With the COVID-19 pandemic dominating the headlines, it’s easy to forget that other major health crises are still taking a heavy toll on our community. One of these is the rate of opioid addiction and overdose, which, according to the Lucas County Coroner Toxicology Laboratory, continues to rise year after year in Northwest Ohio and especially in Lucas County. Now with the coronavirus forcing lockdowns and limiting access to vital addiction and recovery support services, this problem has only been compounded.
Amy Peoples, Director of Recovery Housing for the Zepf Center, notes that with the pandemic, people are isolating more and afraid to reach out for help when they need it. “Being forced to isolate is very different from choosing to isolate. It really changes the dynamics,” she explains. “People grappling with addiction need that human connection, and having a recovery community they can turn to for support is huge for them. Virtual meetings can be helpful, but they are no substitute for direct human interaction.”
Despite regular support group meetings being temporarily suspended due to COVID, Peoples observed an interesting phenomenon at the Zepf Center Recovery House—the residents began to rally around each other, and several took the initiative to create a sober support community of their own. “Through this crisis, our residents have been in uncharted territory, but they recognized the vital role community plays in recovery and discovered they can still build relationships and have that support,” she says.
Among the residents who are benefitting from the programs and strong sense of community at the Zepf Center Recover House is Emory Allen, 35. Allen came to the Recovery House after detoxing in the Zepf Center’s Ashland Avenue walk-in detox center about four months ago. He recalls, “I was out on the street doing drugs, and it had been going on far too long. I was killing myself and depriving my kids of the father they need. I was fed up, tired, and ready to make a change in my life, so one morning I woke up and decided to put myself in detox.”
Allen’s drug of choice is heroin, and a major trigger for his use is grief over the death of someone close to him. He notes that he has lost loved ones at a rate of one or two each year for the past 11 years, including two this year already.
Interestingly, Allen takes a positive view of the position he’s in due to COVID-19, remarking that the restrictions related to the pandemic have helped him realize that he needs to slow down, be content with what’s going on, and focus on getting better. Even with restrictions gradually being relaxed, he leaves the facility only to go to work, the grocery store, or his grandmother’s home, which is located near the facility.
This effort at recovery is Allen’s third, but he’s confident he will succeed. “The first two times, I was doing it for others and wasn’t really ready. This time, I’m doing it for myself, and I’m taking it step by step. To get sober, you have to change almost everything about yourself. For me that means not just taking it one day at a time, but one minute at a time,” he comments.
When he made the decision to enter detox, Allen was anxious and afraid he would get extremely sick. Fortunately, the use of suboxone to manage his withdrawal symptoms prevented that from happening. He now urges others who want to recover but are afraid of getting sick not to let this concern stand in their way. “Even if you do feel sick, it’s temporary and only one small part of the process. Besides, it’s a much better alternative to ending up dead or in jail,” he says.
Allen is grateful for the support he receives from fellow residents and his roommate, noting that it’s like a big family on the facility’s fourth floor, where he lives. “I’m the happiest I’ve been in twenty-something years—genuinely happy,” he says. “I still have my struggles and my good and bad days, but it’s worth it. I’m happy, my kids are happy, and my granny is through-the-roof happy!”
Nate Clark, 62, is also grateful to the Zepf Center and his fellow Recovery House residents for providing a community that supports sobriety. Originally from Cleveland, Clark—who was using a variety of different drugs, but primarily crack cocaine—moved to Toledo in 2004 because the environment he was in made it impossible to stay sober. “In Cleveland, I had such a large ‘playground’ that I couldn’t stay clean, so I had to leave, and Toledo was the most viable option,” he says.
Clark maintained his sobriety for around 15 years but relapsed after going home to visit his mother and family. His father had died just prior to his visit, and soon thereafter his mother also passed away. To cope with the intense feelings of grief, he turned once again to drugs. “I found myself in a deep funk. I had given up and gone back to the streets. I didn’t have the nerve to kill myself and hoped the streets would do it for me. I just wanted the pain to stop,” he recalls.
Clark’s younger sister—whom he describes as his “best friend, cheerleader, and confidant”—helped him put a name to this deep funk. She told him that he was suffering from depression and pointed out that several of his family members had the condition as well. So he went on medication, connected with his sponsor, and moved back to Toledo to go through detox and get back on track toward sobriety at the Zepf Center. “I’m so thankful that the Zepf Center is here. They deal with all aspects of addiction, and I talk to a psychiatrist about my depression. Through prayer and meditation, I know that nothing happens down here before it goes across God’s desk, and I’ve come to realize he put me here for a reason—to help younger people who are new to recovery,” he says.
Right after Clark finished detox, the governor’s stay-at-home order was issued and support meetings were cancelled. Not to be deterred, Clark and several other Recovery House residents began to hold informal meetings. In fact, other residents routinely seek him out for advice and guidance. Also, now that he knows he suffers from depression and can recognize the symptoms, he’s able to help others come to grips with their emotions and direct them to the resources they need. “But it’s a two-way street,” he adds. “I get just as much from them because I can see myself in their story.”
Clark comments that he has come to understand that he’s right where he’s supposed to be. Looking to the future, he has re-entered the educational process so he can eventually start a business that serves others, such as providing housing for homeless veterans. “One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world,’ so I lead by example and try to go the extra mile. At the end of the day, I want to look in the mirror and say I’m part of the solution, not part of the problem,” he says.