My Work as a Certified Recovery Specialist in a Harm Reduction Community

“Experience is of supreme value” - Henry Ford

As my disease of addiction progressed and moved through my life like a tornado twisting and turning and eventually separating me from society. I became isolated, hopeless and had sacrificed everything that was once precious to me it took away my job, my marriage, home and the loving relationships with my family. I was disconnected from the world as I once knew it and was in full flight of reality. The fact that I’m alive today is nothing short of a miracle.

My name is Kelli and I work as a Certified Recovery Specialist (CRS) in a Harm Reduction Community called Prevention Point Philadelphia.

I’m only 52, but I have a lifetime of experience with mental illness and substance use disorders. I use my lived experience each day to help those that suffer, and help build the strength and hope that’s necessary to thrive.  My journey has been nothing short of amazing and has given my life meaning and purpose — something I’ve always searched for.

As long as I can remember I struggled with mental health issues, and I could never get comfortable with my emotions. Feelings of anger, loneliness, sadness and fear of abandonment was always present, leaving a deep hole in my soul.

As a teenager I was insecure and felt different, never really "a part of " and always believed I could never measure up.  I believed that if you knew me, you would only see my flaws, and rejection was right around the corner. I learned to shut down emotionally, and to hide the real me. The environment I was raised in didn’t help. It was chaotic and toxic, and the type of place where emotions and pain were managed with substances. I felt insecure, filled with self-doubt and had no self-esteem. The first time I took a substance all those feelings melted away, and I finally felt comfortable in my own skin.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, my thinking and behaviors I learned as a child were unhealthy. These survival strategies kept me alive, but I wasn’t really living. I went on like this for years, and at thirty years of age I began to develop serious health issues.

I began to have strokes caused by a defect in my heart. Ultimately, I had open heart surgery to repair my heart and save my life. This experience caused me fear and anxiety, and eventually created a deep sadness and depression. I was placed on medication for both, and the medication worked for a while. My fears, doubts and insecurities slipped away, but I continued to use unhealthy behaviors to manage my emotions and my life.

Many years passed and my bad choices continued to pile high as my disease barreled on. Criminal charges, domestic violence and my addiction ruled my life. My life became unrecognizable to me and full of despair. I believed that the people who knew me would be better off without me. Suicide was the one thing I could control, and seemed to be the only way out. I searched for help often, mostly for mental health issues, but never for addiction. I knew the stigma was bigger for addiction and the feelings of guilt and shame would be unbearable. After my last overdose I finally decided to reach out and ask for help from the recovery community —and this changed my life.

Today I work as a CRS, using my life to help others. My focus is to help encourage others to stay engaged in their recovery process. It’s an amazing experience that started with my own personal recovery journey.

I started at Prevention Point Harm Reduction as a volunteer, and this led to a full time job. It has given me endless opportunities to work on myself and my recovery through helping others. Today, I respect myself, and I’m able to openly discuss my life’s struggles, using those experiences to connect with others and help them find their own path in recovery. Making the decision to recover and leave the past behind is monumental and takes tremendous courage. It can feel lonely at first and an important part of my job is to let others know they’re not alone. It’s also important to give those that suffer my undivided attention, sending the message, "you matter and you’re worth it."

The Prevention Point community respected me when I didn’t respect myself. I’m grateful for this and strive to do the same for others each day. I’ve learned that it takes a community to support a person in recovery and no one can do it alone. Each day I get the opportunity to help motivate and empower others to believe in themselves and achieve things they never dreamed were possible. I help others choose their path of recovery and help those to be patient, compassionate and understanding to themselves and to focus on their process and not perfection.

Doing this has taught me so much about people and about myself. I’ve found a new sense of belonging, and a self-awareness that is indescribable. I’ve also found the freedom to really be who I was born to be—maybe the greatest gift of all. I also get to work and learn from amazing people each day. The doctors, case workers and many support staff that genuinely care about our participants needs. They listen with compassion and empathy and with no judgement. They are able to see the big picture. It’s not an easy job but a job that delivers incredible rewards.

I get to be part of this amazing team. I get to advocate and be a voice for others to end the stigma of addiction. I’ve found when we take a risk and share our truth, we really get to know others. Ghandi once said “You find yourself when you lose yourself in the service of Others” — what an incredible gift.  Today my life is filled with endless blessings and Prevention Point has been instrumental in making this happen. Today, I accept who I am and tell myself that I am good enough and I am ‘Flawsome’ — flawed but, totally awesome! Just for today I am able to embrace and enjoy all of my feelings.


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