Trista Boudon will mark three years sober on June 19.
For recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, sobriety dates carry weight, like a birthday or a wedding anniversary.
But Boudon does not carry hers alone. The 30-year-old mother of two uses the tools she learned to stay sober to help others as a recovery ally, an outreach program at Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare.
Boudon and Rose Anderson, 44, a recovering alcoholic, reach out to people whose drinking and drug abuse has left them homeless, in and out of hospital emergency rooms or locked up in the county jail.
“We don’t give up. If you’re still breathing, there is an opportunity there to do something different,” Boudon said.
“I love the phrase, ‘Are you tired?’
“Are you tired? Because, you know, there is a different way to do this.”
They help people make the difficult call to a detox center. They might go with them to their first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. They find safe places to stay. Sometimes, they just listen.
“We meet them exactly where they’re at,” Anderson said. “We explain to them that we’re here to walk on this journey with you, whatever that journey looks like for you.”
Recovery allies are an example of the shift in Clatsop County toward a more pragmatic approach to drug and alcohol abuse. Over the past few years, ideas like needle exchange, medication-assisted treatment and a methadone clinic have caught on as strategies to reduce harm.
Hiring mentors with their own histories of addiction could help people who have debilitating substance abuse problems, but are resistant to hearing from a counselor, a doctor or a judge. The outreach is unconditional, with no requirement that people stay sober or follow prescribed treatment.
“These were folks who were really unlikely to come to our doors — or anybody else’s doors, for that matter — to ask for help,” said Amy Baker, the executive director of Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare, the county’s mental health and substance abuse contractor.
The agency is evaluating how to measure the impact of the recovery allies program. But anecdotal evidence since the outreach began last year suggests a cost-effective intervention. “Nobody is more passionate and understands it better than somebody who’s been through it,” Baker said.
Coordinated care organizations that oversee the Oregon Health Plan — the state’s version of Medicaid — want to integrate behavioral and physical health care. Substance abuse is often linked with untreated mental illness and physical ailments.
One of the hopes is to reduce unnecessary emergency room visits, which are costly to the government and a strain on hospitals. People on the Oregon Health Plan who have mental illness were 2 1/2 times more likely to use emergency rooms for physical health reasons, the Oregon Health Authority found in a report that looked at data from 2017.
“Whatever somebody’s path to recovery is, we support that,” Baker said. “I just want to make sure that we’re out there trying to find the folks who need help.”
Known as the “Ra-Ra Team,” Anderson and Boudon are certified recovery mentors, not clinicians or trained drug and alcohol counselors. They speak the language of addiction and recovery from experience.
“It could be that one phrase. It could be that one thing that you say,” Anderson said. “It could be introducing them to the right person in the sober community that is their niche.
“We just got to find that rock. We just got to find that little rock that’s theirs, and then they can run with it.”
Some of the people they encounter are familiar faces, an unavoidable reality of living on the North Coast. When someone stumbles, they get sad or heartbroken, but they are careful not to take their work personally.
“It does help because we’ve been there and we’ve got the tools to pass to them,” said Anderson, sober since Sept. 20, 2009. “But, at the same time, we need to make sure that we know that we don’t replace our personal recovery with our job.”
Recovery is rarely a straight line. People who have alienated loved ones or ruined relationships with their addictions often ask why Anderson and Boudon care enough to keep showing up.
“It’s hard for people who haven’t walked through that path before to have that understanding,” Boudon said. “But, personally, if people gave up on me when I was struggling the most, I wouldn’t be here today.”