For many, the words “addiction” and “substance abuse” carry dark connotations. The disease often leads to time spent in court for legal and civil matters and sometimes even prison.
In an effort to erase the stigma of addiction and help those who find themselves in litigation involving addiction, the Bulloch County Probate Court and a local recovery group are working together to help transition the general focus from the addiction itself to a clean, healthy recovery.
“Freedom Through Recovery: Susan Ford Recovery Organization is a safe space where people can connect with other individuals, who are seeking to improve their health and well-being by pursuing a fulfilling and contributing life,” said Catherine Tootle, director of Freedom Through Recovery.
In order to reach people involved in legal or civil matters and who are also battling addiction issues, Freedom Through Recovery partnered with the Bulloch County Probate Court in April, Tootle said.
“By offering (court) employees ‘recovery messaging’ training and applying it” in dealing with people facing court due to addiction consequences, “it empowers us to better serve our community, raise awareness of this critical issue, and build a sustainable future for our community,” she said.
Court matters involving addiction are not always criminal. The Bulloch County Probate Court handles civil issues such as custody, estate planning, inheritance, marriage licenses and firearms permits. Often, complications with addiction figure into these matters, Tootle said.
“The Probate Court assists citizens in many areas,” said Bulloch County Probate Judge Lorna DeLoach. “Mental health and substance use are included in these areas. We meet with families of individuals who are needing crisis stabilization and support. I issue orders to apprehend for those folks who are not in the frame of mind to go voluntarily for help on their own.”
Through the partnership with Freedom Through Recovery, “We learned how to help be a part of getting rid of the stigma attached to substance use disorders and mental health,” DeLoach said. “How to be conscious of and spread positivity in our language to educate ourselves, and the importance of communication and community.”
Tootle explained recovery messaging as simply “language aimed at reducing stigma for those recovering from substance use disorder. Our goal is to shift conversations by focusing on recovery rather than active addiction only, and the persons involved rather than just their illness.”
The program itself is not limited to those with legal issues. Anyone seeking help with addiction is welcome and services are free, Tootle said.
“Freedom Through Recovery promotes long-term recovery from substance use by providing experienced peer support and advocating for self-directed care,” she said. “Serving people in recovery, people desiring recovery, friends and family of those affected by substance use disorder and the community at large, the program strives to build a community that supports recovery and is recovery friendly.”
Last year, the agency connected with 5,040 individuals, with 13,311 follow-up services, she said.
Tootle hopes other entities in Bulloch County will be interested in recovery messaging training. Staff with the Bulloch County Probate Court staff thought their training was helpful.
"We enjoyed learning about all of the amazing and beneficial services (FTR) offers our community,” said Deputy Probate Clerk Kasey Rogers "We learned a lot of helpful information … such as using positive language and recovery messaging to reduce any stigma associated with substance use or mental health. We plan to continuously incorporate the things that we learned when communicating with clients and those around us."
Tootle encourages anyone or any organization interested in free “messaging” training, to contact Sydney Hardee at Freedom Through Recovery (912) 764-8283.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 243-7815.