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Friday, September 29, 2023
Former Oregon State Hospital patient, Shericea Deleon has made it her job to ensure that others on the road to recovery don't walk it alone.
Deleon is an outreach specialist for Dual Diagnosis Anonymous (DDA), an international peer-run nonprofit organization created to support those diagnosed with a mental health concern and addiction. As part of her work, Deleon facilitates recovery groups and provides peer support.
“As a facilitator, I've had experiences with a lot of symptoms that my peers experience, so I understand and can tell them what works for me," she said.
Shericea Deleon talking to attendees at DDA event in Portland.
Deleon first learned of DDA while an OSH patient. For the past 15 years, the hospital has partnered with the organization to provide peer support groups. Throughout the week, about a dozen group sessions are offered to patients on both the Salem and Junction City campuses, said Cee Carver, OSH peer recovery director.
Because the DDA support groups are facilitated by their peers – people who have experienced both addiction and live with mental health challenges– that shared experience helps build trust, allowing patients to open up in ways they may not in a traditional therapy session and start healing, Carver said.
“A lot of people who have extremely traumatic backgrounds have difficulties trusting other folks, and there is also a culture within that unless you've experienced what I've experienced, you have no standing to tell me what I could do to make my life better," she said. “So, both my department and forums like DDA provide them the camaraderie of having other folks with shared lived experience to kind of validate the recovery process. 'How do you know where I'm at if you haven't been where I've been?' That's a huge component of people with trauma histories and difficult backgrounds."
New avenue of support
DDA is a peer-run support organization, meaning all staff from the executive director, regional coordinators, group leaders and volunteers have lived experience with a mental health and addiction diagnosis.
That's intentional. The organization's founder, Corbett Monica was a licensed clinician who was dually diagnosed and in recovery. At the time he started DDA, he was a supervisor and counselor at a substance abuse and mental health program and saw positive impact of peer self-help programs like Alcoholics Anonymous on long-term recovery.
However, AA's structure restricted his patients, many who were being kicked out of meetings for speaking out of turn or discriminated against because they relied on prescribed medication for their mental health.
Monica created a solution – a “12 steps plus 5" recovery program that customizes AA's 12 steps and adds five that are specific to dual diagnosis. He reached out to AA headquarters for permission to make the modifications, explained Doyal Smith, DDA's executive director.
“The five steps recognize the mental health component and being willing to do what's necessary. That includes working with your prescriber, working with your counselor and working with meds. If you are on meds and take as prescribed – that's part of your recovery," Smith said.
By the time Monica moved from California to Oregon in the late 1990s, there were already about 20 peer-led support groups in California, and while still headquartered in Oregon, there are now DDA peer support groups and events across the country and through international chapters.
Before the pandemic, DDA support groups were in 34 of the 36 Oregon counties and served between 3,000 to 4,000 people a month. Since the pandemic, DDA added more online meetings serving an additional 1,500 peers a month to broaden access to support, Smith said.
Monica found early support from OSH leaders in the late 1990s which helped the program grow in Oregon.
“The idea was to get patients into peer support groups to strengthen their recovery and complement their treatment services to give patients long-term recovery and stability," Smith said. “When someone comes into the hospital, their life is out of order. With DDA our goal is to help them find something that gives them a sense of belonging or an 'aha' moment. That's the hope. That's our mission – to provide hope to those who suffer from dual diagnosis."
OSH patients Christina and Kelly (pictured above) recently attended a picnic sponsored by Dual Diagnosis Anonymous, an international peer-run support organization. The social events build community and model ways to enjoy life without alcohol and drugs.
Sharing hope with others is important to Christina, an OSH patient who wants to become a DDA outreach specialist in her home rural community where peer support options are scarce.
“For me, DDA is about learning a new, different way of living and enjoying people," Christina said. “I want to share that with others."
Monica advocated for people with dual diagnosis throughout his more than 40 years of clinical work and his service through national organizations and state boards, including the OSH Advisory Board. He retired as executive director of DDA in 2013 and died in 2015. His legacy continues to impact patients at OSH and across the world.
Recovery in action
Aside from its support groups, DDA also plans social events to build community and model ways to enjoy life without alcohol or drugs. A DDA picnic held over the summer reinforced that message for the OSH patients who attended.
“It was nice going to something that was wholesome fun and not having to deal with alcohol or drugs there," said OSH patient, Kelly. “That's how I'd like to live the rest of my life. I'm trying to get my family to understand that I don't want it around me."
The event was a day filled with games like tug of war, good food and time to connect.
The events are just as important as the groups because they help strengthen peer support for long-term recovery and stability, Smith said.
Some former OSH patients, who are now living in group homes in the community, attended the picnic event, and it was inspirational to witness their progress, said OSH patient Miche whose face lit up at the memory.
“They were smiling and so energized," Miche said. “It makes you feel like they walked out the door and into this cool breeze and sunshine. Some of them were just plain depressed before. It gives you hope."
The events also teach ways to handle social situations where people may not choose to be sober, said OSH patient, Jesse. He shared an important lesson learned when one park goer not associated with the event grew curious about the DDA gathering.
“He came over with a beer in his hand and ended up leaving with a DDA t-shirt," Jesse said with a laugh. “It just shows that in the real world, there will be people in the midst of their addiction and if you turn away from them, you'll stay small in your world."
Shereica Deleon and Doyal Smith address attendees of a DDA event in Portland.
Smith said many former OSH patients, like Deleon, are now facilitators and all DDA operational staff are dual diagnosis peers.
For Deleon, the opportunity to pay it forward through her work with DDA has been life changing.
“People are depending on me to open these meetings, so I feel like I'm needed," Deleon said. “That helps me in my recovery because it holds me accountable to be there to support others."
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