In 2015, Chip McHugh responded to an ad that would later shape his future. The town of Winthrop was looking for someone who was living in recovery from drugs and alcohol, to become a Peer Recovery Coach as part of a regional effort that included Revere, Chelsea, Saugus and Winthrop. McHugh was hired for the job and over a three-year time period he was trained, supervised, and ultimately recognized by the State of Massachusetts as a Certified Addictions Recovery Coach (CARC). He is now a full-time employee of the town of Winthrop as part of the Community and Law Enforcement Assisted Recovery (CLEAR) Program.
In honor of recovery month, McHugh shares a bit about his average day and weighs in on the importance of having a recovery presence in every town.
Why Do You Think It’s Important to Have a Recovery Presence?
By showing people who have been struggling, often alone, and often for many years, that your town understands and is prepared to invest in your wellness speaks volumes to me. Personally I see it as an enormous thrust forward in breaking down the stigma associated with addiction and mental illness. I’m proud to be part of a team, a community, and a town that is on the frontlines of changing perceptions, planting seeds of hope and possibility.
It’s been ongoing here in Winthrop and we are now seeing the benefits that these services bring to its people. There are many people from our program that are now in long-term recovery. Some have gone back to school; others are employable after many years of being unable to hold down a job. There are others who have reunited with their children. It’s amazing to see firsthand the changes that can and will happen when the momentum takes hold.
I’ve witnessed so many positive aspects of having the CLEAR Program in our town and I can only imagine how well served we all could be if every town took the lead in navigating the opiate crisis that is taking the lives of so many.
My hand goes out to anyone that would like to change their current situation and move away from the substances that are holding them back from realizing their fullest potential. That being said, my heart goes out to anyone that has lost a son or daughter, cousin, brother, aunt, friend to addiction.
What Is an Average Day in Your Role?
Every day brings its own set of unique qualities to my job and no two days are the same. I could be meeting someone for the first time who is seeking recovery from opiate use and who may have questions about how to navigate this new path, or they may need assistance in locating services such as a detox or a doctor that administers Medically Assisted Treatment.
Oftentimes I will meet with someone that recently overdosed and has been introduced to our services by a first responder. The CLEAR Program includes a Police Outreach Officer, Sgt. Sarko Gergerian who has access to the pulse of the town and who has knowledge of where an overdose, for instance, may have occurred. He may knock on their door and meet with the individual to let them know that there are services in the community including peer support.
Continuing a long-term relationship with people that are newly sober or who still struggle for that matter, is another aspect of my position. I may meet with someone who connects with me on the level as someone who has struggled with my own addictions and where my past struggles are now possible assets to share with another that may be going through something similar.
The CLEAR Team has a relationship with both the Nashua Street Jail as well as the Suffolk County House of Corrections, offering us the opportunity to meet with someone from our community while they are incarcerated, possibly on multiple occasions. This helps to establish a relationship so that when they are eventually released, they have a connection to services and to a team that can advocate for them and promote their recovery.
Meeting with family and loved ones of someone in the throes of addiction is also a part of being a Peer Recovery Coach in Winthrop. Oftentimes a loved one is overwhelmed and alone and feels hopeless. By meeting with them and assessing their needs, they may be referred to a support group that they wouldn’t have otherwise known existed or were ashamed or afraid to go to alone for the first time. We have referred and even accompanied family members to support groups specifically for family and loved ones.
I personally believe that Winthrop has stepped up to the plate by telling its citizens that they are not alone when it comes to substance use disorders (SUD).
How Do You Feel We Can Better Winthrop by Making Residents Aware of Recovery?
Many people that are in the midst of addiction feel ashamed and embarrassed and carry the burdens of isolation, depression and stigma, all of which can weigh heavy on anyone.
By meeting people where they are at and by offering to walk alongside them as they go through the many stages of change associated with recovery, by bringing hope and an optimism that they may not have seen in a long time, by promoting harm reduction as a modality and by breaking down the stigma associated with addiction, people have more opportunity to better empower themselves, and empowered people can become unstoppable with what they can achieve.
If you or a loved one would care to know more, we also have a drop-in held at our office on Thursday nights from 5 -8p.m at the E.B.Newton School. The drop-in is a place that anyone can come to get information about our program. No appointment is necessary.