BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — While there are many different pathways to recovery, there is a common resource many can rely on. 59 News spoke with several people in long-term recovery who said a supportive community is key.
“It was the early 2000’s when Oxycotin really took over this whole area, is when I found that I couldn’t just stop anymore,” said Brian Akers.
“I lost my dad to a fatal overdose on Thanksgiving Day when I was 15 years old and this year that’ll be 18 years ago, so I’ve been fighting substance use for a long time,” said JoAnna Vance.
“I found Opanas and that was my drug of choice at that point in time. I was still needing to use and then I found heroin. I started to inject heroin here in Beckley and I continued that cycle for a long time. I lost my son to C.P.S. at the age of six,” said Leandrea Quesenberry.
Three different lives. Three different stories of substance use. All with different or multiple rock bottoms. Anyone who deals with substance use will tell you, sometimes hitting rock bottom is not enough to bring about true change.
“Once it gets a hold of you, it’s no longer a choice, it becomes a sickness,” said Stephanie French, the executive director of the Raleigh County Prevention Coalition.
I sat in a basement and thought I was gonna die with a needle in my arm. And I said this out loud, I was like I am going to die with a needle in my arm because I can’t stop. I want to stop. I don’t want to do this forever. And I would tell myself when I wake up in the morning and say this is gonna be the day. This is gonna be the day I’m not going to do this, and by 10:00 o’clock you’re doing it,” said Akers.
Substance abuse took the lives of several of Brian’s friends and family. He spent years in prison for different felonies. He lost the right to be in his eldest daughter’s life when she was seven years old when he sold oxycontin out of his home, and both he and his daughter were robbed.
Akers said what hurt more, was the knowledge that none of those events were enough to get him to stop. He felt there was no one who could truly help him.
“It really wasnt about teaching. It’s about getting a connection. My connection was to that world for so long and I knew a bunch of people who did drugs, bought drugs, sold drugs and that’s who my connections were too. All of a sudden I got this huge community of people that don’t. That worry about staying sober, that are worried about how you behave and that’s a beautiful thing,” said Akers.
“And that’s what people who have never been addicted don’t understand. And that’s why I’m such a huge advocate for people who have substance abuse disorder is so other people like me can understand what they go through,” said French.
“The opposite of addiction is not recovery, it’s a connection, and that’s very much true. Because being connected to your community helps you grow and it helps your community grow,” said Vance, the vice president of the Raleigh County Prevention Coalition.
Vance spends a lot of her time in Charleston fighting for those in long-term recovery. She spent a large portion of her life in recovery, saw herself in Brian, and wanted to help him do the same.
With her help, he met Leandrea Quesenberry, who works as a peer recovery support specialist.
“We do a lot of things there to guide people and help get them on their way and for them to leave there better than what they were,” said Quesenberry.
Through recovery, Vance began a family, while Quesenberry got hers back. Akers said he wants the same for himself, and those like him.
“They both played huge roles in me becoming who I became. I am 27 months at this point, sober, and I have accomplished things that it blows my mind and it’s because I listen to them two,” said Akers.
“Seeing the advocacy that has been built and the lives that have been changed and where these people are now can make me cry like it is so great and it does like. They’re the proof that it works,” said Vance.
“I am so proud of them. Especially Brian, he and I, we’ve known each other since we were small children. I could not understand why he made the decisions and choices that he did, but you know, thankfully you know he saw that he needed to go different places. He was given an opportunity to become sober and he’s taking it and he’s run with it and I’m so proud of him,” said French.
Akers only wishes those he lost had the same community he does and could see how they changed his life.
“Every day I always say it’s one of the reasons I do what I do because I’m not living one life I’m living four. So I owe it to them to not mess this up. My life today is awesome. I am amazed on what I get to do every day every week and it’s all because I just started doing what’s best not for Brian., but doing what’s best for everybody. Doing something good for the world,” said Akers.
Brian works as an outreach coordinator with the human resources development coalition, he recently graduated college, and he even go to vote for the first time since he was first arrested.