There have been some alarming statistics about deaths involving drugs in Winnebago County. Those statistics could have been higher were it not for drugs that can save a person who overdoses on opioids. But that is just the beginning of the road to recovery.
Seeking recovery through faith
Each Friday night, Heartland Community Church in Rockford hosts Celebrate Recovery. It’s a faith-based program to help people and their loved ones through what it calls “hurts, hang-ups, and habits.”
“It’s recovery with Jesus, and there is no fear of talking about that,” said John Brennan, director of Celebrate Recovery at Heartland. "We are not going to beat you over the head with a Bible or throw Scripture at you and tell you have to memorize or do any of those kinds of things. What we are going to ask you to do is to walk in a way that is different from the way you walked before."
Meetings like this frequently include large group fellowship followed by breakout groups with time for personal testimony.
“It’s not about me fixing you or you fixing me,” Brennan said. "It is about how my relationship with God changes so that he can transform me into a usable vessel."
Brennan says there are efforts to have Celebrate Recovery available each night at churches around the Rockford-area for people struggling with different types of addiction.
There is a more controversial recovery path.
Cheryl Piper works with Remedies Renewing Lives, a methadone maintenance facility in Rockford.
“I had to be kind of made a believer myself in many ways because that’s not my background and it never was.”
Piper gets to work by 5 a.m. to help administer the daily doses of medicine customized to each patient to reduce drug cravings.
"There is no euphoria," Piper said. "I think people think they are getting high on it, but they are not because it doesn’t reach a peak. They feel normal. They feel like they can work. They feel like they can take care of their kids. They feel like they can go to school. They can function and whatever they are supposed to be doing.”
Methadone comes in liquid form at this facility to keep clients from pretending to take the drug just to sell it on the streets.
People pay for treatment based on a sliding scale, and the facility receives federal funds. The facility also doles out Suboxone ---typically used for oral pill abusers. The drugs are given early each morning to make it easier for clients to work after they get their dose. Piper says nearly 60 percent of them have jobs.
How long clients are on methadone maintenance depends on how long they have been using drugs. Piper says it can range from six to 18 months or lifelong if necessary.
“The youngsters that I am seeing today start using chemicals when they are 12 and 13 years old. They stop their emotional growth. They grow up physically, and they look like they are adults; but they don’t think like adults. They don’t problem-solve like adults. So, when you get them in treatment, you have an adolescent in front of you even though they are in the 20s or 30s.”
Experiential therapy to fill the gap
People working in 12-step recovery programs also recognize this lost development caused by drugs.
Philip Eaton is CEO of Rosecrance, one of the largest drug treatment systems in the state and region. It serves 22,000 people each year for substance abuse and mental health issues.
“Many of the things that young adults or adolescents would typically experience, and perhaps develop, are interests and the realization that they have a particular skill or talent," he says. "[Those] go by the wayside.”
That includes sports, art, and music.
“One of the things we do in treatment is try to expose them to many experiences, that’s why they call it ‘experiential’ therapy," Eaton said. "It’s like throwing mud on the wall. We hope for each person, some degree of it will stick in terms of things they take with them in their recovery.”
Rosecrance is celebrating 100 years in the Rockford community. It grew from a place for neglected children during the Great Depression to working with teens overcoming addiction in the 1980s and adding services for adults in the 90s. Rosecrance offers one of the few detox units in the area.
“A treatment program is kind of like teaching someone to read or going through any other kind of educational process," Eaton explained. "They can didactically or experientially learn things. Whether they indeed apply those things that they learn or not is something that we try to help motivate them. It isn’t just knowledge of a skill. It is the motivation that there is value in implementing the skill.”
Rosecrance offers inpatient and outpatient services in a variety of settings, and they are in high demand.
“Access is an issue,” Eaton said. "It is a huge issue."
Eaton says he understands the frustration over the wait times because, when someone is battling addiction, time can be of the essence. He says insurance coverage also varies greatly.
That’s why Eaton says persistence and outside support are key in the modern recovery world.
“There are so many variables in our society, whether it be political, economic, socio-economic that impact someone getting into treatment," he said. "Sometimes we see that the motivation of a solid family makes the difference versus where there is not the motivation of a solid family, the motivation of an employer, the motivation of a spouse, the motivation of parents of how quickly to intervene.”
Eaton says one of the greatest assets for Rosecrance is that, for the past century, it has evolved with the needs of those seeking help through expansions and new treatments.
“It’s those notes back or a phone call back or when a patient stops back in and says ‘I’m 8½ years sober and I finished college.' Those are the success stories and the feedback and the outcomes that really fuel and motivate us and our staff going forward because addiction treatment is a tough business,” he said.
Not One Size Fits All
After working in different treatment settings, Kevin Polky set out on his own path and started KP Counseling which emphasizes outpatient small groups and focuses on self-pay or private insurance. He says that means he can usually fit in a client within 48 hours.
“There was a song years ago that Metallica did which totally describes to me addiction, called ‘Master of Puppets.’ It starts off talking about the main character of the song controlling the cocaine," Polky said. "As the song evolves, the cocaine now becomes the master and the character -- the person -- becomes the puppet. We choose at the beginning and then it starts choosing you.”
Polky may have a metal mentality at the heart of his philosophy, but his solutions are much more laid back.
His 8,000-square-foot facility feels like walking into a spa with scented candles and warm colors -- and no Metallica music.
“That's why, when they have had opportunities for a breakthrough moment or maybe be able to have a piece of that light or that hope, then there may be something either sound-wise, or look-wise, or smell-wise that may help trigger them when they are not here as well,” Polky said.
He says the people who walk in are just ordinary people struggling with something.
It was the type of setting that helped Hans Schumacher on his road to recovery.
“I guess I was a functioning addict," Schumacher said. "I still held down a job and did everything I had to do to not live on the streets. I didn’t know why I was using, so the program here just allowed me to come in and out and still learn a lot of education about why I was doing it and what I was going through at the time.”
He experimented with drugs in high school, but a routine trip to the dentist gave him his first taste of Vicodin -- an addiction that quickly consumed him.
Schumacher says talking out life’s stresses has been the most effective for him each week, but getting those truths out in front of a group of people wasn’t always easy.
“It was probably one of my biggest fears," he said, "but that was obviously what I needed to get over and one of the things I am still in group today because I get a lot out of it.”
Schumacher’s treatment involved aftercare that focused on his journey as a husband, preparing for a baby, and buying a house.
“After that first initial piece, Hans, I don’t even know how often we talked about your addiction," Polky said to his client. "It was more about ‘How are we going to do life?’”
Now three and a half years sober, Schumacher continues to attend small group meetings and says he works to stay clean.
“Some of the things you have to be a little more wise about," he said, "like I don’t go to some parts of Rockford where I used to buy drugs and things like that. You just have to be smart about it.”
Like many who have been given a second chance through treatment, Schumacher desperately wants to give back to those who have helped him on his road to recovery.
Polky tells him that’s exactly what he is doing when he talks openly about his struggle and helps break down the stigma of addiction. Polky says that’s a major way to win back control.
These are just a few of the many resources available in Winnebago County for drug treatment. Other local programs include:
Al-Tech Services, Inc.
2233 Charles Street #G
6090 Strathmoor Dr. #1
5301 E. Riverside Blvd.
1210 11th St.