Minot event highlights need for addiction recovery supports

Jill Schramm/MDN Bonnie Riely with ND Quits explains different types of e-cigarettes and their dangers to Mary, left, and Demi Yellow Lodge of New Town at Recovery Empowered Tuesday in the Clarion Hotel.

North Dakota First Lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum called for public discourse to eliminate the stigma surrounding addiction during her address at Minot’s Recovery Empowered Tuesday.

“The basis of my advocacy is encouraging everyone to talk about addiction and how it has impacted their lives,” she said. “Talk will eliminate the elephant in the room and will normalize the conversation around addiction. If we do this the stigma will be eliminated, and more people will reach out for help, seek treatment and find recovery. And everyone who is talking about addiction will truly be saving lives. This is a grassroots movement. It costs nothing and means no legislation, and it literally could be the one thing that crosses all political party lines, unifying and truly making a difference for our nation.”

Burgum spoke from her own recovery experience.

“I knew for years that I needed help, but I didn’t seek it because I was ashamed,” said Burgum, who has been 17 years sober after a 20-year struggle with alcoholism. “For people with the disease of addiction, three words have deprived them of medical treatment, empathy and compassion for decades, or more like centuries, and those three words are shame, stigma and discrimination.”

Her platform as North Dakota’s First Lady to eliminate the stigma of addiction is part of a larger movement in the state called Recovery Reinvented. Stigma is socially constructed, based in fear and often accompanied by lack of accurate information, she said.

Jill Schramm/MDN Panel moderator Eric Bonness, regional director for Free Through Recovery, addresses speaker Sarah Bachmeier, right, as First Lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum listens.

“I believe addiction needs to be embraced like any other chronic, progressively fatal disease or illness before real changes can be made in our communities and before we can totally eliminate the shame and stigma,” Burgum said. “A starting point is to eliminate stigma by reframing addiction as a public health issue rather than a moral failing. Addiction is not a choice. It’s not a character flaw, and it does not discriminate.”

Burgum was joined by a panel of local presenters who shared their experiences in recovery and in providing services to aid others in recovery. It was noted that treatment is moving more toward addressing recovery as a long-term journey.

“It’s moving more towards a recovery-oriented system of care, which means that there’s a continuum of types of services that are needed for individuals, and it could be prevention, all the way through different types of community-support recovery systems,” said Tammy Ness, clinical director at North Central Human Service Center, Minot. “When we’re looking at what the treatment options look like, what the recovery system looks like in Minot, we can start to look at some of the gaps in those areas, too.”

She explained how the existing 28-day treatment program developed through a managed care model, and how research into addiction is changing that short-term thinking.

“Recovery is a three- to five-year recovery process for people who are going to ebb and flow with some successes, some struggles, some challenges – just recognizing that it’s not a failure for somebody to have a lapse in their using. It’s all part of that long-term recovery process of getting to a place where people are living in recovery,” Ness said.

The need in the Minot region is for more recovery support, she said. Minot doesn’t necessarily need more capacity in high-intensity treatment but needs to be able to more readily free up those beds by moving people into transitional supports, where they can continue their recovery, she said.

“There’s many different types of models of those recovery homes. We can have a private home who decides to take in people in recovery,” Ness said. “We also have supervised facilities, apartments.”

The challenge is that people in treatment often lack income to move from a residential facility. Grants and scholarships are needed to initially support people moving to transitional living, Ness said.

Doni Jessen with Jessen Roofing, who has hired a number of people in recovery, credited his own recovery to his faith in Jesus Christ. He noted people can change with the right support. He stressed the need to form new associations in a new environment to avoid slipping back into addiction.

“Encouraging people is powerful, and tearing people down is powerful. We need to encourage and edify and strengthen each other,” Jessen said. “Under all the muck and drugs and alcohol and all that bad staff, people are worth it. Yeah, they’re worth it. I’m worth it. So don’t give up.”

Sarah Bachmeier, who now mentors others in recovery, said shame and embarrassment initially caused her to isolate herself in her recovery. Letting other people in was essential to recovery, and sharing her story – taking ownership of it – led to the biggest blessings.

“Not that I’m proud of the things I’ve done, but I am proud of what I’ve overcome,” Bachmeier said.

Recovery Empowered included more than 50 booths from employers and agencies. The event was sponsored by Free Through Recovery, First District Health Unit, North Central Human Service Center, Community Options, Job Service of North Dakota, Lutheran Social Services, Community Medical Services, Embrace ND and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation are sponsoring the event.