I was invited here to talk about hope because of my story and my work. My hope is that something I say will empower at least one of you to offer hope and love to someone who has none.
Currently, I work for the Westbrook, Windham, Gorham and Buxton Police Departments as the Recovery Liaison. I act as a case manager for people who have a substance use disorder. I work with people to link them to community supports that will sustain recovery. A participant will be connected to things like, housing, physical and mental health care, substance use treatment, employment and a recovery coach to name a few. I am in constant contact with the participants as a support as well.
The program is funded by a state grant and in-kind funds by the city of Westbrook. The state has already reported that they will not renew the grants for the programs like this. There are 8 total police programs in the state that are losing their funding. Since our program has proven successful, we are starting to look for other possible grants and donations. We are hopeful to reach our goal of about $80,000 by June to continue this great work.
Whenever we feel we can no longer go on, hope whispers in our ears and reminds us we are strong
I love this quote because in my job, I get to be that whisper of hope. People who do the kind of work I do are often the only whisper a person has ever heard. They’ve never had hope. Advocates for people in recovery are often, in recovery themselves. I am in recovery from a substance use disorder.
On my 12th birthday I experimented with marijuana. I didn’t like it, but now that I had tried it, I was willing to try alcohol too. Once I drank I felt okay. I felt relaxed and free to be myself. This only increased my desire to try other substances and at age 15 I used heroin for the first time. That was it. I knew right then and there that I had found the relief I had been waiting for all my life.
By the age of 17, my mom and Winky became aware of my drug use and I was admitted to my first rehab with many more stays to follow. I stayed clean for about 2 months. From then on, I was constantly trying to control my drug use while maintaining a life. It was an endless battle that was impossible to win. My mom made my drinking and drugging difficult because she was the mom who would track me down whether I was at Division Point, Long Island, on a boat in the bay or in a field in Pownal, she found me.
I am fortunate though. I grew up on Chebeague. I have my mom, Winky and my brother who loved me unconditionally. I have grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who never turned their back on me. My family constantly reassured me of their love and continued to try to help me. Not only did I have a family that loved me, but I had an entire island that I knew cared if I lived or died. I was also fortunate because I don’t have any major mental illness. I am a minority of people with a substance use disorder. Mental illness can be a precursor to substance use disorder.
Today I am clean and have 2 beautiful healthy children who, God willing, will never see their mother drink or use drugs. I have a loving husband who has carried me into my recovery. He has embraced the island and has agreed to not cut away any of my uncle’s traps when they set over him. He and I volunteer on the Yarmouth Fire and Rescue and coach our daughter’s sports teams. We get involved in her life and our community; things I wouldn’t be doing if I weren’t in recovery.
As part of my own recovery, I help other people find recovery. I have an amazing job where I get to advocate and support others trying to recover from a substance use disorder. Some of the people I work with have nothing and no one. They don’t have supportive family or friends and they don’t have an entire community standing behind them like I did.
When someone is in the middle of a substance use disorder they have no hope for their future. Addiction isn’t something someone can just get over or stop without the proper supports in place. It isn’t until a person finds a glimmer of hope for their future that they have a chance to succeed. Their mental health also needs to address in partnership with the addiction to ensure sustainability.
Every day I work with people who have experienced the world at it’s worst. They have been hurt physically and emotionally. They have seen people do things to each other that are immorally and incomprehensible. They’ve been neglected, abused and abandoned. They have never been shown what it means to have a family, to sit down at the dinner table every night or to have their parents help them with their homework. In many cases, parents were the very people who introduced them to drugs and alcohol thus setting up a life of pain and misery.
That said, I also work with people who had loving parents, who grew up in a beautiful home, had family traditions, celebrated holidays, and graduated high school, but those people are few. Addiction is often generational and holds entire family’s hostage. It doesn’t discriminate against age, race, gender, economic status or religion. If you have a brain, you can have addiction because it is a brain disease.
I continue to do this work because I have hope. There was a point in time where I was hopeless. I thought that my addiction was stronger than me and I couldn’t see a way out, but people believed in me and showed me there was hope. Today I get to show people the way out and hold their hands as they take the enormous steps towards recovery. I truly believe that I can take this journey with my people only because I was shown 2 very simple things; Hope and love.
Being part of a community like Chebeague can’t be described to someone who isn’t an islander. Growing up when I did on the island was an experience that every child should have. We were given enough room to run free, but no one was afraid to call our parents to tell them we were doing something we shouldn’t, like skipping girl scouts. We had access to punts and ponds, four wheelers and beaches. We walked through any yard we wanted without fear of being yelled at. No paths were blocked off with boulders and we knew everyone on the boat. I understand times have changed and it may even be for the better, but I can tell you that growing up here is why I was able to enter sobriety.
I moved off the island in 2008 because well, life is much more manageable when you aren’t ruled by a boat schedule. Fortunately, I still get to reap the benefits of island life whenever I want because of my family. Even though we don’t live here, my kids know what it’s like to be able to have your own lobster traps, go fishing at the wharf and skate at the pond. They know what it’s like to spend an entire day at the beach with thier cousins playing in the tide pools and building floats from the Styrofoam, rope and driftwood you find on the beach. They know what it’s like to purposely get stuck in a honeypot and the panic you feel when you really can’t get your feet out. They know what it’s like to drive the go cart down through the dirt pit and they know what it’s like to get a dollar at the store from Roy. They know what it’s like to have a whole community know generations of your family. These are parts of island living that you will never find anywhere else.
So, with all that said, I would like to challenge each of you to learn something new about alcoholism and addiction because no one is exempt from. It’s in every community and everyone knows someone who has been affected by this disease whether you know it or not. 2 in every 10 people suffer from addiction or alcoholism. Every single day, 100 people die from their drug use. In 2016, Maine lost 1 person every day from an overdose. Over 360 families lost a spouse, child, parent or sibling to a treatable disease. Since there isn’t nearly enough treatment available to address the epidemic we are seeing, we need to act on a personal level every chance we get. If you can show some compassion, empathy, love and hope to your neighbor, you are doing your part to make a difference in the world.
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Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.