don't give up. You are not alone, you matter signage on metal fence
Jackie Fales, of Cody, Wyo., had to adjust her addiction recovery plan when the coronavirus pandemic hit last spring. Photo: Dan Meyers

CODY, Wyo. (AP) — When Jackie Fales was admitted to the Cedar Mountain Center she weighed 78 pounds. There was almost nothing left on her five-foot-seven-inch tall frame.

The Cody resident said she entered treatment in 2016 not out of choice, but necessity.

“I didn’t want to die and I knew if I didn’t stop I was going to die,” she said.

Fales is in long-term recovery from heroin and meth. After in-person treatment, she started her intensive outpatient treatment with Park County Drug Court.

Even after graduating from Drug Court in 2018, Fales continued attending the program. She also started volunteering at Cedar Mountain, work experiences she described as “the most fulfilling job” she’s ever had, the Cody Enterprise reports.

“Everytime I left, my soul felt full,” she said. “I just really wanted to be around people who were struggling like I was and give them hope that things can be different.”

Fales got her peer specialist certification in 2019, a credential that allows her to provide personalized insight and her first-hand experiences to those going through treatment.

“I kept showing up at all of those places until they decided to hire me,” she said with a laugh.

Now, she is the family program facilitator for Cedar Mountain Center and works in a position supported by a Wyoming Department of Health grant at Cody Regional Behavioral Health as a peer support specialist, as well as being a peer support specialist for Drug Court too.

Pandemic effects

Fales said some of the most critical aspects to recovering from substance abuse disorder directly conflicted with the set of norms the COVID-19 pandemic brought on.

“Staying connected and not isolating is a lot of what recovering from substance use disorder is about,” she said. “When suddenly we had to isolate and limit contact with our support system, many of us had to rethink our recovery program and how we were going to stay connected.”

Recovery groups and therapists rely on group and individual sessions to provide tools and learning for their students, but when the pandemic hit, in-person sessions were ripped away from many organizations for an extended period. Cedar Mountain Center, for instance, closed its doors for about two months at the start of the pandemic.

“It wasn’t even an option for those people who are most at risk to get any sort of help,” she said, which she attributed to a few relapses. “I saw a lot of people with a lot of time in recovery and watched them relapse after that happened.”

Stability, both emotional and physical, is an essential part of recovery from any addiction. Attaining this baseline gives an individual confidence that they will be able to avoid relapse, according to Laguna Treatment Hospital, through a regular schedule dedicated to avoiding relapsing and improving one’s life. It was this sense of stability that drove Fales to keep working with treatment entities even after she finished their programs.

“A lot of people struggled in those first few months,” said Fales. “I think it was extremely difficult for people who didn’t suffer with a substance abuse disorder or mental illness. It was just incredibly hard on the people who do.”

Making adjustments

Despite staying clean for about 3 1/2 years by the start of the pandemic, Fales said she had a few weeks last spring where she felt “very uncomfortable.”

“I had to figure something out real quick,” she said.

Addiction can start to creep back into one’s life even if they are not putting substances into their body, Fales said.

“The addictive behavior of spending too much time on your phone, shopping, spending too much money,” Fales said, “(Doing) things that aren’t healthy to avoid whatever uncomfortable feelings you’re dealing with.”

She had to make an adjustment to her own relapse prevention plan to fit what was happening in the world around her. This involved reducing down time in her day by getting outside as much as possible, going out of her way to spend time with her children and other family members, video chatting with others and communicating with others about the struggles she was going through.

“It took about 2-3 weeks to feel like I was comfortable again,” she said. “I knew that if I didn’t figure out a different way to connect with people – because connection is so big in my recovery – that things were not going to end well.”