New Kensington-based addiction recovery program doubles its efforts
Every addict has a story, and Lost Dreams Awakening founders VonZell Wade and Laurie Johnson-Wade have heard so many, nothing shocks the recovery advocate duo anymore.
The couple met while in recovery, married and have remained sober for 26 years, opening New Kensington-based nonprofit Lost Dreams in 2014.
They are tired of addicts remaining silent about their recovery stories.
"We recover out loud," Wade said.
Demand for Lost Dreams' recovery services doubled from 2016 to 2017, with 7,000 visitors last year.
In the United States, the statistics on addiction are staggering.
Data from the 2016 Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health show more than 66 million people in the United States were binge drinking regularly and more than 27 million reported using illicit drugs or misusing prescription drugs.
The numbers mean Lost Dreams needs to grow.
The program is training 20 additional recovery coaches for a target of 40.
"Recovery coaches are the basic nucleus of our services. We need more coaches because we didn't have enough people last year to meet the needs of those who were asking for coaching," Johnson-Wade said. "Addiction is a disease. It hijacks the brain."
Recovery coaching candidates often are in long-term (defined usually as five-plus years sober) recovery themselves, although that is not a requirement. They train for weeks and the $900 or more their program, Recovery Coach Academy, costs is covered by Lost Dreams.
A bright spot on the national recovery horizon: 25 million people were reported in the same surgeon general's report to be in stable remission (one year or longer of sobriety).
Kristyn Leatherwood, 30 of New Kensington depends on the coaches at Lost Dreams for her continued sobriety.
Peppy, bright-eyed with shiny, long hair, the youthful Leatherwood looks more like a soccer mom you would see on the sidelines rather than someone searching for her next fix.
"I get that all the time," she said when asked about her too-nice-to-be-doing-drugs demeanor. "But I've been using drugs since I was 11."
By age 12, Leatherwood said, she was shooting up heroin. Her mother at the time was sick and wasn't really supervising Leatherwood's whereabouts, she said. She she began with marijuana and alcohol, gradually turning to prescription pills. But, "they got to be too expensive" and she returned to heroin.
"My older brothers were using drugs and I just wanted to be like them," she said. "My older brothers were always partying, and I got into that scene."
Her rock bottom? "When my daughter was taken away from me. Her dad went to jail and she was placed with my grandparents, and that is when I knew I needed to get it together, for her."
Leatherwood celebrated one year and two months of sobriety this week at Lost Dreams. She credits the resources provided by the organization for her steady sobriety path.
The Wades implemented a "HOPE Squad," providing living proof through recovery coaches that recovery is possible. "Hope is the vehicle that carries you into all areas of recovery," Johnson-Wade said.
"HOPE stands for 'Hold On, Pain Ends,' and we really believe that, as an individual puts down the drugs and they just hold on, lost dreams do awaken," Wade said.
You're sober, now what?
Entering the world of sobriety can seem intimidating, isolating and overwhelming for many addicts, the Wades said. That's were sober living recovery facilities can help, but the demand is outstripping the supply.
More than 23 million addicts in the United States are in recovery and, while there are more than 400 sober living homes in Pennsylvania, there aren't enough in the Alle-Kiski Valley, Johnson-Wade said.
"Housing is one of the greatest barriers for those in early recovery," Johnson-Wade said. Sober homes "are always full because the need is so great."
Unity Home Partners owns and operates three sober recovery living homes in the Alle-Kiski Valley, two in New Kensington and one in Kittanning.
The largest, in Kittanning, features eight apartments with 16 bedrooms. All facilities offer fully furnished apartments priced affordably (averaging $450 per month) along with local resources such as 12-step meetings, mental health and family counseling services, a house manager and recovery coach support.
Renovations on a fourth site, a six-bedroom home in Tarentum, are scheduled to begin this summer, with a projected opening this fall.
Unity Home also has an associated company that does addiction counseling for veterans.
The company was founded by Dan Laughery, Bill Baker and Sherrie Peterson — all in recovery themselves, with an understanding on how to stay clean and sober.
"A lot of people in these communities don't want these recovery homes because of the stigma associated with addiction," Johnson-Wade said, "when, in fact, it's been proven they take better care of the residence, are productive members of society and they make great neighbors."
"As addicts, we want instant gratification," Laughery said. "There is no magic fix for the disease of addiction. It takes a full continuum of care and concerted, consistent effort across the board."
Laughery, 47, said alcohol still is the most-abused substance because of "it's social acceptability and easy access" for addicts.
"Since I got sober in 2010, I have had 60 people die that I knew from addiction," he said. "I am in a 12-step program, and I am trying to teach our residents to make adult decisions. Sober living homes require residents to follow house rules such as drug testing, doing chores and working — what Laughery calls "adulting."
Flunk a drug test, and off you go said Laughery. "I can't have one bad apple spoiling the bunch."
Jason Foy, 33 of Somerset doesn't want to relapse again. Foy served time in prison after years of addiction to alcohol, heroin and crack that led to criminal pursuits, resulting in arrests for armed robberies. He credits his sober living environment for his 18-month sobriety milestone.
"Right now, I am grateful for the support group that I've developed here, for being clean and in recovery and for the opportunity that I have here," Foy said.
Joyce Hanz is a freelance writer. Tribune-Review staff writer Chuck Biedka contributed to this report. Reach him at 724-226-4711, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @ChuckBiedka.