Amy Graduates from Theraputic Mental Health Court and Soars to Help Others

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Amy shared her story with us of how after she graduated from the Adult Felony Therapeutic Mental Health Court program in Spokane, she pursued a career in helping others and ended up working with Pioneer! 


I am honored to share my story in the hope that I can reach other people who are struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues. Currently, I work as a peer support specialist for Pioneer Human Services. I work at their Emerson Clinic here in Spokane – focusing on individuals participating in the Spokane County Therapeutic Drug Court program.

I am so grateful and feel very fortunate to be alive and healthy today. It’s with a new found pride I can share with you that I feel I’ve got a special ability to help others. And I owe that to having the opportunity to recover and learn in the Adult Felony Therapeutic Mental Health Court. I’m proud to have been one of the first graduates in the program! It wasn’t easy and I had several relapses, but I now draw from my experience in the program daily to connect with new participants in the Drug Court program and offer them support and guidance on their journey to recovery.

How did I end up in the court system? Let’s just say I had a tough upbringing with a mom who was abusive and used drugs, and then I got married to a man at 19 who was physically and mentally abusive. We had three wonderful children together but his abuse whittled me down and I finally left him. Unfortunately, I was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and was not being treated, and this led me to using drugs to alter my brain and numb myself – I soon spun out of control.

Taking Advantage of an Opportunity
My ex-husband’s sister took in my children and I sunk lower and lower. One Christmas Eve I attempted suicide by fire and was arrested for arson and placed into a mental health stabilization unit. I went through a complete detox and was finally diagnosed with a bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia. Before I was sentenced, I was offered the opportunity to participate in the two-year Adult Felony Therapeutic Mental Health Court diversion program. I had heard that the program was really tough – but I wanted to try it.

After being accepted into the program, I was immediately enrolled in outpatient counseling for my behavioral health treatment. Each week was like a new job. I was constantly challenged to share more about my feelings and drug dependency, open up and learn more, work on a change of behavior, and engage in more programs and support services.

At first, I was bitter and fighting the system. The program required a lot from all of us participating in it and I was not sure I could get through it. My self-doubt sabotaged me, and on several occasions I weakened and relapsed. When I would appear in front of the judge after relapsing she would really lay down the law – but she also showed compassion and didn’t demoralize me. New ideas and tactics were presented and other forms of treatment were scheduled for me. I think the judge felt my shame and struggles and didn’t feel the need to push me down lower – she wanted me to win this battle.

Engaging in the Program
After one year in the program the mental health and substance abuse treatment really started to sink in and my anxiety started to go away. The structure of the treatment programs was helping to build up my ability to learn and ask more questions. Yes, the staff was working all of us hard in the program, but the reality was they were trying to help us build our strengths so we could overcome our fears, addictions and self-doubt. They were teaching us structure and how to build a productive and positive life.

My self-confidence was growing daily and I lost the need to resort to drugs when things got tough. I could now use what I was learning to combat the urge and rely on the many support services that surrounded me. There were people there who wanted me to succeed.  I finally realized the Mental Health Court staff was there every day for ME!

As I was progressing, counselors would refer me to social groups and other programs where I could network and build my support system. One counselor referred me to the Evergreen Club that helped me with my transition into finding work and building my skills. I started volunteering with other people who were also transitioning and based on my interactions, a counselor suggested I consider becoming a peer support counselor.

Finding My Calling
After thinking about the possibilities in front of me, I reached out to Sandy Altshuler, who works with the Spokane County Behavioral Health Therapeutic Courts, and asked her if I could possibly be a volunteer/mentor with new participants in the therapeutic court programs to support them. Sandy arranged this for me and soon I realized that I had found my calling – this was my wheelhouse – and exactly what I was meant to work in.

I then pursued my education and was certified in the Peer Counseling training in Wenatchee through the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services and the Department of Behavioral Health and Recovery. I am constantly continuing my education through courses in wellness planning, trauma informed care ethics and boundaries, co-occurring disorder and many more trainings.

During my trainings, I continue to engage in support groups and work on my improvement, while I assist others. Sandy Altshuler was kind enough to pass my name on to Myesheia Simpson over at Pioneer Human Services to see if they had any opening to hire someone like me in any of their behavioral programs in Spokane. Eventually, a position opened up for a peer support specialist at Pioneer’s Emerson Clinic working with the Spokane County Theraputic Drug Court program. I was so excited and prepared for the interview working with the Evergreen Club counselors. The counselors kept telling me that I needed to apply for other jobs too but I told them that I just knew that this job at Emerson Clinic was where I belonged. In my interview, I spoke from the heart and knocked it out of the park! Pioneer hired me and I started on April 6, 2018.

Making a Difference
It is an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to work with people who are in the Spokane County Therapeutic Drug Court. Every day I get to show them that I made it through the Mental Health Court training program and how I continue to learn to live a productive and healthy life. The participants can relate with me and I am able to work with them on whatever level they are at – as I have been there also. Sometimes just sitting next to a client while he/she is in court can help us build a bond.

Walking alongside clients, I know I am a living model for them as I am proof that a person struggling with mental health issues and substance abuse CAN recover with help and support from trained specialists and the community. It is really an amazing experience when I can share part of my journey and get others to open up and share with me their struggles so I can guide them in their recovery. Often, I take my clients with me to an AA meeting, Recovery Café or a gym. Or, maybe I assist them in getting a cell phone or finding safe housing - whatever it takes to keep them moving forward towards the light at the end of the tunnel. I had amazing help and now I am in the position to give back to others.

It is so important to build a foundation and engage in support groups when you are on a recovery journey. The Mental Health Court program pounded that into my head and they were so right! I think it is obvious that my engagement with all the support groups and clubs, and my conviction to volunteer and facilitate self-esteem and peer-to-peer classes through organizations like NAMI, has really helped me stay strong and make me whole again. Isn’t that what a community should be about – supporting its’ neighbors and helping out anyone in need?

My youngest son lives with me again and my two older children are going to college and working. We have a special relationship and my kids love and respect me for my new choices. They realize how passionate I am about my work and staying involved in the community. I am proud to be a role model for them also.

With everything I have been through, I can’t even begin to express my gratitude for the Spokane County Behavioral Health Therapeutic Court giving me the opportunity to participate in their program and divert me from incarceration. The program taught me how to overcome my fears and self-doubt, and literally saved my life. And I also want to give a special shout-out to Pioneer Human Services for believing in me and hiring me on as a peer support specialist. Pioneer practices what they preach and gives people a second chance. Thank you a thousand times!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018