Michelle Rupp: Welcome back in to AFMC TV. Today we are talking with Shalinda Woolbright and we’re also talking with Jimmy McGill about peer support and recovery and how it all works together. And, how vitally important it is. So first of all, thank you both for joining me today. So Shalinda, you work here at AFMC. Of course Jimmy, you’ve got your own program as well. Let’s talk a little bit about how we all came to the dance together in the first place. How did how did we get introduced?

Jimmy McGill : Well, Shalinda and I are both people in long term recovery from substance use disorder. And so there was a pre existing relationship outside of DHS and AFMC, right. And then so when peer support started to emerge holistically in the state of Arkansas, historically it was kind of taboo to be outspoken about your recovery. And there’s always rule breakers in every culture and so Shalinda and I are two of those people that I believe that silence kills, and the more we talk about addiction, the more we humanize substance abuse disorder. And so it was, it was a pretty easy transition from our personal recovery into our professional.

MR: So, let’s talk about- and you touched on just the need to break that silence to get this out in mainstream to get talking about it.

JM: Silence kills. You know, right now in America fentanyl is the number one cause of death. Not cancer, not Covid, not car wrecks, not alcoholism, not murder. Fentanyl, illicit fentanyl. And it’s important that we speak up because for me personally, I didn’t know recovery was an option. I didn’t know that I had the option to stop using and find a new way to live. The idea that I could live a productive, acceptable responsible life was extremely foreign to me. And so had it not been for somebody being vocal and visible with their recovery, you wouldn’t have a director of Peer Services for Arkansas today, I would still be an incarcerated person battling an untreated disease called substance use.

Shalinda Woolbright: Right. I think I can elaborate with what Jimmy said because it’s just, it makes it easier for me to talk about it when somebody else is talking about it. It makes it easier for me to accept it and ask for help when somebody else is talking about addiction.

MR: What was that ah ha moment for you that that made you realize in your mind, I got to do something? In terms of, I got to help others. I know where they are. I’ve got to be able to create some peer support. I’ve got to be able to create an opportunity for people who were just like me, that are wanting to break free, I got to be able to provide a path. What was that that moment where you went, Yeah, I got I got to create something, and we got to start getting the word out to people?

SW: I think that happened way before peer support, you know what I’m saying, before it became a thing? I think for me, it happened once I got clean, you know. Once I got clean, all I kept hearing was, I can only keep what I have by giving them away. And then I knew the desperation, like I knew the pain and I knew the fear and I knew like all that stuff that I experienced, and I wanted to help other people because if I can do it, I feel like anybody else can do it. And I think that you know, it’s a thin line too because you know, I want to save people, you know, so to speak sometimes, and I have to like kind of pull back and allow them to do that and then so I’ve been I’ve been in long term recovery now, February the 20th will be 16 years by the grace of God. And so, ever since I’ve been here, it’s just like, man, I mean I get emotional when I think about this, but I just remember where I used to be. And if I can still remember where I used to be, I can just imagine what the other person is going through, you know? So, that’s what- it wasn’t right at peer support. And like he shared earlier, this is something- we knew each other before we even started, before he even started here support, you know. So this is something that we’ve been doing long before we got in the spotlight with it. What you got Jimmy?

JM: So, you know, just kind of fish tail off of what Shalinda said- For me, it wasn’t an aha moment, right? Like I had lived 38 years and brokenness and chaos and pain and addiction that was untreated. And so, from the second that I was able to find my pathway and sustain long term recovery from substance use disorder, there was just something in me that knew that I had to undo all the wrong that I had done for 38 years. Right, like I had been a burden to everyone around me and if you were any part of my life, it was like being trapped in a tornado. And my winds would touch you in some kind of way. And they were very destructive, and it was just the pattern set forth of the life I lived. And so, I had a lot to undo, you know. Part of the process of recovery for me, is making all of those wrongs right. You know. And that’s a general trend that you see in peer support. That’s why employers are chomping at the bit to hire somebody in recovery, right?

MR: What do you say to individuals who are battling addiction to give them hope and to to let them know that because- I’ve heard and please correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve heard that an individual that’s battling addiction, they have to get to that point on their own. When they’re ready to give it up and make a different change. You know, change that habit, change that pattern. So what do you say to give them hope and to let them know you may not be ready to change right now, gosh I wish you were, but when you are ready to change, you know, we’re here. Here are the resources, you know, here’s how you reach out.

SW: You know, Michelle you pretty much just answered your own question. You know because the main thing that I say to them is, you’re not alone, first off, and that we’re here when you’re ready and call any time. I mean you can call me any time, you know, night or day, no matter what time it is and I’ll help you get the help that you’re seeking.

JM: Yeah, same. Just kind of let them know that the situation you’re in right now is really familiar to me. And though you may feel like you’re unique and no one understands, I do. You know, I’ve been here, had the same shirt on, you’re wearing. Been there, done that. And there’s a way out and I don’t know if anyone has told you this, but you never have to pick up a substance again. Even if you want to. Even if you feel like you have to. I’m here to tell you don’t, and when you’re ready to find some relief from the feelings that you’re dealing with right now and I’ll be there. Now, we just plant the seed and that’s what we do. I mean that’s all we can do; is we carry a message of hope. And that’s what makes our career so effective. You know, for people like me for Shalinda, there was a long list of people who tried to help us- Teachers, preachers, doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists, mental health care professionals. But they all lacked what we need. We needed credibility. See, I needed to know that when I told you about me stealing everything my mother had so I could go use, that you would not judge me. I needed that fear that you were going to be condescending removed. And so when I share my recovery with Shalinda and I’m like dude I don’t really want to talk about it, you’re not going to understand. And Shalinda says, hey dude I get it. You ain’t never stole nothing I ain’t stole. All of a sudden the fear is gone and I’m willing to be open and honest, right?

MR: And that trust is there.

JM: Yeah, instantly. So, in a matter of minutes a peer specialist has accomplished what clinical people tried to do with me for 20 years, 25 years. Right? And it wasn’t the message that changed. I’m not discrediting anyone, right? Like my wife is studying to be an LPC. So, all of our friends are in social work and so these are great people. I didn’t give them a chance. Shalinda didn’t give these people a chance. The only thing that changed about the message we received was the messenger. That was it. And that’s the beauty of peer support. It’s one person in recovery helping another out of addiction into recovery.

MR: Well, is there anything else in our final 30 seconds. Anything else that you guys would like to add?

SW: But I think Jimmy did a great job.

JM: And I thought you did a great job.

SW: Well, thank you.

JM: This has been great. Thanks for having us.

MR: Okay, thank you both as well and thank you so much for joining us. We’ll see you back here next week for more AFMC TV.