Photo by Moira Danielson
Solutions Recovery Club located in Oshkosh is one of the resources local residents use to fight their addictions.
For Olivia Werner it was the circumstances surrounding a friend’s suicide just a few months before high school graduation that triggered a rapid descent into alcoholism. Her once- or twice-a-week habit of drinking turned into a daily routine as she reacted to the trauma of her friend’s death and her own foolish decision to “celebrate” her friend’s memory by getting drunk.
John McHugh began using heroin at the age of 13. For 18 years he battled with himself to turn his life around after being disowned by his family, dropping out of college as a freshman and living couch to couch. His lowest point came after he introduced his girlfriend to heroin and she ended up dying from an overdose.
Both of these individuals saw the worst in life. They faced heartbreak, isolation and struggle after struggle, yet they managed to pull through to turn their life around. Werner and McHugh, both Oshkosh residents, represent a side of the nation’s addiction crisis that seldom gets attention--addicts who are now engaged in the long process of recovery.
Although such individuals seldom make the headlines, their numbers may be surprisingly high. A national survey released in 2012 by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services found that 10 percent of adults across the country reported being in recovery from substance abuse or addiction.
If those statistics hold in a community like Oshkosh, that would mean that the local recovery population numbers 5,000. Carol Morack, the Safe Streets Drug Court coordinator for Winnebago County, was unable to provide an estimate of how many individuals in Oshkosh are in recovery since such programs are based on anonymity. Even if the 5,000 figure is high, there is little question that Oshkosh has a significant number of residents working through recovery.
While recovery is an individual process and is often kept private, many addicts, including Werner and McHugh, want people on the outside looking in to understand the work that goes into getting sober. They view their addiction as a disease, just like cancer or diabetes, and they agreed to tell their stories, under their real names, to create greater public awareness of the situation they share with so many others.