Caregiver and recovery coach Bruce Paul of Navigating Recovery. Those in his line of work, including police, have to take steps to care for themselves to be able to care for others. (Karen Bobotas/for The Laconia Daily Sun)
Those helping to fight addiction also have to take care of themselves
BY LEAH WILLINGHAM, LACONIA DAILY SUN
There was a time when officer Eric Adams believed he could save every person struggling with substance misuse.
It was 2014, and Adams was hired by the Laconia Police Department as one of the few law enforcement officers in the state focused solely on drug prevention. Adams would work one patrol shift a week like any other officer, but then spend much of his time meeting individually with people with substance use disorders, connecting them with resources and making plans with them to get and stay clean.
Adams used a flip phone to respond to calls for help seven days a week, at any time of day.
“I thought of it as a problem I could fix by myself,” he said of the drug crisis in the Lakes Region.
But he knew early on that that pace wasn’t sustainable. That was one reason Adams became one of a handful of members of the recovery community who started meeting around 2015 to develop a plan for a resource center in downtown Laconia that would work as an additional resource for people in recovery.
That plan turned into a reality November 2016, when Navigating Recovery opened on Main Street. That facility has eight paid recovery coaches doing a lot of what Adams has been doing for the last few years: meeting with people in recovery in a one-on-one setting, getting to know them, supporting them and making sustainable, safe plans for their futures.
The drug prevention community is still small, Adams said, and, with an increase in overdoses this year — more than the area has ever seen, he says — it can be tough to balance work and self care.
Adams still contacts every person who overdoses within 24 hours of that overdose. He checks in with them several times a day by text, email or call, and meets with each client at least once a week for 90 days. Yet Adams said he now has certain times of night when he won’t answer the phone. His fellow officers have been trained in basic recovery planning and coaching, so he isn’t needed immediately on every case.
This kind of “self care” is essential for first responders in the recovery field, Adams said.
“You have to take care of yourself,” he said. “If you don’t, you get burnt out.”
In addition to delegation, a huge part of Adams’ self-care routine is working out and spending time with his family. When he feels stressed, he goes to the gym, or one of his children's sporting events. When he gets a particularly tough case, he talks to a fellow officer or the police department’s chaplain about it.
Self care is not only essential for Adams, but for everyone working in Laconia’s small, but vibrant, recovery community.
At Navigating Recovery, recovery coach Bruce Paul said they have a counseling and support group for recovery coaches once a week. Paul is in recovery himself — for more than two years now.
He said those check-ins are vital for performing his job, which involves hours coaching at Navigating Recovery and at local hospitals, where he gets called in often to talk to people after overdoses.
“If my mind is not in the right place, I’m useless to everyone else,” Paul said. “I can’t help anybody else if I can’t help myself.”
Practicing self-care is not always easy.
Randy Bartlett, founder of Laconia’s Riverbank House, jokes that he probably suffers from “some serious workaholism.”
The Riverbank House is a longterm treatment facility in downtown Laconia. Bartlett said there are 50 to 60 people living in his recovery community, for sometimes years at a time.
The Riverbank House has been open for five years, and just this past year, Bartlett has opened a number of local businesses in fields such as construction, food service, and meditation and yoga — all run and staffed by Riverbank House alumni.
Bartlett was motivated to open the Riverbank House after he failed to find success in short-term treatment programs when he was struggling with addiction.
In some ways, the Riverbank House has been a form of self-care for Bartlett. Taking care of other people feels good, he said, and it allows him to stay accountable, disciplined and consistent — not only with his clients, but with himself.
“A lot of my life was all about me, and now most of my life is all about what I can do to be of service and what I can do to give back,” he said.
It also can be a challenge. Bartlett works seven days a week, and he has two cell phones that he uses to field all calls for the Riverbank House and his six new businesses.
In order to take care of himself, Bartlett sees a counselor and walks 3.6 miles almost every day between 6 and 7 a.m. That, and his morning and evening meditations, are part of what he calls his “ritual for sanity.”
“I get out of sorts quickly if I don’t do it,” he said.
Depression and mental health concerns have historically been prevalent among first responders.
A survey of more than 4,000 first responders found that 6.6 percent had attempted suicide, which is more than 10 times the rate in the general population, according to a 2015 article published in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services.
Adams said that, over time, he realized he didn’t have control over others’ actions. Even though he knows he can’t save anyone, he said he never turns anyone away who asks for help.
“I think success for me is being able to look within yourself and know that you did the best you could do and not leave anything on the table,” he said. “If you start feeling like you didn’t do enough, it’s always going to bother you and it’s going to eat at you.”
Randy Bartlett of Riverbend in the Karma Cafe calls himself a "workaholic," but makes sure to run and meditate to keep his sanity. (Karen Bobotas/for The Laconia Daily Sun)