Christine Orahood dedicates her days to helping others. In the mornings, she wakes up to texts from people who are struggling with substance use disorders.
They are seeking Christine’s help or advice, and she thinks of creative ways to support them or connect them to resources. Later, she heads to the homeless shelter, where she helps provide people with food and clothing. The rest of her week fills up with speaking engagements, lessons on recovery, and running support group meetings. Sometimes her days get busy, but Christine’s bigger vision keeps her going.
“I just want people to grab on to the power of their story and the power of their experiences. [I want them to know] that they can provide and be such an inspiration to so many people.”
Christine knows exactly what it means to grab on to the power of your experiences. She is motivated to help others address their substance use disorders because she has struggled with one herself. A few years ago, she started her recovery journey in a residential treatment center. The first two weeks were difficult.
Then, she had a moment where everything clicked: when the owner of the center told her, “I just want you to know that you’re not a failure, you’re not a mistake, you’re loved, and you are worthy.” Christine realized that, at 50 years old, she had never heard that before. It moved her. She turned to her faith, which became an important source of strength for her. That was the start of her recovery.
But Christine doesn’t like the term “recovery.” It’s a label that she thinks doesn’t capture her experience. She’s not the same Christine she used to be: her behaviors and attitude have been transformed. Instead, Christine prefers the term “brand new”— “I’m a brand new person.”
Part of being “brand new” means focusing on the future instead of the past. Christine believes that people are not defined by the decisions they’ve made. She’s working hard to spread that message in her community.
“We just want to try to break that stigma … A lot of people don’t see people’s past. They don’t see their childhood. They don’t see the circumstances that [make] a person become who they are ... the biggest misconception is that we don’t have a heart or a conscience.”
When someone is willing to recognize that conscience, it makes a big difference. Christine’s pastor played that important role in her life.
“He told me that I wasn’t just a number, that I was Christine, and I could make a difference. He believed in me. He gave me keys to the church, keys to the van. He gave me a debit card to get gas or whatever we need for church. He saw me for … who I am today.”
Like many who have battled substance use, Christine struggled to find acceptance for years. People who use drugs are often met with judgement and discrimination, which can cause feelings of shame and disempowerment. Stigma remains a key barrier to seeking treatment. For Christine, it wasn’t just something she experienced in the office or at the grocery store: Stigma started in her family. For many years, Christine’s brother thought that her disorder made her weak. He didn’t believe in using Narcan (the brand name of naloxone, a life-saving overdose medication). But when Christine became “brand new,” her relationship with her brother changed, and he began to see things differently, to understand that people were more than any mistakes they had made in their past. He started carrying Narcan — which he used last month to revive a stranger who had overdosed in a gas station parking lot.
“He’s seen the [drastically different] person that I have become, and it changed him,” said Christine. One of the most powerful things people can do, she says, is share the successful recovery stories of their friends and family. Her brother’s experience is a testament to how powerful firsthand experiences can be for breaking down stigma.
Christine’s relationship with her brother is not the only relationship that has been transformed during her recovery journey. She has grown closer with her children, as well. When Christine was in the treatment center, her daughters came to visit her.
“I looked up and I just noticed that they were looking at me, and they said, ‘Mom, we’re so proud’ … And it was all because of what I was doing and the person that they knew was sitting in front of them. That was my proudest moment, when they could just look at me and say, ‘Mom, we love you, and we’re so, so proud of you.’” This moment, when Christine’s family showed that they cared and acknowledged her strength, reinforced Christine’s belief in herself and her commitment to recovery.
In her efforts as a Certified Peer Recovery Support Specialist, Christine has learned that she has to meet people where they are. While the details of people’s substance use might be different, Christine believes that “something we do share is the pain of that guilt and that shame and the unworthiness, the lack of value … [believing] that you don’t deserve any better.” Knowing this, Christine tries to show people that they do deserve better by exploring what they care about and what motivates them. Christine was motivated by finding her faith, but she knows that doesn’t work for everyone. She talks with people and tries to see “what lights up their eyes, what they gravitate toward … Whatever works for you, great.” Everyone’s recovery journey looks different. No matter the circumstances, Christine wants to show people that they deserve love, too.
“Anyone—absolutely anyone and everyone—deserves to be happy. And when you realize that, and you realize you’re worthy and you’re not a failure, you’re going to keep going.”
Now, Christine is focused on living life to its fullest. She tries not to take any moment for granted — from the smallest things, like watching comedies on Netflix, to the bigger things, like appreciating her relationships, the beauty of nature, the power of what she has accomplished.
“I thought I was just going to quit using drugs and then life was going to go on,” Christine says. “But there’s so much more. I thought I was just becoming clean. But I’ve become free.”
To learn more about stigma and substance use, visit www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/addiction-science/words-matter-preferred-language-talking-about-addiction. For information about treatment and harm reduction services, visit sciotoconnect.org or call Pike County’s Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board Crisis Hotline at (740) 947-2147. For more information about Appalachia Unite, visit www.facebook.com/AppalachiaUnite/