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We laugh, we cry, we change people’s lives.



It’s a sunny February day when Denise Black meets us at the Healthy Acadia office. The white clapboard building with an attached gazebo in downtown Ellsworth sits adjacent to a public park. The Downeast Recovery Coaching Program office inside is sparsely furnished and decorated. We walked down a hallway and into a conference room, with generous amounts of sunlight, and brochures and pamphlets stacked up in piles on the shelves.

Denise is the program manager of this two-year-old, grant-funded recovery supports program in Hancock County and she speaks passionately about her work, “We have the privilege of sitting with people when they are in a space of contemplating a change in their life which, is profound. They may not even realize how profound it is,” she says.

Denise may understand better than most how profound that is because many years ago, she too struggled with substance use disorder. She credits her success in long term recovery with some of the women she met in recovery, who helped guide her. “That was a gift for me that saved my life,” she explains. “It saved my life, and now I can give that back.”

Denise not only provides recovery coaching and manages the program, but she trains others how to become recovery coaches too. Another one of her recovery coach coordinators is Debra Matteson, who coordinates recovery coaches in Deer Isle and Stonington. She also has a personal connection to this epidemic because she too is a person in long-term recovery, and who has lost friends to an opioid overdose. Debra says that a friend of hers, who went into recovery around the same time that she did, was persuaded, after many years of successful medication assisted treatment, that being on MAT was not truly being in recovery. So, she stopped her medication. “She went out and used one more time and died after 15 years of recovery,” Debra says, adding that’s what motivated her into action. “I was watching people die; I was watching people’s children die. It was just incredibly tragic.”

Currently, the Downeast Recovery coaching program has 15 recovery coaches and three corrections coaches who work in the Washington and Hancock County Jails, but they are actively recruiting for more because the need is so great. Those who are interested in becoming a recovery coach need to fill out an application, undergo a background check, and complete the 30-hour recovery coach academy. Several local healthcare providers have offered to host training. Both Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital and Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital have invited the Downeast Recovery Coach Program into their hospitals to provide training to staff. “There were probably 30 medical providers, physician’s assistants, and medical assistants in the room. Given that this was brand new in this region, for the hospitals to grab onto it and be interested so soon is very innovative,” says Denise. Denise and Debra both say the reward they feel is worth every second of the time they put in.

“Many times, we will be the first people that have spent time with folks and asked questions such as, ‘Have you ever thought what your life would be like in recovery?’ I can’t tell you how many times asking that question will make people completely open up and start sobbing because no one ever asked them that before,” says Denise.

“The ups and downs of early recovery are extreme,” adds Debra. “It takes people a while to stabilize and moderate. To be able to walk alongside someone who is feeling better than they ever have in their lives and while feeling feelings they never felt before because they were using substances—so they didn’t have to feel—is an incredibly dramatic and profound journey.”

To learn more about recovery coaching, visit the Healthy Acadia website at https://healthyacadia.org/initiatives/preventing_substance_misuse.html