Editor’s note: This is a four-part series looking at the opioid crisis in ENC. Below are links to the previous stories.
MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (WNCT) — Gene McLendon is the Director of Hope Mission Recovery.
“Transportation housing, medical, dental, eye, anything they have, prescriptions, anything they have we take care of while they live with us, for six months,” says McLendon.
The organization is a non-profit in Carteret County helping people with homelessness and substance abuse issues.
“I keep my nose in two books. I keep my nose in the big books of Alcoholics Anonymous and I keep my nose in the Bible,” says McLendon.
McLendon’s personal experience with addiction has helped him understand what tools are needed towards sobriety.
“So I’m engaged in the things that help me stay strong, and I’m engaged with people that are very straightforward. They have no problem looking at me and saying. ‘Hey Gene, we need to think about that,’ I like accountability and I like responsibility,” says McLendon.
McLendon’s approach is also about choices.
“So I teach my staff that you hold people like that with an open hand so that they come and go,” McLendon said. “And you don’t try to hold onto them like a fist, that way you don’t take away their freedom of choice.”
But McLendon has faced discouragement when those choices aren’t the best.
“You know, when you believe in people, for me that is a crucial element,” McLendon said. “I choose to believe that people can change. And so you believe in a person, you invest in their life, and something goes south, maybe they’ll relapse or they’ll leave.
“And they’ll be a day or two where you hang around with your head hanging down. And you ask yourself, what could we have done, what should have we done differently, how could we have helped that person more?”
But McLendon says he’ll continue to help with an open heart.
“My experience has taught me that I can’t criticize, find fault, tear down, anybody and then lead them in a positive direction at the same time,” says McLendon.
Shirley Breaker is one of the people going in that positive direction.
“I started using drugs as a way to cope with grief. My brother had died, and shortly thereafter, my mother and my grandmother died,” Breaker said.
She turned to drugs during difficult times.
“Because it gave me the feeling of nothingness, nothing mattered, and that’s kind of what I was seeking,” said Breaker, who also said drug use became more dangerous.
“And it’s sad, it wasn’t just one time I overdosed, it was three, and it didn’t teach me anything, and if they hadn’t put me in jail, I don’t know if I would have stopped if I would have sought help seriously,” says Breaker.
Her journey towards sobrierty was paved the last time she got arrested. One officer wouldn’t let her out until there was an opportunity for her to get better.
“A friend of mine at the time tried to bond me out, and he kept rejecting it and rejecting it, and was going to continue to reject it until he had a bed for me at a rehab,” says Breaker.
It was a frustrating moment for her at the time, but it’s led to where she is now.
“I am so eternally grateful for someone to see potential in me to do better, and kind of force me to stay where I was, so that I could get a clear head, but not even set me free to the world again, but put me here so I could be safe and find myself again and have some guidance,” says Breaker.
Now, she’s having to face the very same issues she tried running away from all those years ago.
“I’ve been struggling, as far as learning to cope with raw emotions. It’s just like an overflowing of sadness sometimes, or happiness, emotions I haven’t felt because I have been numb to everything for so long. And it’s new to me, but it’s also kind of wonderful,” Breaker said.
And she’s helping people with their own recovery journey,
“My favorite part of my job is getting to work with our volunteers that are getting to work through our recovery program. It’s helpful to me in my recover, to be encouraging to them, to kind of be a light to them to say, hey, there is a hope, you can do this,” says Breaker.
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