A Very Strange Story
Amy C. Gagnon and David S. Yeomans were arrested in mid-June for trafficking in heroin, possession of a Class B drug, and conspiracy to violate Massachusetts’ drug laws.
Ms. Gagnon, of New Hampshire, and Mr. Yeomans, of Massachusetts, are an interesting pair. Yeomans is a stock boy at a small grocery story, while Gagnon is actually a substance abuse counselor at a New Hampshire treatment center.
Yeah, that makes her arrest a bit more confusing. What’s an addiction therapist doing trafficking heroin? Why was she arrested with a man on methadone maintenance? Where the drugs hers or his?
These questions are still up for debate in the courtroom. Both Gagnon and Yeomans have plead not guilty and both are saying the drugs belonged to the other party.
Despite finding heroin on Ms. Gagnon’s person, and $1,000 and eight oxycodone pills in her purse, her lawyer is arguing that her client was scared for her life. Mr. Yeomans is accused of threatening to kill her unless she copped to the drugs being hers.
It’s a complicated, confusing, and ultimately sad story. More important than any specific details, which are still unclear anyway, is the larger implication Gagnon’s arrest brings up. Many addiction treatment specialists – be they therapists, counselors, doctors, or support staff – are in recovery. Since relapse is a part of recovery for many individuals, it makes sense that some addiction professionals will indeed relapse.
Was that the case with Gagnon? We don’t know. All we do know is that she was arrested with Yeomans, who was under the influence, and she had drugs in her possession.
As the legal system sorts out exactly what happened, let’s look at the larger picture. Let’s look at those that work in treatment and are in recovery themselves.
Substance Abuse Counselors & Sobriety
Recovering from any sort of addiction is hard. That’s actually an understatement. Recovering from any sort of addiction is the hardest thing most people will ever do. It requires sustained focus, uncomfortable emotional, mental, and spiritual work, and a tremendous humbling of the ego.
Those are things that most people avoid. When it comes to addicts and alcoholics, however, those are things they avoid like the plague. I know because I’m a man in long-term recovery myself.
As of writing this, I’ve been sober for just over seven years. In a typical alcoholic story, those seven years really took me about ten to get.
So, after finally getting sober, I decided it was my duty to help others. I started working in treatment when I had a few years. I started as a behavioral health technician (also known as resident assistant, counselor assistant, and a host of other names).
It wasn’t hard to find work in treatment. I am, after all, in South Florida. You can hardly throw a rock without hitting some sort of treatment center, addiction therapist, or sober living home.
Guess what I found once I started working in the field? Most everyone else was also in recovery. At the first treatment center I worked at, pretty much everyone from techs right up to the clinical director were sober. There were a few outliers (who were either saints or insane!), but 99% of the employees were recovering addicts and alcoholics.
With this huge number of men and women in recovery working in addiction treatment, it’s only natural that some will relapse. And that relapse, despite being par for the course, can have some disastrous effects on the very people we’re trying to help.
Relapse is Real
I’ve seen a lot of people in treatment relapse. While working as a BHT, I watched my fellow techs drink frequently. Now, that’s not to say everyone was drinking around the clock, but on average one tech drank every couple of months.
This led to high turnover and a decreased level of care for the patients we were there to serve. It also made sobriety and recovery appear tenuous to these “fresh into sobriety” folk.
At the end of the day, sobriety is tenuous…if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to. If you’re not going to meetings, helping other alcoholics, regularly examining your behavior and motives, and seeking to grow as a man or woman of God – then of course you’re going to drink.
Still, that’s not a good look for patients, many still detoxing, to see. Things were slightly better the further up the “treatment ladder” I climbed. I saw therapists, counselors, and group facilitators drink, but with much less frequency. Still, a relapse is a relapse.
Where am I going with all this? How does my experience working in treatment and seeing men and women relapse relate to a therapist (who may not even be in recovery) being arrested in Massachusetts?
Well, they both reinforce one major point – sobriety isn’t guaranteed. It’s only by doing the work mentioned above (going to meetings, helping others, etc.) that we’re guaranteed to stay clean and sober.
Simply having time doesn’t cut it. Working in the field obviously doesn’t cut it. Being intelligent and knowing that relapse isn’t a smart idea…that doesn’t cut it.
Individuals in recovery from substance abuse need to be constantly vigilant about their sobriety. This is true whether you work in treatment or in finance. It’s true across the board.
Was Amy Gagnon in recovery? Did she suffer a relapse and get caught while using? I don’t know. Ultimately, I don’t have to know. What I do know is that as long as I keep doing what I know to be good for me – I won’t relapse. What a gift!