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Working from a downtown office as an independent addiction counselor, Dr. Marilyn Clark has seen hundreds of her clients recover and, often enough, stick around to prosper in town.
Clark recognizes the existence of a lack of comprehension from those who just don’t get addictive behavior.
“They can’t understand why someone can’t just put it away, whether it’s gambling, drugs or eating disorders,” she said.
Seeing her clients set aside their demons is her reason for continuing.
“If I didn’t have success, I wouldn’t be doing this,” she says. “Without the huge rewards, a person couldn’t do this because there has been such devastation in their lives.”
Clark is one of a noticeably large group of substance abuse professionals who ply their trade in Prescott. Three of her recent and current clients met recently with The Daily Courier to discuss their battles with addiction and the safety they have found in Prescott’s recovery community. All three requested anonymity in order to remain in compliance with the tenets of the 12-step programs they follow, so each is quoted here using an assumed name.
Blanca, originally from Maine, is a nursing student at Yavapai College. She became an alcoholic early in life and also suffered from an eating disorder. For her, the road to recovery in Prescott started with a stay at a treatment center in Utah. While there, someone suggested Prescott as a suitable place to continue her recovery.
“I’d never heard of the place and I just said ‘OK,'” she said. “I knew I wouldn’t do well if I went back home. It would be back to the same people, the same environment that created me.”
Clark came into Blanca’s life while Blanca was living in a halfway house in Prescott and making progress on her alcoholism, only to find her food issues, which the alcohol had once disguised, rising to the surface.
“I was seeing a therapist there who said she couldn’t help me,” Blanca said. “And she referred me here.”
Clark noted that Blanca’s situation was far from unusual, that in order to treat addictions, the therapist must root out all the “underlying anxieties.”
It’s not as if those ghosts of the past are forever silent. Blanca said that sometimes, out of nowhere, the urge to take a drink comes over her.
“I would say once every few months,” she said. “It’s not as strong as it used to be, and I always self-report. I like to let people know what’s going on in my head.”
Finding a willing ear in Prescott is easy for Blanca, who attends five or six meetings each week and is grateful that the community has so much to offer.
“It’s safe for me to be here,” she said. “I don’t think people realize that Prescott is such a strong place for recovery.”
On the other hand, she understands how city residents outside the recovery community could be leery of having such a large element in town.
“I can see where people who have that viewpoint are coming from,” she said. “Especially since a lot of the people are in early recovery.”
Kate, originally from Idaho, also recognizes the value of having a support group that shares the darker aspects of her past. All are aware of the possibility of rationalizing the possibility that “Maybe I can just binge this one time.”
Sober friends keep track of one another, she said, and no one falls through the cracks through lack of attention.
“If you don’t go (to meetings) for a few days,” she said, “somebody will be knocking on the door or sending a text or an email.”
That’s a big departure from the small Idaho town she hails from, a town of “100 people, and 97 of them are at the bar.”
Now studying psychology at Prescott College, Kate wasn’t a complete stranger to the town when she arrived to further her treatment. Having been through a recovery and relapse cycle at the Betty Ford Clinic and a couple of rehab facilities in Wickenburg, she had visited here and knew that help was available.
“I knew there was a strong 12-step community here,” she said, adding that she was in need of strong help.
“I have a lot of wreckage in my past,” she said. Like Blanca, she had a food addiction in addition to her substance abuse problem, which included alcohol and all manner of illicit drugs. “If I just drank beer all day long I didn’t need food. And if I had cocaine, I didn’t want food.”
Addicts often tell themselves they won’t use again, won’t drink again, won’t abuse food again. At some point, if there is to be a recovery, the message hits home.
“There’s definitely those ‘aha’ moments and everybody comes to them in their own time,” Kate said. “It’s the second part of the first step when you sit down and say ‘My life is totally unmanageable.’ ”
Prescott boasts a wide variety of support groups, and Kate said her first experience with one that specialized in eating disorders was an emotional episode.
“I literally sobbed when I first walked into one of those meetings,” she said. “That sense of belonging is something a person needs. It was such a relief to show up and get hugs and handshakes.”
Growing up on California’s central coast, Scarlet started her addictive behavior early, drinking at age 12 and graduating to methamphetamine at 14. Now 23 and studying business at Northern Arizona University, she says she now recognizes the element in her character that enticed her to use.
“I was a perfectionist,” she said, “and nothing was ever perfect enough. It was hard to be me.
“So I always drank the most in the group, always acted the craziest in the group. I had to find lower and lower company to fit in.”
Scarlet was defiant for years, in and out of a behavior modification school and a series of halfway houses, learning how to beat the system, knowing she could relapse and get kicked out any time she felt the urge.
There was always another place to go.
At some point, a glimmer of light shone through her defenses.
“I began to feel like I had a problem,” she said. “I finally made the decision on my own. I was shown the truth and I was finally able to see it.”
Scarlet came to Prescott three years ago and set about making her recovery real. She still attends counseling once a month and goes to meetings “at least daily.
“I love going to meetings,” she said. “It’s part of my life. All of my friends are in recovery. This is my sober home.”