Petersburg Pilot -

Dealing with addiction:

Two recovering addicts trying to make a difference

 

Jess Field / Petersburg Pilot

The co-founders of Recovery Support, Casey DenAdel, left, and Rashele Wilsonoff are two recovering addicts looking to tear down the stigma and shame associated with recovery.

Editor's Note: Part one of a two-part series.

Casey DenAdel was born and raised in Petersburg, and it's where her life of substance abuse began. She started using alcohol as a teenager and found herself spending 20 years in active addiction. There are months of her life she doesn't remember.

"I was a binge drinker in middle school and high school, then I graduated to cocaine and then methamphetamine was my drug of choice," she says. "I have just a little over two years in recovery."

For DenAdel, recovery is a lifestyle. She takes it one day at a time.

"In my early recovery I started writing my clean days on my hand because it reminded me daily, 'Today I have two days, today I have three days,'" DenAdel says. "It became a way to hold myself accountable."

People started asking her what the number on the back of her hand meant. So, DenAdel would tell them, and sharing the truth with others made her accountable to them and herself. The people who knew what she was going through began checking to make sure she was staying clean. This helped her realize how important her "clean time" was, not only to herself, but others who cared for her.

"I remember going to a 9/11 remembrance thing when I was living in Juneau. There were all these officers lined up and I was in the line to shake their hands and tell them thank you for their service," she says. "And an officer asked me, 'What's that number on your hand?' I remember almost holding my breath because it was the law enforcement officer."

DenAdel nervously told the officer what it meant. At the time, she only had about 36 days clean and sober. The officer congratulated her on the accomplishment.

"I think I earned some respect from him because I was honest with him about what I was going through," she says. "And I think I earned a little bit of respect for myself."

Over time, being open about her past became easier and easier. At one point, she even started answering her phone, "Hi, I'm Casey, I'm an addict." That's how an addict introduces themselves at recovery meetings, even if the group knows who the person is. Slowly the inherent shame associated with addiction began disappearing, she says.

Now, she is open about her past and shame is a thing of the past. Last fall, DenAdel wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in the Petersburg Pilot on Sept. 24. September is National Recovery Month, and she started the letter by writing, "As a person in recovery I thought I would share some of my experience, strength and hope with you." She ended the letter with, "A grateful addict in long term recovery."

"One of the reasons I was an addict for so long was all the secrets and shame that goes along with being an addict," she says. "We gotta smash the stigma, man. Our secrets keep us sick."

Most of DenAdel's days using hardcore drugs took place in Juneau. She refers to that part of her life as her "meth time," but she also found a great, uplifting support system in Juneau after making the decision to stop using drugs. When she moved back to Petersburg she lost much of her support system, but maintained her strong will and desire to stay clean. Petersburg is where it all started, and facing certain people, situations, and her "old haunts" forced her to pray and find perspective.

"I almost felt called to come home," she says.

The recent drug busts in town have helped bring the discussion of hard drugs to light among residents in Petersburg. The discussion, and quite frankly people mad about drugs in town, is a delight to DenAdel. For her, it's an opportunity to increase awareness and hopefully increase local support for addicts who might be living a life of hopelessness.

Last month, DenAdel and a fellow addict in recovery, Rashele Wilsonoff, started a group called Recovery Support. The group has met three times, and just secured the privilege of a place to host a weekly meeting. The group will meet for an hour or so every Thursday night at the ANB/ANS Hall.

"We deal in hope. We deal in strength. And we just want people to be able to come there and not feel judged and not feel ashamed," DenAdel says. "We want people to feel at home, and be able to look around the room and say, 'These are my people.'"

In what she refers to as the "real world," DenAdel often feels like the odd man out. But when she's in a room with people in recovery, people who know what it's like to live as an addict, she feels safe and at home.

The group uses Narcotics Anonymous literature as a guideline, but the group is not affiliated with the organization. Everything that is said stays in the room, and respecting others is a top priority. For an addict seeking recovery, a safe place to go for a regularly scheduled meeting means security.

"Addicts, you know, we don't like change. If we are going to have a meeting we need to be able to say this is where we are going to have our meeting at this time, this place, all the time," DenAdel says. "We cannot just say, 'It's going to be at this person's house, oh no, it might be over here.'"

The group had four people at its first meeting and the numbers have grown slightly in the last two meetings. DenAdel and Wilsonoff are both optimistic the group will continue to grow with time, once word gets out.

Wilsonoff attended a community meeting last month about drugs in town, and that's where she met DenAdel. The two quickly bonded and thought up the idea of starting a recovery group. The pair complements each other well, to say the least. DenAdel has experience with how recovery meetings are structured, including etiquette, and Wilsonoff had the drive to find a place for the group to hold meetings.

Wilsonoff quickly realized the task of finding a secure place for addicts to meet would be challenging. She only reached out to a couple places to start, but quickly felt a group of drug addicts were not really welcome at the establishments. It was kind of a feeling of, "I don't want those people here," she says.

She attended the ANB/ANS board meeting earlier this week and the board donated the space for six months. Wilsonoff will go to another board meeting after the six month period to revisit the status of the group and update the board. She is beyond grateful for the space to meet regularly and continue her recovery.

Wilsonoff's story of addiction started when she was 12. She had back surgery, leaving her with chronic pain and the doctors prescribed painkillers. Once the prescription medications stopped alleviating the pain, Wilsonoff started looking for an alternative. She found heroin.

"That is how it kind of started, and then it just sort of spiraled," Wilsonoff says. "It just got crazy."

She ended up using heroin for about five years. Wilsonoff found it difficult to get clean, mainly because local resources for supporting addicts in Petersburg are severely limited. She tried detox at the local hospital, but ended up relapsing. Then she went back to the clinic and got on the Suboxone program and started going to counseling through Petersburg Mental Health. The accountability of the program made the difference and she is going on three years in recovery.

Years ago, Wilsonoff used to have dreams about using but, thankfully, the dreams have stopped. She recently realized the urge to use has left her entirely. Now, she looks forward to her weekly support meeting, and having people with similar experiences to talk to. She and DenAdel dream of helping their community by not hiding or running from the past and openly tackling addiction together.

"I believe in this community, and I believe we can go from dope to hope. It's a cliché but it takes a village, and we need to keep talking," DenAdel says. "Every addict you see out there is somebody's sister or mother or brother, daughter, son. And every life is worth it."

The Recover Support group meets Thursday night at 7 p.m., and anyone wanting help is encouraged to attend.

 

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