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Paula Gillespie, whose real name is being kept confidential to protect her privacy, 41, is a recovering methamphetamine addict. She has struggled with her addiction since she was 26. (Darlene Wendels/The Collegian)

Addicts finding hope through education

By Myles Barker and Manuel Gutierrez/Special to The Collegian

Part 2 of 3

Paula Gillespie’s ongoing challenges to stay clean from methamphetamine aren’t all that uncommon — rehabilitation is a lifelong process.

There are a number of rehabilitation clinics in Fresno dedicated to helping people like Gillespie, who struggle with substance use disorder, figuring out how to get clean and learning how to function while being clean.

One of them is Central California Recovery, Inc., a state-certified program with an average enrollment of about 150 males and females as young as 12. The program is geared toward helping those with substance use disorder, a condition in which the use of one or more substances leads to a clinically significant impairment or distress.

Dale White, president of Central California Recovery, Inc., who has helped Gillespie get clean from meth, said his main goal in life is helping those who struggle with substance use disorders get their lives back and become productive members of society.

“I like the human interaction, and I like the fact that I get to watch people go from tragic circumstances to healthy lives,” White said. “The main goal for me is to help people reach sobriety and a healthy lifestyle. I don’t have the ego to assume that I can get everybody clean for the rest of their life, so I have to also define success by the degree to which I can teach people to ask for help.”

White said one of the most damaging things about substance use disorder is that it creates isolation, which is the worst thing recovering addicts can do while in the recovery phase of their treatment.

“People get clean, and then four, five, six years down the road, a parent dies, a spouse divorces, and people in some cases fall off. They relapse,” White said. “However, the faster that person calls me back to get back into a program, the more of a success I feel can be claimed for that client because that means I have taught them to ask for help.”

When a patient does seek help, instead of using the familiar 12-step recovery program, White uses counseling and therapeutic techniques that are more closely aligned with techniques used in cognitive behavioral therapy.

“Every treatment plan that we put together is put together in 90-day increments,” White said. “So we are going to set problem statements, goals and target dates for the issues that the client presents, and then we are going to review that at least every 90 days if not more frequently.”

White said for clients that seek out his advice on getting clean and staying clean, he tells them about his magic triangle, which consists of three vital elements to the recovery process.

“The magic triangle that I recommend for people that want to get off drugs is to have a professional connection, which would be a treatment facility like us that specializes in substance use disorder,” White said. “The second leg of the triangle would be mental health services, an assessment to determine whether or not there are any mental health issues to be addressed. And then the third leg of the triangle is seeking out a social support group.”

White said he highly recommends that clients take the initiative to build a support group that can help them if they get the urge to use again.

“I typically am going to recommend that they engage in two to three outpatient sessions per week, that they attend either faith-based or non-faith-based recovery meetings and some sort of social self-help meeting that might include Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Celibate Recovery or other social groups that are beneficial to the members,” White said.

White noted that one of the main reasons people struggle with sobriety is that they are not familiar with their triggers.

“Triggers are those things that make us feel, smell, taste and hear events from when the substance use was a regular part of daily life,” White said. “Triggers go away after a while, but usually for the first 12 months we tell people you just need to be careful about people, places and things that might remind you of previous substance use activity.”

White said just driving by a business, restaurant or bar where a client has used drugs before can trigger a memory and a physical response, which can lead to a potential relapse.

“Drug use is very ritualistic,” White said. “For example, everybody has seen in the movies the images of the disco days where people were doing cocaine, and there was the mirror, then there was the grinder, there was the spoon, the straw, the $100 bill and there is all of those little things that make it a ritual, and that ritual is a really big part of substance use.”

With his clients battling against the odds every day, White said he typically tells them to enroll in school as he believes it can have a profound effect on their confidence and their overall outlook on life.

“I think enrolling in school while you are in treatment is every bit as helpful as engaging in a 12-step recovery meeting attendance because by its very definition, enrolling in school is hope,” White said. “People are hoping for the future, and I think that the people in recovery should surround themselves with people that are hopeful and are looking to the future because that is what a drug addiction takes away from us is hope.”

Amy Spier, director at Valley Recovery Center at Fresno – a non-faith-based recovery center – said hope is exactly what recovering addicts need, especially after a relapse.

“I’ve almost never seen a client complete a treatment program without relapsing at some point during the process,” Spier said. “It can be discouraging because you feel like you take a couple steps forward and then take like 50 million steps back.”

Spier said at the recovery center, she and her colleagues take a holistic approach to helping their clients and find it beneficial to get to know their clients on a personal level.

“Our staff is all very down to earth, and we approach it like we are people working with people,” Spier said. “By doing this, we like to incorporate mindfulness. We go on walks. We do stuff in the community. We tie people to different organizations and stuff to really address all parts of a person.”

Spier said although meth does not make somebody physically dependent, it has a very strong psychological dependence aspect, which often leads to severe physical deterioration to the extent that people’s teeth fall out, their hair falls out and their bones begin to disintegrate.

“One of the most common [side effects] is meth mouth — where you are losing the teeth very rapidly,” Spier said. “That happens because meth really dehydrates your system, and when you are on meth you are not thinking about drinking water so it cuts off the blood flow. It dehydrates your mouth, and so your teeth are literally getting no oxygen and liquid and they literally just rot.”

Spier said hypervigilance to the point of paranoia is also common.

“Like locking the door 100 million times and staring out a window, and with that paranoia comes things like clients digging into their arms or picking at their face because they think they have a bug implanted in them or they feel bugs under their face,” Spier said.

She said that with prolonged meth use, people are risking permanent psychosis.

Part 3 will run April 29.