The Agana Mall was filled with hope on Saturday as Recovery Month activities continued with a gathering of services, supports and addicts on the road to recovery.
“Every year we get together in this gathered style so that we can display and show our treatment services. It’s a place where they can come and ask questions,” said Valerie Reyes, director of the Lighthouse Recovery Center and member of the Recovery Month Committee.
On Friday, the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center’s New Beginnings program kicked off recovery month events with an open house. Reyes said Saturday’s recovery month event continues with people with access to services logging in.
“This is the only outreach where we have all the information about drug treatment programs, supporters like peer support and 12 step scholarship, Superior Court Adult Drug Addiction Court, the Federal Court, so we have all the partners here together.
The goal is to arm the community with knowledge about addiction and recovery services, she said.
This is the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that an awareness event like this has taken place in honor of Recovery Month. The event drew at least 100 attendees.
“I believe we have such a tight-knit recovery community that even if it’s just those of us supporting each other, it’s a good turnout because when we’re all together it’s a good thing because that we want to support each other. In active addiction or active use, we’re isolated from our family, we’re isolated from people, in recovery we’re restoring relationships and, so, that’s what it’s all about,” Reyes said.
The event generated excitement on Center Court at the Agana Mall as music played and community connections were made.
“It’s just that camaraderie, you can actually feel it in the air that we’re all here to support each other. Because we need each other to survive off the life of drugs” , said Reyes.
The Lighthouse Recovery Center was one of the participating recovery programs at the event. Programs have seen the need for services increase during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic hasn’t been helpful, a lot of people have gone back to using alcohol and drugs and so there are a few people who were doing really well with recovery, but isolation, really, it’s not didn’t help. Yeah, we got a lot of calls and, really, we’re all packed because we only have a certain number of treatment beds and treatment providers,” Reyes said.
The Lighthouse Recovery Center, unfortunately, does not have the capacity to handle the influx, she said.
“But, yeah, we’ve noticed that a lot of people are struggling and turning to alcohol and drugs to deal with depression, isolation,” she said.
The Lighthouse Recovery Center serves men through an inpatient treatment center and in a few months services will be expanded with the construction of a treatment center for women.
“We are going to open beds for women with the new treatment center we are building. We serve women, but it’s an outpatient setting and now we can have 80 to 90 clients,” she said.
On Saturday, the Lighthouse Recovery Center was serving about 87 men in inpatient and outpatient treatment.
“We have a small waiting list now, but what we do is admit people on a weekly basis, much like a cohort that we can observe are not COVID-19 positive. So we bring them in as a group, once they come in they stay for a five-day observation, then we cull them upstairs for a residential bed, and then we bring in the next cohort,” Reyes said.
Reyes has worked with Lighthouse since 2014, and in her experience with clients and their stories of addiction, she recalled one that really left a mark.
“There is this particular case, this individual came nine times in our management of withdrawals. The last time this person came, I looked at this person and said “you’re going to die”. Today that person is going to the University of Guam, graduating, being a productive member of the community, reestablishing relationships with family, having a business and doing very well,” Reyes said.
The person’s success story serves as a reminder that drug addiction can be overcome.
“A lot of times in the community we see a negative image of people who use drugs and yes, if they’re actively using drugs, that’s not a good thing. But after using drugs there is treatment and they recover, it’s like a miracle, it’s walking miracles,” she said.
If there’s one stigma surrounding drug addiction that Reyes would like to dispel, it’s to break the stigma that drug addicts are hopeless.
“We are just as important as everyone else.” she says. “We are recovering, if you give proper treatment and proper support people can and do come out of this addicted lifestyle, we really do.”