West sitting on a bench outsideBefore I came to Healing Transitions, I was living in a rooming house and was behind on the rent, facing eviction. The place was really a crack house because of all the drugs being used there. My last day using was January 23. I used that entire night and wound up going to Shepherd’s Table Soup Kitchen for lunch the next day.


Unbeknownst to me, the 20 guys who were in the program at the recently-opened Healing Transitions (known then as The Healing Place of Wake County) would eat lunch at the soup kitchen. I ran into a guy while I was there that day who I knew on the streets. There was something different about him. He looked different. I asked him what he’d been up to, and he told me that he was at this new treatment place on the Dorothea Dix campus. He talked about how great it was and how they were fed each day and went to classes.


So, I asked him how I could get into this program. He told me that there was a big bus that comes in the evening to pick a certain number of people up and take them over to The Healing Place. And at that point, I had a decision to make. Do I take the risk of going back to the rooming house and possibly using, or go wait for that bus to come?


I decided to go over to where the bus stop was and sat in the woods for four or five hours while I waited for the bus. It was 28-degrees outside with a slight mist in the air. There I was – weighing about 127 pounds, wearing a thin jacket, some sweatpants, and girls’ sneakers – waiting in the woods. That was January 24, 2001, the day that I was introduced to Healing Transitions. Since that day, my life has dramatically changed.


When I first got to Healing Transitions, it was just nine days after it had opened. At the time, there was no detox center. Just the overnight shelter and about 20 guys in the first stage of the program. The courtyard was nothing but mud with the giant archway and wall sticking out of it. 90% of the staff were from Louisville, and they were actually living on campus in what would later be the CTR halls.


I vividly remember the moment after I was dropped off, I was making my way down the walkway toward the overnight shelter and peered into one of the windows where the detox center would later be. They didn’t have any clients or staff in there yet, the only items they had in the room were the brown, steel bed frames. Having worked in the funeral business in the past, I thought it was their morgue. In those early days of Healing Transitions, when you got into the program, you didn’t really have a place to lay down and detox to get primed for the program. Plus, you really didn’t have anybody ahead of you in the program to believe in. I didn’t even really believe the staff from Louisville who kept telling me that this will work if I followed the process. The only evidence I had was knowing that what I was doing wasn’t working. So it was really a leap of faith to follow their process and listen to what I was told.


One of the biggest aspects that made the program work for those first cohorts was how safe the facilities were. I had stayed in other shelters in the past, and I never felt safe at all. So having everyone feel safe and secure really helped us focus on what we needed to do in the program. On top of that, there weren’t any expectations that were unrealistic to achieve. All you had to do was go to class, remain substance free, refrain from saying offensive things, and never use violence. Those simple guidelines helped create a feeling of love and kindness for one other. The sense of community that was built in the program became a lifelong bond that can never be broken. I’m still touched when I hear from someone who I went through the program with. I was part of the first group of 10 men who completed the recovery program – Silver Chipper #3. That was in August of 2001. It was that very first group that made the decision to dress up and celebrate our completion of the program. Nobody ever told us that we needed to wear suits or make it an occasion, but we wanted to do it because some of us had never completed anything but a jail sentence or a bottle of wine.


After completing the program, my fellow peer, Jerome, and I were the first two alumni who were hired as staff members at Healing Transitions. We worked in the detox center and overnight shelter, which I did for more than three years. Even after leaving that job, I’ve continued to stay closely connected with Healing Transitions, doing whatever I can to help out.


In 2011, I was elected onto the Board of Directors for Healing Transitions. So, I went from walking past what I thought was the morgue, to sitting in the boardroom. I still get chills when I think about that. Being on the board was a little intimidating, at first. There were lawyers, businesspeople, and other accomplished folks on the committee. I remember in the very first meeting, they needed to raise $8,000 to reach a fundraising goal they were working on, and one of the board members just reached in her pocket and wrote a check for $7,500. I didn’t even have $75 in the bank! I later talked to my mentor about it, and he told me that they’re just a bunch of human beings with briefcases. They have struggles just like I did, and they were no different. And they weren’t.


As a past participant, I knew it could be intimidating to see the board members on campus. There was a bit of a disconnect between the folks who were in the program and the folks who were trying to grow the program. So, during my time on the board, I came up with the idea that we would eat dinner before the board meetings in the cafeteria with the participants. That way we could actually get to know one another, which would help the participants appreciate the board members more, and it would help the board understand the people and program better. It was a win-win.


That connection between the program participants and board members was something I felt I brought to the board while serving on it. Whether it was eating with the participants, serving meals to them, or volunteering to help out in other ways, we worked on bridging that gap between the two groups. That way the board members weren’t viewed as objects to the participants, and vice versa.


When I reflect on how Healing Transitions has grown over the past 20 years, I have really seen the growth of three different areas. First, it has helped grow the community. Sometimes there are things happening all around us that you can’t see – but you can feel something is different. When I first got into the program 20 years ago, nobody knew what Healing Transitions was. It was just this new entity that nobody understood. But now, Healing Transitions is one of the most respected institutions in the community.


When Healing Transitions was founded, and when I got there, we were in the middle of the crack epidemic. Nobody knew that in 10 years, the opioid epidemic was going to hit the community even harder. But Healing Transitions primed the community by helping it survive the crack epidemic. And because of that, all of the stakeholders in the community, whether they’re homeowners, law enforcement, healthcare workers, etc. now know that this is a place where someone in need of help can be sent to so they can live a better life. And so many folks in our community have come through the doors at Healing Transitions, like me. You might not see us, but we’re there.


Second, Healing Transitions has helped me grow, personally. I have six grandsons – from ages 4 to 20 – and none of them have seen or heard of me using drugs and alcohol. So, I’ve been reunited with my family. Healing Transitions also helped me achieve a professional career. And even in my career, I try to exude and promote a lot of the same principles the program taught me.


Finally, Healing Transitions has helped the recovery community grow. This place gives those who have come through the program somewhere to go so we can recharge. For so many of us, that constant connection with the recovery community is vital. So, we’re able to go up to campus and talk, laugh, reminisce, and bond with those going through the exact same thing we went through. The growth of Healing Transitions over the last 20 years has been unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. And as long as the doors remain open, I hope to continually be of service to them. Congratulations to Healing Transitions for two decades of service to our community.