Peer recovery coaches help fight addiction with experience

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind- According to a 2016 report from the surgeon general, more than 20 million Americans struggle with substance abuse. However, only about 2 million of them received treatment.

"I was at the worst time of my life, it was a very dark time," recalled Jennifer Leonard of a moment more than two years ago. "I was using everyday."

It was that day that Leonard's worst fear came to life. She had been struggling with her addiction to alcohol and methamphetamine, when police and child services came knocking on her door.

“It was a moment of clarity," Leonard said. "It was kind of a blessing in an ugly package if you will.”

Leonard’s kids went to live with their grandma, and Leonard went into a long process of recovery. Along that journey, she met others who had been in her shoes, who had come out on the other side.

“You could just tell they were happy," Leonard remembered. "Their facial expressions were relaxed, they had peace, and it was like ‘man, I want that. I want that peace. I want to feel good about myself.”

Now more than two years clean, she’s looking to pass on the torch. She and about 30 others all recently trained to be certified as a peer recovery coach.

“It’s generally someone in recovery themselves that's had the experience and they’re able to bond and connect with the person and provide recovery support for them,” said Stan DeKemper, who started this training back in 2009. DeKemper is the Executive Director of ICAADA, the Indiana Credentialing Association on Addiction and Drug Abuse.

When the class first started it was barely filling up. Now 10 years later, they’re filling up months in advance.

“Recovery support to me is critical," DeKemper said. "You have to provide for folks enough support so that the support is greater than the forces that might pull them back into usage.”

Now, Leonard is reunited with her six kids, and is in school studying to be a social worker. Now she's the one with that same peace she saw in others more than two years ago.

“Recovery is a gift," Leonard said. "Anyone can have it that works for it, and that brings a lot of hope.”

To sign up to become a peer recovery coach, click HERE.

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