Graduation Day

 In Ocean Mental Health Services

BY: Joanne (Jodi) Brennan, MDiv, CADC Intern   

Project Recovery

In the past few weeks, it was my honor to attend 2 graduations.  At these graduations, there were no awards given, no valedictorian or salutatorian speeches.   There were no dignitaries present to congratulate the graduates on a job well done or to let them know they are our future.  For some graduates, there were families and friends present for others just friends.  There were speeches made by friends of graduates regaling the audience about how they met and what they meant to each other and how they hoped their friend would make it.

These were very special graduates.  The Diplomas the graduates received would not gain them entry into a prestigious college or a high powered job.  Yet if these graduates continue on with the hard work started they will be able to lead happy hopeful lives.  You see these graduates were completing a program known as Project RecoveryProject Recovery is a program for adults with co-occurring diseases, mental health, and addiction.  I am privileged to work with these men and women in Project Recovery.  I watched as they struggled with many different forms of mental illness such as Bipolar; Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective; Major Depression; PTSD and many others as well as addiction to alcohol, heroin, pain pills, cocaine, etc.

Some of these graduates came to Project Recovery kicking and screaming that they didn’t need help; they didn’t have a problem and others came knowing they needed help.  For those kicking and screaming somewhere along the line, they accepted the fact that they did indeed need help.  All of these graduates worked hard for months to learn coping skills to address their mental health  issues such as depression, mania, anxiety, stress, and others; they attended 12 Step meetings to gain additional support and connect with others who are trying to stay clean and sober.  They learned how mental health and addiction very often go hand in hand and that to address one the other needs to be addressed as well.

Many of our graduates had friends and family who just don’t get it.  They would say things like; “Why can’t you just stop?” or “Why can’t you just have one drink? “or “Now that you’re on medication why can’t you act normal?”  These friends and family are not bad people but they are people who don’t understand mental illness and addiction.  It is not unusual for people with mental illness to have addiction issues as well.

According to SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) (PDF | 3.4 MB), approximately 7.9 million adults had co-occurring disorders in 2014. During the past year, for those adults surveyed who experienced substance use disorders and any mental illness, rates were highest among adults ages 26 to 49 (42.7%). For adults with past-year serious mental illness and co-occurring substance use disorders, rates were highest among those ages 18 to 25 (35.3%) in 2014.”

My experience working with clients who struggle with co-occurring disorders and are adamant about changing their lives is that they are courageous, brave people with determination and discipline.  They come to Project Recovery scared and unsure but work the program everyday to gain self -confidence in their ability to address their co-occurring disorders and make a difference in their lives.

Project Recovery is not for the faint of heart.  Project Recovery is a five days a week 6 hours a day program where clients are challenged to stay clean and address their mental health issues.  It is a program unlike most where both disorders are addressed.  When she first attended Project Recovery one of the graduates used to say, “I’ve been to rehab a few times but I’ve never been to a program that addresses both my mental health and addiction issues.  The hope is this will make a difference.”

It is hard for me to put into words the feeling I get when I attend one of these graduations; to see the hope on the graduates’ faces and the fear because now they are flying on their own and it’s a scary ride.  It’s a ride for which they have been well prepared and a ride they deserve because of the hard work and diligence they have done.  However, it is also a ride from which they can never leave because leaving means possibly going back to using.  It is definitely a “one day at a time” ride.

CONGRATULATIONS to these graduates.  I feel so proud of them and honored to have been a part of their journey.

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