I know what it's like: a walk with a peer supporter
NOTE: This is the first in a series of stories about peer supporters and their work with individuals in recovery from addiction and mental health issues.
There's no mistaking Sarah Neff's enthusiasm for her work.
"I love what I do!" she said as we talked one morning at a local coffee shop. "I never had someone like me when I was going through everything, so I'm glad to help someone else's journey a little easier than mine."
Sarah's journey to becoming a peer supporter started with her own addiction issues. After getting past her own addiction and moving into an ongoing recovery, Sarah had started working in the child care field. It was there she found what she called her "calling".
"I was working with kids who had families dealing with addiction and mental health issues," Sarah said. "I realized that I was helping the kids of parents who had issues, but hadn't been able to share with parents themselves about my own journey.
"So, I started reaching out to them and sharing my story. I did that for 13 years."
After learning about the peer support program, Sarah knew she'd found her passion. She applied and started through the training program at Mental Health America of Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky, an agency funded by MHRS. As part of that development, Sarah created a program she uses with both kids and adults on her caseload.
"My own daughter was a big part of my recovery," Sarah said. "I see the kids as that same help to their own parents, too. They have a sheet to fill out about their feelings and experiences, and the parents have the same sheet to complete, too. When they come together to read what's been written, the adults see the effects of what they've been doing.
"(The adults) didn't realize how much their kids already knew or understood. Kids were expressing things they couldn't before because they were afraid that it would upset or hurt (their parent)," Sarah said. "The communication really opens up, and the kids are more confident in expressing their hurt, their concerns. The parents also see that if they do something toward recovery, their child is also being helped."
It's also somewhat cathartic for Sarah, too.
"Experiences with my clients has helped me in my recovery, too," she said. "It's been humbling. It helps me remember where I came from and who I am now. It helps me see who I've become."
Sarah sees herself continuing to be a peer supporter for as long as she can. "It's great to see clients get involved and to see them realize what they can do and be."