Alcohol and drug abuse cost Alaska’s economy more than $1 billion every year. That includes millions in lost productivity and millions more spent on health care, social services and the criminal justice system, according to a 2012 McDowell Group report.
Shame and stigma can make it difficult to get help for substance abuse. But a group of Juneau residents is out to change that. They organized last weekend’s Recovery Fest to celebrate those seeking to overcome addiction.
It’s a sunny afternoon at Sandy Beach in downtown Douglas, and a crowd is gathering around a dunk tank filled with several gallons of cold water. Dusty Dumont, a parole officer for the state Department of Corrections, sits on a platform above the water, dry for now. Then someone throws a ball that’s right on target and Dumont splashes into the water as the crowd lets out a cheer.
“I did get dunked quite a few times,” Dumont says later, wrapped in a towel and standing next to a picnic shelter.
“For a good cause,” she adds with a laugh.
The cause she’s talking about is addiction recovery. Programs like 12 step, Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, professional counseling and peer-to-peer treatment.
“The majority of the people on my case load are struggling with addiction, and I would love to see more of this so that people feel like they belong and are part of a strong community that’s sober,” Dumont says.
Kara Nelson is one of the people on Dumont’s case load. The 40-year-old mother of three spent more than half her life abusing drugs and alcohol before sobering up in 2011.
“I never really had a drug of choice,” Nelson says. “Whatever you had I’ll take, whatever’s going to get me out of my right mind right now.”
Like a lot of addicts at Recovery Fest, Nelson says no one event led to her getting clean. Rather, it was a series of what she calls “bottoms.” She says her family, friends and members of her church help her stay sober. She also credits peer-to-peer therapy, where former users support each other.
“If you’re like me, I don’t like to feel like anyone is trying to tell me what to do,” she says. “I mean, I already have so much shame on me. So when I’m with someone who’s already been through that, I definitely can identify, and work through things a little better and get to that humbled spot that we need to get to to move forward.”
Carol McDaid pushed to get addiction services included in the Affordable Care Act as a Washington, D.C. lobbyist for treatment organizations. She’s also been in recovery for drug and alcohol abuse for 16 years.
“The thing that was my biggest mark of shame is now my biggest asset,” McDaid says.
A frequent guest speaker at events around the country, she talks about putting a face on addiction recovery.
“That’s why we’re out here today. So that people don’t have to think we’re these people under bridges swigging out of brown bags,” McDaid says. “We are tax paying, loving members of our family, and members of our community that add rather than detract. And I think if we do that enough, we will show that there’s a benefit to doing it.”
Katie Chapman, executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Juneau Chapter, is celebrating four and a half years sober. NCADD helps organize the weekly Juneau Recovery Community meetings, where the idea for Recovery Fest first took shape. Chapman says the group hopes to hold more public events that shine a light on recovery and reduce the stigma for those struggling to overcome addictions.
“I’m happy to do that here today,” Chapman says. “I’m proudly wearing a shirt that says ‘I got recovery’ on the back of it, because I do and I’m proud of it. It’s something to be proud of.”