The road to recovery

........................................................................................................................................................................................

It’s raining the day Edward Davis goes to Starbucks in Los Lunas. While there, he talks about what’s going on in his life right now.

Lindsey Nesmith is the outpatient therapist with Partners in Wellness, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Los Lunas.

He has a “job” job — he is getting to visit with one of his sons and he is helping others maintain a sober life.

For years, Davis used, sold and made methamphetamines. After numerous run-ins with the law and time in prison, he realized his life had to change.

Clean and sober for more than two years now, Davis is putting his life back on track. He is enrolled in 14 credit hours of classes at the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus and is going through court-ordered therapy in an effort to re-establish a relationship with his two oldest children.

And he has a new job on campus. Davis said he walked into the bookstore between classes to grab a bottle of water.

“And of course that was the day I’d forgotten my wallet,” Davis says with a laugh.

The woman behind the counter told him not to worry; he was famous.

Amanda Redden is the bookkeeper for the bookstore and also takes care of the hiring.

“I had read about Edward in the paper and recognized him,” Redden said. “I thought he deserved a second chance.”

She needed a student employee and Davis needed a job. Fate.

Redden said she had no concerns hiring Davis, even knowing he is a convicted felon.

“I’ve known a few people in my life who have had his … troubles,” she said. “He is willing to do whatever is asked of him.”

Davis is a cashier, general merchandise stocker and makes deliveries around campus.

“The other day, I asked him to deliver a case of paper across campus,” Redden said. “He told me, ‘I thought you hired me for my looks not my brawn,’”

Redden said. “I told him, ‘No, I hired you for your brain.’”

The job came along at just the right time for Davis. Three months out of the New Mexico Mens Recovery Academy, he says he’s at the point when many men stumble and fail.

“A lot of guys go back to school, but then the money runs out, they can’t get a job and they go back to doing what they did before,” he said.

To avoid that pitfall, Davis said he wanted to get a part-time job, but found it was a bit of a conundrum. Many employers couldn’t be flexible enough to accommodate his classes three days a week, plus the meetings Davis regularly attends to maintain a sober support network.

But the places that are willing to be flexible were often not willing to hire someone like Davis — a felon with 18 months of probation to complete.

While he is now gainfully employed for 20 hours a week, Davis says he still has some challenges to overcome.

He says the NMMRA was a true blessing in his life, helping him establish coping skills for the “real world,” it was a bit of a mixed blessing.

Davis and the men in the program spend six months building a support system for each other. Then these men, which Davis refers to as brothers, are told that once they are done with the program, if they are still “on paper,” either probation or parole, they can no longer associate.

“It’s hard, you know? In the program they teach you to talk to these guys, to rely on them,” Davis said. “But when it’s over, they kind of pull the rug out from under you and you have to start all over again.”

But start over again was what he did. Davis said he has put together a support network of “good people who are there for me.”

Good people and a new-found love, nay addiction, to Starbucks’ coffee keeps him going forward. Is addicted the right word? Is that offensive?

Davis grins and shakes the clear cup with the melted whipped cream and caramel drizzle remnants of his third venti coffee of the afternoon.

“Oh addicted,” he says.

He owns the addiction, and seems amused by it, but the DSM-IV-TR, the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, lists the substance abuse criteria for everything from alcohol to methamphetamine to caffeine. Yes, caffeine.

Published in 2000 by the American Psychiatric Association, the two-inch thick book is Lindesy Nesmith’s Bible. As the outpatient therapist with Partners in Wellness, Nesmith uses the manual to evaluate potential clients.

Partners in Wellness is a non-profit, 501 (c)(3) established in New Mexico in September 2008. PIW is headquartered in Los Lunas.

During the intake interview, she determines if the person is abusing a substance or if they have crossed the line into full blown addiction.

Nesmith says for most abuse is marked by things such as discipline issues at school for adolescents or trouble with law enforcement.

“There are signals that you need to stop, re-evaluate your behavior, make changes, cut down or stop before full blown addiction,” Nesmith said.

Addiction is when a substance has a significant impact on a part of your life, she said.

“When you are marking time by when you can get your next high or drink,” she said, “it takes most of your time — you are either using, seeking or recovering.”

Once diagnosis has been made, a patient at PIW is guided into a program commensurate with their needs.

The facility offers intensive outpatient program for adults, as well as group and individual counseling for adults and individual counseling for adolescents dealing with abuse and addictions.

While in the 16-week IOP, participants are required to abstain from addictive substances. The commitment to the program is three hours a day, three days a week for group meetings and one hour of individual counseling a week.

Nesmith said PIW clients are also required to attend two additional meetings a week — Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or a faith-based program.

“A support network is critical,” she said. “NA and AA are everywhere and they are known programs.”

Partners in Wellness accepts anyone who wants help, Nesmith said.

“We have a ‘no eject, no reject policy,’” she said. “Anyone can walk in for an assessment and seek help.”

But seeking help doesn’t always mean permanent recovery. People do relapse, Nesmith said, which is frustrating.

“But we start over again if they want to come back,” she said. “They are master liars and con artists, but they are also fantastic, funny, smart people, too. If they can turn their life around, they can do anything.”

Nesmith says she has her own personal investment in seeing people recover from substance abuse. It’s not an easy journey, but it can be done with strong support and the right program.

“There’s no quick fix,” she said. “As they say, the only thing you have to change is everything.”

Now on the other side of addiction themselves, Valerie and Pedro Jaramillo are trying to provide a safe place for men in recovery.

The Expect a Miracle men’s home is a six-month recovery program for the substance abuser who has a desire to change. The program is based in their home in Los Lunas, a five-bedroom house they are renting.

“We bring in men who are struggling with addiction and try to help them go back into the world,” Valerie said. “It is open to anyone who is ready to get help. A lot of these guys have given up and this gives them hope.”

The couple became involved in the program nearly a decade ago when they sought help from Valley Life Fellowship in Artesia. They entered the home-based program and it made such a difference in their lives, they stayed for eight years, learning about the program and its foundations — the 14 lessons designed to give the new believer the essential truths of the Christian faith, the ins and outs concerning the victorious Christian life.

“We wanted to let people know they are not alone. We want to bring change to the community,” she said.

The men who come into the home are often still using. The couple goes out on the street to minister and offer help. They will sit with them, sometimes for days at a time, caring for them as they detox.

“But they have to be willing to work and be sober,” Pedro said. “This is not a crash and burn place. Everyone has a job, chores and we study the Bible.”

The couple literally sold the majority of their possessions to make the move to Los Lunas and start the men’s home. The ministry consumes all their time.

“Yes, we do live off donations,” Pedro said. “We have everything we need — food, shelter, clothes — and we don’t live beyond our means. God will provide.”

The six men in recovery they minister to are housed in the master bedroom in bunk beds. They have use of the large master bathroom and walk-in closet.

“Everyone has their own room, we have plenty of space,” Valerie said.

Since they are inviting men into their home that amount to total strangers, the Jaramillos say they are very careful.

“This is my family, my kids. Of course we take precautions,” Pedro said. “There have been times when a man has been asked to leave, either because he seemed unsafe or just didn’t mesh with the group.”

If a client is asked to leave, Pedro said they drive him to Albuquerque to a homeless shelter.

The Jaramillos didn’t think there was an issue with what they were doing in their home, but in early March they found out that wasn’t the case. A code enforcement officer with the village of Los Lunas knocked on the door.

“He told us to stop,” Pedro said. “He said we were running a rehab center, halfway house, and we needed to cease operations.”

The men have been sleeping at a church in Albuquerque for the past several weeks, while Pedro and Valerie figure out the next step. Pedro said the officer did tell them he couldn’t control how many visitors they had at their home.

“The guys come here during the day, for the Bible study and meals,” Pedro said. But at the end of the day, they sleep elsewhere, for now.

“It never even occurred to us to ask anyone if we could do this,” Valerie said. “The landlord is fine with it; he’s 100 percent behind us. As we’ve been going through this, we’ve learned a lot.”

So for now, while the logistics aren’t the best, the Jaramillos say they will carry on with the program, looking for that miracle from God that will give the men they help a place to rest their heads.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.