Recovering from addiction

Tierra D. never thought she’d be in the position to be able to help others. She spent 11 years as an active drug user, often living on the streets or out of her car.  But after inpatient treatment and a lot of work, she now spends her days helping to support others who also struggle with co-occurring mental illness and substance use.

Peer support training

Tierra was part of the first class of Peer Support Training offered at Alaska Behavioral Health. She was anxious about it: she had to take a week of unpaid leave from her job, and she wasn’t sure what to expect. But she loved it, from sharing stories with her peers to the in-depth class  curriculum binder.  It was the first time she learned what it looks like to be in recovery in mental health: that it could mean being on medication and stable, having goals and a positive life – while still living with symptoms of mental illness.  She still uses skills she learned in the class every day.

Peer support specialist

Following the class, she was hired as a peer support specialist for Alaska Behavioral Health.

Relatability is key to the role. She relates to clients who are not wanting to take their medication, because she doesn’t always like it either.  As a peer support specialist, she often felt like her role was to help with communication between the client and the treatment team – to make sure clients were heard and felt heard.

Becoming a case manager

Now, Tierra works as a substance use disorder case manager for the ACT (Assertive Community Treatment) Team.  The ACT team is a multi-disciplinary team that keeps in close contact with clients, seeing them almost daily in the community where they live, prompting for medications, and helping with housing. She still brings her peer support perspective.

 “Coming out of a life of substance use with a mental health diagnosis is taxing.  I try to just level with clients about that. And sometimes just sit in silence with them on that.”  

Tierra wants all of her clients to succeed, and sometimes she has to remind herself to take a step back and give them space to be on their own recovery journey. But she doesn’t stop being their cheerleader: as she likes to tell them, “Baby steps are still steps.