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2022 Scholarship Winner: Through Drug Addiction, Overdoses and Relapses, A Woman Dedicates Her Life to Helping Others Find Recovery

Dillon McClernon

Authored by Dillon McClernon

Below you will find the powerful biography and essay of the Recovery Centers of America (RCA) and Mothers Against Prescription Drug Abuse (MAPDA) Hope for Addiction Scholarship winner Isabel A. As a scholarship winner, Isabel will receive $1000 to be used to further her education.

My name is Isabel A., of Richmond, Va. I’m a recovering addict working toward a degree in clinical mental health counseling – with a focus on addiction counseling. Now in my second semester of graduate school at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., I’m passionate about helping people, spirituality, art and mindfulness. I engage in a Buddhist addiction recovery model and it has transformed my life. I want to approach counseling with a person-centered, collaborative and honest perspective. I started using substances when I was 14. I began my recovery journey when I was 19. Now at 22, I’m never looking back. I’m committed to helping neglected populations and get the most joy and love from imparting it to others.

Finding Purpose From Addiction

In 2016, I overdosed on opiates at age 16. The doctor told my parents I needed to get treatment, but because of the cost this was unachievable for my family. I trudged on down a path of self-destruction that only worsened because affordable comprehensive treatment was not an option for me.

Two years later, I found myself in the hospital again searching for rehabs that were in my price range but could also accommodate my young age. Once again, I found myself attempting recovery on my own because there were no courses of action for me. Through trial and error, relapse after relapse, on campus therapy, and a strong recovery community, I finally found peace and have maintained sobriety for almost three years. This sadly, is not the case for a lot of people. I realized that my desire to close the affordable treatment gap and help those suffering was greater than my desire to use drugs myself.

I have grown up in the city, seeing and experiencing the desperation of homeless individuals struggling with substance use disorder. I have seen how no insurance, no social security number, no income, and no ID manifests into limited treatment options. And the rehabilitation facilities that are available have limited space because of the rampant increase in those needing treatment and seeking recovery.

I have also lived in rural Appalachia for the last four years and seen the disparities of care that exist here as well, and they are vastly different but equally as devastating. In Appalachia, the winter weather is brutal, the treatment options in general are limited, and the treatment centers that do exist are far apart with no means of transportation between. There are not just limited public treatment centers but limited private centers as well. There is an overall lack of substance use disorder care here despite the widespread use of methamphetamine and heroin. I plan to stay in Appalachia following graduation because through my work with harm reduction I see the need for more substance use disorder counselors and professionals.

I plan to work in the nonprofit sector for a few years, but my main goal is to open a residential rehabilitation center that can accommodate individuals of all ages and financial backgrounds. We do not have any residential treatment centers in Boone, N.C. We have outpatient services, but those services are not always as intensive as some individuals need. There is no reason why one should be denied quality care due to what they can afford. My dream is to have this center incorporate multiple recovery pathways and models. Most rehabilitation centers in North Carolina operate based on AA and NA models of recovery. I believe that when individuals do not jive well with the theistic AA model, they are more likely to lose hope, but truthfully there are many models that have been proven effective. This center would also provide counseling to the families of substance users whether it be through motivational interviewing to reduce codependent behaviors and possible biases, or through family group therapy. It is common for the family system to be left out of the recovery process as it is focused on the individual, but the social systems of those with SUD are extremely important to recovery outcomes. The support that one receives from their social circles can make a huge difference in their recovery and I believe it is imperative to include for comprehensive treatment. I am a proponent of mindfulness-based relapse prevention and hope to incorporate mindfulness and meditation at the center as well.

Although opening a center like this is a dream of mine, I understand it will take many years of experience and practice with the population. Until then, I will make treatment more accessible by offering sliding scale to every client and taking as many forms of insurance as I can. I plan to work with populations that are often forgotten about such as veterans, at-risk youth, convicted individuals, and those experiencing financial and home insecurity. I am also very interested in helping women with SUD that are trying to escape prostitution.

Even before I managed to overcome my addiction, I knew that this was my passion and my dream. I believe I possess a different perspective and level of empathy when working with individuals impacted by addiction due to my personal experience. Although what I have been through was painful, I know that it had to happen for me to find my purpose and commit my life to this work. Recovery is a beautiful, transformative, and rewarding experience that I will work tirelessly to ensure everyone has an opportunity to experience.

Authored by

Dillon McClernon

Dillon McClernon

Dillon currently serves as the Senior Director of Sales and Marketing at RCA. After his tenure as Chief Communications Officer and senior advisor to RCA, he opted for a full-time position at RCA where he could build a new team linking sales and marketing to directly impact RCA’s mission of saving 1 million lives.


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