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by Julie Harrington
Deb Wyand looked around at the familiar faces she sees at the Northampton Recovery Center weekly and started the meeting.
“Hi everyone, my name is Deb and I’m in recovery.”
She opened the floor for any of the members in the circle around her to share their experiences and talk about what they are going through. Due to her short stature, this group of people, including several inmates from the Hampshire House of Correction, might be expected to overpower her, but her colorful personality and encouraging smile gives her a large presence that invites the members to contribute.
Wyand works as a recovery coach at the Northampton Recovery Center, opened in 2016, and will soon begin working at the Franklin Recovery Center in Greenfield, Massachusetts. In response to the growing opioid epidemic facing the country, these recovery centers are in higher demand than ever before, and have an increasing presence in the Pioneer Valley area.
After struggling with substance abuse issues for the greater part of her life, Wyand has been in recovery for two years and devotes her time to helping other people who are struggling the same way she did. She helps facilitate the various group meetings the center holds, as well as working with members individually to provide the guidance and support they need at all stages of their journey with recovery.
“I am an alcoholic. It’s in my genetics,” said Wyand. From her childhood into her adult life, alcoholism was always present. She was always going to be “addicted to something,” she explained.
As a child, growing up in Maine, Wyand was exposed to her father’s alcoholism and found herself following a similar path from a young age.
“I remember when I was a kid, Christmas time was always big, everyone would always be drunk,” Wyand said.
“I would say the first drink I had was probably 10 years old,” She said. Early use of alcohol combined with an abusive relationship in her teen years brought out a pattern of “self-medication” in her life, she said.
“15 and 16 years old is huge for your development and I was partying pretty hard then. I was also in an abusive relationship. That kind of formed a lot of things and fed the fire for me as an alcoholic,” Wyand said. “For instance, I had guns put to my head. It was bad and my family never knew. My parents were clueless and I don’t think my mother has ever gotten over that when I told her about it many years later.”
About seven years ago, Wyand went to a doctor for pain she was having and received opiates. From there, her pattern of addiction transferred to this new substance, which she used after not using drugs while going to school.
“From there it kind of went downhill. In between it all, I went to school and I received my BA from Westfield State in special education and my minor was psych, and then I got my masters from Smith College to teach the deaf and here I am,” she said.
Wyand’s goal had been to become a special education teacher, but she ultimately did not pass the MTEL, the certification exam she needed.
“That was my dream, and when that came to an end, I really fell off the wagon. I was clean for 5 or 6 years; I would have never gotten my masters if I was drinking like I used to,” said Wyand.
Wyand has been married for 31 years and has two college-age children. Her son is a senior at Emerson College in Boston, and her daughter is an under-classman at Regis College. Wyand is proud of them and gushes about their involvement on campus and achievements at school.
Wyand made many attempts to get sober throughout her life, and upon trying to quit alcohol “cold-turkey,” she had a seizure and ended up in the hospital. She said she received little help because the doctors didn’t know why it happened or how to properly treat her.
She said, “I decided then that I wasn’t going to take opiates anymore, and I relapsed a year later. If it wasn’t for my husband…I almost lost my family. I am lucky. My husband, honest to God, if it wasn’t for him, I would be dead.”
Wyand’s struggle to remain sober and avoid relapse put a strain on her relationships with her family.
“[My husband] had about had it with me too, and I almost lost my daughter. She is finally coming around. I work my ass off to keep that relationship,” Wyand said.
With two years of sobriety, Wyand now hopes to make a career out of being a recovery coach. She recently graduated from a certificate program at Westfield State for people who are in recovery to become recovery coaches. The program is supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and allows people to attend without tuition.
“I learned ethics, motivational interviewing, and more skills to become a recovery coach at Westfield State,” said Wyand.
Wyand’s position at the Northampton Recovery Center allows her to become involved in helping other people who are also in recovery follow the right path for them.
“When you’re a recovery coach, you kind of give support, but you also might drive someone to appointments, you are available to listen, you try to prevent barriers and obstacles for people in their recovery,” she said.
Wyand said she is excited to be pursuing this path, despite it being different than what she had originally set out to do.
“Now I’m doing what I think I was supposed to do. I’m using my degree in another way,” said Wyand.
No doctors, no police or prosecutors, no experts...just real people who have been affected by opioid addiction. Join us for a special WHMP Community Forum. Join us at the Parlor Room in Northamton, or listen to the live broadcast on WHMP 96.9FM or online at WHMP.com. Re-broadcast Thursday 1/25 from 7-9 a.m.
We've put together a great panel, with Khadijah Tuitt, Kali Baba McConnell, Deb Wyand & Henry Brown, who's son Patrick, 28, died from a heroin overdose in 2016. Henry, who wrote a courageous column in the Gazette after Pat's death, is the inspiration for this forum & gave people like me, who've come perilously CLOSE to losing a child to this scourge, the guts to come out & get real.
The New York Times, November 4, 2017
NRC Celebrates One Year Anniversary!
Check out all the love and local press:
HOPE, REMEMBRANCE and RECOVERY, June 15, 2017
Sam, Bob and Lynn at the Candlelight Vigil, First Churches Thursday night, a memorium for those lost to opioid overdose death. Very dynamic speakers there, proponents of ending the shame, isolation and stigma those challenged with substance use feel; proponents of safe injection sites, and invitations to all to visit the NRC.
See editorial in Gazette about two recent articles: the challenges that a family faces when there are terrifying challenges with substance use, mom Jill Panto presented on May 22 at the NRC about SOAAR (Speaking Out About Addiction & Recovery), the organization she co-created in Belchertown and the second about Craig Stevens, owner of LandScapes, a Northampton design and build business. Sober now for nearly 17 years, Stevens hires mostly those recovering from drug addiction. He recently rented out the Academy of Music in downtown Northampton and screened the film "Generation Found".
By LYNN FERRO
For the Daily Hampshire Gazette
It all started when...
Listen to Northampton Recovery Center members talk about where they've been, and how far they've come. The NRC is a significant resource in their lives. Interim Director, Lynn Ferro gives the background and current status of the Center. Interview held April 5, 2017.
To listen to the podcast, see link below:
"Finally an approach to addiction and alcoholism that not only is supportive while offering valuable tools for my recovery, most importantly serves as a bridge into the local community."
– Ebon Graves