiction.
“Recovery is possible for anyone. I have never seen anyone yet who’s life didn’t improve. Sometimes quickly – sometimes slowly – but it always gets better if you recover.”
For more information about Faces and Voices of Recovery, visit www.favorgs.org.