One of our Advocacy Leaders, Melissa O’Mara, recently described her on-going recovery efforts in a C4 Recovery Solutions podcast. She discussed the assistance she received from NCAAR’s Substance Abuse Initiative (SAI) program and how she has dedicated her career toward helping others seeking to attain and maintain long-term recovery from addiction.
I’m twenty-eight years old. I grew up in Hackettstown, New Jersey, which is in Warren County. I currently live in Burlington County, New Jersey. And I’m an assistant prosecutor and have been since September of 2018. I’m a person in long-term recovery from drugs and alcohol since August 30th of 2011. I basically got involved with C4 before I even knew that I was involved with C4 based on their participation in building a program in the state of New Jersey, which got me on the path to recovery.
In 2011, I was living in homeless shelters, living on the street, bouncing in and out of treatment for my drug use, and I was visiting the local welfare office in Warren County, New Jersey, where I grew up, trying to get services. And at that time, they said they had a program that was for women who had substance use disorders who were seeking treatment. And I, at first, was hesitant. But they linked me up with the individual who was to be my guide through this program that they had implemented in the welfare offices. And when I was ready, he helped me get into treatment. And I think, during that time, I was in a really acute phase of my addiction. I was using heroin and cocaine, IV drug use on a daily basis. I was not employed. I was unemployable. I was going to college at the time, but because of my use, the college was on the verge of kicking me out. And my family had completely disowned me. So, the only people that were on my side at this time was the individual who I met within the welfare office.
When I showed up unannounced on their doorstep on August 28th of 2011 and told them that I wanted to go to treatment for the umpteenth time and that I didn’t want to live—because the night before, I tried to kill myself—instead of just shooing me away like many others at that point were, because I was an individual who bounced in and out of treatment, they – they really didn’t look at me like a burden on society and they said, “We know what you’re facing. We know what you’re going through. And we have a treatment for that issue if you’re willing to take it at this time.”
So, I ended up entering a detox facility. Actually, funny timing. During the time that I actually went into treatment through SAI, it was during Hurricane Irene in New Jersey, and the treatment center I was going to was underwater. But I still was connected to detox, still got there, and then went right into a thirty-day program, continued into a halfway house, and eventually made my way into sober living. So, I sailed right through. And as I had discussed earlier, I had never done that before. I was that person who was in the revolving door of detox, IOP, just never being able to get a continuum of care or get the services that I required.
What made me go back when I finally did want help was that they were kind to me. They were understanding. Something that was different this time, because I had been to many treatment programs, both long-term adolescent treatment, other outpatient services before, this time, instead of going just to detox and being released or going just to inpatient and being released, I was met with a continuum of care. So, I went from the SAI office to a detox, to an inpatient program, to a halfway house, to a sober living house, which really stepped me down and reintegrated me into the community and really helped me rebuild the skills that I didn’t have, because I never had them, because I was a teenager and never developed them. And then, really put me on a path where, once I was in remission from my substance use disorder, I was able to get back successfully into college, resume my classes, figure out who I was as a person, and figure out what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be, which, eventually, I realized I wanted to go into law enforcement. I wanted to work with people who were in my position, specifically with women who might not have the financial resources available to them when facing addiction.
In 2011, there was nothing available, really, besides for this program. County funding was scarce. I really was trying to navigate a system that I didn’t understand. So, even if there were services out there, I wasn’t getting connected to them. And that’s why I think having the service in the welfare office was so powerful, because that’s where I ended up. I wasn’t being offered any services when I encountered law enforcement. I wasn’t being given any services by anybody else within the community at that time. So, this really had a direct impact and kind of got me at a point where they could intervene face-to-face.
For me, having NCADD [now NCAAR-BH] there and the staff within the welfare offices really had an impact on me being able to move forward with my life, because of their compassion and their understanding of addiction, so much that not only did I want to contact them as I went through the process early and treatment, but to this day I have the business card of that counselor who put me in to that treatment back in 2011. And so, after five years, I called him and thanked him for being there in that welfare office and giving me the ability and the opportunity to recover. And then, you know, almost ten years later, I didn’t want to throw it away, because it meant so much to me for someone who understood and cared to be there.
The general public as well as, you know, the community really had a misunderstanding of substance use disorders. And, really, my view of how I was treated was that it was my moral failing. And I think, over time, as well as getting into recovery, I really was able to see a shift in the beliefs of my community and even the state of New Jersey and the organizations within it, because we’ve really moved to this addiction-as-a-disease model and that people who have the disease of addiction are not just people who are choosing to use, but really have these underlying conditions that are preventable and treatable. And so, that kind of growth has been really helpful.
The biggest impediment that I see to those women out there with children is really services for women and women with children, they’re hard to access. These barriers pop up. And without somebody being able to assist in overcoming those barriers, women are deterred from getting recovery. So, having a program like this is something that will help women across the board, no matter where you stand in your life.
I think my experience going through addiction and being in recovery has made me a better law enforcement officer, has made me a better prosecutor. SAI changed my life and put me in a place where I had the ability and opportunity to recover. I’d been given many chances to recover before, but I wasn’t presented the opportunity with the actual backup of the services to actually successfully do that.