Two 19-year-olds who have struggled with drug addiction now are working daily to help others with their battles.
What began with “normal teen experimentation” with marijuana and alcohol quickly escalated to a dangerous, out-of-control existence, they said.
But, Aaron's been sober more than 14 months, and Kayley for a year as of last Monday.
For their sake and that of the teens they mentor daily, they pray that time does march on, instead of stopping and starting over.
Aaron and Kayley each have undergone drug use that spanned a few years. They now serve as peer recovery coaches in Teen Recovery Solutions' after-school and weekend program for teens who are seeking support in their recovery and want to finish high school.
“Even if they say they don't want it sometimes,” Kayley said, “I know that somewhere in there I'm helping them and that helps me so much.
“We're all the same, we're all searching for something to fill those feelings that we hate.”
It takes support
Teen Recovery Solutions, formerly Oklahoma Outreach Foundation, includes Mission Academy high school and the Mission Peer Group.
The private recovery high school helps teens recover from drug and alcohol addictions while allowing them to finish high school. It is a recovery-based environment in which the student can complete their high school requirements for graduation rather than going back to their previous school setting, where relapse often occurs with the same friends, said Janet Oden, executive director of Teen Recovery Solutions.
While students of the academy are required to participate in the alternative peer group, the program is also open to students of other Oklahoma City metro-area schools who are battling substance abuse.
Mike Maddox, Clinical Director at Teen Recovery Solutions, went to Houston to observe just such a program that stresses good peer involvement through positive social activities. The model was created to address the teens' social, psychological and emotional issues. Plus, it involves a lot of family participation. For example, there are sessions with the parents in which they are asked to set healthy boundaries, letting the teens know what they expect such as being honest and following the rules.
“Alternative peer groups have demonstrated a 90 percent recovery rate for teens versus only a 10 percent to 50 percent recovery rate for other recovery programs,” Oden said. “Recovery takes support and that's what is being offered at Mission Academy and the Mission Peer Group.”
It takes time
“Teens have got to have fun in recovery, or they're going to go back to using drugs and alcohol,” Maddox said of the alternative peer group. “It's about teaching them how to have fun without getting high or drunk.
“Counseling in itself, treatment in itself, it's not a quick fix. It's a process of change over time. It's getting away from that immediate gratification of drugs and alcohol.”
For Aaron and Kayley, it's a way to “pay it forward” and share their experience, strength, and hope. It's also one way they are hoping to avoid any return trips through the misery of drug and alcohol abuse for themselves and the students they work with, such as Trevor.
Trevor is only 14, but already has been through a battle with a prescription painkiller.
“I hated taking a look at my past and looking at all the crappy things I've done to people, but that's what it required for me,” Trevor said.
Instead of feeling surrounded by toxic temptations of abuse, Trevor believes he has recovery all around him. The school and the alternative peer group can be the brick and mortar allowing the teen to build a much sturdier way of life.
“It's good to have people that are younger who can relate to you,” Trevor said. “And even if I was sober in a public school, I don't feel like there's someone I could run to and say like ‘Hey man I really want to go get high right now,' but I could go into Mike's office any time of the day and tell him that and he'd be able to talk with me.
“These are people who are staying sober with you, around you, who can support you.”
Maddox said, “Once students come in we want them to see some benefits of change, to see how their use of drugs or alcohol has been damaging some part of their lives whether it's family or social relationships, legal issues or their spiritual or moral values.”
Teen Recovery Solutions offers teens and families options and support needed to learn a better way of living in recovery, Oden said.
The program includes recovery therapy groups and parent groups that offer education and counseling with the families.
But there are also activities. They include kayaking, bowling or rock climbing during alternative peer group activities after school and on weekends. These are times that might be especially troublesome for some teens struggling with addictions, Maddox said.
During the recent fall break, the staff and students of Mission Academy took a few days to go to Beavers Bend in southeastern Oklahoma. Instead of opening textbooks, they climbed up in the saddle and rode horses. Instead of sitting in chairs next to a table, they met around a lakeside camp fire. And while Kayley and the others may not remember the words, they likely won't forget the experience — the positive experience.
Maddox said that euphoric feeling they desire to find in alcohol or drugs, will chase them down a nightmarish road. So it's very important to provide teens with those positive experiences.
“We're trying to take them out of that grasp,” he said. “We want to show them there are much more worthwhile things in life.”