West Side substance abusers find an oasis for free treatment

By Yunyi (Jessie) Liu
Medill Reports

Nichelle Groves hesitated for a while before entering the door near the intersection of Lake Street and Sacramento Boulevard. Since her insurance wouldn’t cover any more inpatient hospital care after a month, Groves followed a recommendation to the Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center, though she didn’t really believe she could get help here to overcome drug abuse.

Now, more the a year later, she knows she went to the right place.

“I’ve had a-year-and-three-month clean, which I’m very proud of,” Groves said. “I never thought of having any time clean, and I felt like ‘that’s my life.’ But after getting involved in (the center), I enjoyed it. It’s the best thing for me. Now, I’m a mentor.” A mentor here is somebody who’s gone through the program in Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center successfully, and come back to volunteer and help others with their experiences.

Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center – a nonprofit center located in East Garfield Park – was founded and funded in 2015 by businessman Bryan Cressey, to welcome the invisible, the ignored, and the uninsured alcoholics and addicts of Chicago’s West Side. The center helps people out of addiction who have been traumatized and marginalized.

“Half the people who come to us are mandated [here]. They’re coming because they’re either recently being released from jail or prison, so they have incarceration experiences,” said Michael Hill, the outreach director of the center. “And 25 percent of the other half is homeless people.”

The West Side of Chicago remains one of the most underserved communities for heathcare . Unemployment, poverty, and violence plagued the area, leaving people with limited resources or strength to fight addiction.

However, what we didn’t notice was that this population easily become traumatic. Evidence from Above and Beyond shows 85 percent of their substance abusing populations are afflicted with diagnosable levels of trauma, according to Electronic Health Record(EHR). This is the center’s own database that includes the initial evaluation of every client.

“We have clients who have been stuck up by drug dealers that almost killed or murdered them, or we have clients whose parents traumatized them when they’re younger, or their parents were traumatized,” said Ashley Lewis, a senior counselor at Above and Beyond. Those people have all their anger and anxiety inside.

A trauma group and therapy give people a way to talk about their thoughts, feelings and reactions to the people they meet and trust. By giving affirmative comments, the center encourages clients to recognize that their symptoms are normal reactions to abnormal circumstances, Hill said.

Besides, behavioral therapies such as like yoga and acupuncture classes are also provided to release the trauma. The center bases such treatments on the work of Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the foremost trauma experts in the world who believes trauma is held in the major muscle groups of the body. By lessening hurts from the body, the biggest reason on abuse alcohol or drugs would collapse.

“Basically what we’re trying to do is not treating this symptom, which is the drinking and drugging, we’re trying to treat the reason that the person needs to drug to be all right with the world.” said Hill.

Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center opened two years ago and has a staff of 20. In 2016, approximately 700 people registered for programs and the numbers grew to nearly 2000 in 2017. Once a month, there’s a ceremony and certificates to celebrate graduates. Seven wonderful students became alumni last month, said Hill.

Dan Hostetler, executive director at Above and Beyond, added that students are always welcome to go back to join the session, free of charge.

“Good things can happen here, and can also happen to other people here.” said Hill.

Photo at top: Staff of the Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center celebrate together.(A still from a video by Yunyi(Jessie) Liu/MEDILL)