MASON COUNTY — “The drug problem (in Mason County) is even worse than people know about, it’s ridiculous how many are addicted to drugs or alcohol and don’t have the resources to get the help they need,” Sean Harbour, recovering addict from the Gallipolis Ferry area said.
Harbour was one of three men who agreed to be interviewed by the Point Pleasant Register about their time in Prestera’s Laurelwood Recovery Home in Huntington. A similar home meant to house six men has been funded through state dollars and will be operated in Mason County by Prestera in 2014.
The site for the home hasn’t yet been determined though its mission is long established - give addicts who want their lives back, the tools to do so.
Harbour said he’d been at Laurelwood in Huntington since May and before that went through a detox program. Harbour has a job and pays rent to stay at the home and says the structure of the home gets residents back to being “productive members of society” while “learning to do what ‘normal’ people do.’” Harbour’s ‘normal’ used to include opiates, saying he was a in serious car accident in 2007 which escalated his addiction – after the accident, he no longer had to look for drugs, they were prescribed to him.
“I had physicians telling me I would need medications for the rest of my life,” he said. “Now I use ibuprofen and Nasonex for my allergies and I’m ok with that.”
Harbour said he’s excited his home county is getting a recovery facility.
“There is nothing up there for anybody,” he said. “I had no idea what recovery was until I came to Huntington and now the only people I associate with on a daily basis are people in recovery the same as I am. I am trying to do the right thing.”
As for the Laurelwood recovery home program, Harbour said: “It more than saved my life, it not only saved my life but gave me a better outlook on life for the future. Like, I’m starting to see what life is really all about. I was an addict for many years, I forgot what it was like to just live without putting a drink or drug in my body to get through the day. I’m grateful for that every day.”
Harbour said at Laurelwood, his roommates have different chore assignments as well as homework such as writing papers and reading certain recovery-related materials. In addition, all the roommates meet once a week for what’s called “community” to hold themselves and others accountable for issues that occurred the week before because no one knows an addict like an addict.
Scott Harrison of Cabell County, is the house manager for Laurelwood in Huntington. Harrison is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. He’s been in recovery several years.
“We’re not bad people…we’re not rapists and murderers…we’re sick people trying to get better,” Harrison said. “We’re good people who have a bad problem.”
Harrison said he returned to Huntington six years ago and Prestera played a “huge part in my recovery.” He said he’s seen Huntington become a “mecca” in this part of the state for recovery and the home in Mason County will equate into “planting a seed there.”
“You will see recovery start to grow up there,” Harrison said. “You’ll be amazed after a few years.”
As for how Laurelwood fits into its neighborhood on the Southside of Huntington, Harrison said house residents “take pride in the way the house looks” and there were no complaints he was aware of – saying on one side of the street was an elderly woman and the other an attorney’s office.
Harrison said he wants neighbors to know those living at the house are recovering and they do. He said he believed people would rather know what is next door to them as opposed to not knowing about a neighbor caught up in addition.
“We try to be goodwill ambassadors with the neighborhood and so all their (neighbors) fears are eased and they are comfortable with us being there,” Harrison said.
Harrison said at the Huntington house there are security cameras to cover exits but, as he put it, “I’ve always said to thine own self be true,” meaning, at a certain point, an addict has to set themselves to higher standard or they’ll “eventually choose to keep doing the wrong thing.”
Harrison said the whole idea isn’t to catch residents doing wrong but to let them know “we care about you enough and love you enough to hold you accountable.”
Random drug testing and breathalyzer tests are also done at Laurelwood recovery homes and often.
Harrison said the whole idea of this transition home is to put sobriety first and take the time to work on that, to ease people back into society. People will receive not only the tools but the structure to put their recovery in place at the home. Most people who live at one of the Laurelwood facilities will be there for six months to a year. Infractions of the rules will result in residents being asked to leave the house.
The idea of transparency is important to Prestera, according to Kim Miller, spokesperson for the organization. After all, sobriety and recovery is based upon accountability.
“We promise to be good neighbors and have a track record of that,” Miller said. “We’re helping people.”
Miller said the recovery home will have a ripple effect to help communities, families and employers.
“Prestera is proud to grow this resource in Mason County,” Miller added. “We don’t have programs in rural areas but they are just as needed as those in the city.”
This means the home in Mason County will be a test, as it is the first of its kind in a less populated area – in addition to the recovery home in Huntington, there is another in Charleston. Mason County residents will be given first option to live in the house though it’s possible the residents could come from other West Virginia counties. However, with the amount of those needing recovery in Mason County, it seems there will be no shortage of local residents.
Travis Anderson, of East Bank in Kanawha County, is a young father who has been a roommate of Harbour’s for a few months at Laurelwood in Huntington. Anderson is a 2006 graduate from West Virginia University with a degree in biochemistry who went on to complete his first year of medical school. That future was derailed by drug and alcohol abuse.
“I didn’t know how to live my life without it (drugs, alcohol),” Anderson said. “As long as I was being responsible and taking care of my bills, no one asked me about it (his addiction).”
After completing his first year of medical school, Anderson’s life spun out of control.
“I wanted to change (at that point) but I didn’t know how,” he said. “I’d never been introduced to recovery. It took me another five years after that to get to the point, the moment of desperation.”
After going through detox, Anderson moved into an apartment in Huntington but he said “it wasn’t enough structure.” He then ended up at Laurelwood.
“Honestly, in all aspects, its been the best decision I’ve probably made in a long time,” he said, becoming emotional as he spoke. “It helped my life and the lives of others. It’s hard to put into words the things I’ve learned there.”
He spoke about the “community” meeting each week with his peers and how it was a learning tool.
“You can’t hide from everybody,” he explained. “I’m best at deceiving myself but when you’re sitting in a room with 10 or 12 other addicts, I usually learn something about myself. Its been invaluable to learn how to hold myself accountable and see things as other people do.”
Anderson said without Laurelwood, his death certificate would’ve already been signed. He said he now has his relationship back with his family and has a job where he is a trusted employee.
“I have my life back,” he said. “I’m a selfish person, I always want. I’ve been in recovery a short period of time, 16 months last week, and still have a lot of work to do.”
Anderson said to be successful in his recovery, he will continue to live life as he’s learned it at Laurelwood.
“That place has given so much to me, it’s hard for people to understand what it means to learn how to live without using drugs,” he said.