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On October 17, 2010, Sherri woke up from a coma after overdosing on prescription medications in an attempt to get high, her rock bottom following years of drug and alcohol addiction. Already diagnosed with mental illness, Sherri was now faced with a brain injury that affects her short-term memory. But she remembered enough to know that she had had enough – it was time to change her life.
Sherri has been clean and sober since that momentous day in the hospital. Her journey to recovery and stability has been fraught with challenges -- intellectual, emotional, physical, and social. Her years struggling with addiction pulled her family apart and meant she had a lot of work to do regaining the trust of loved ones, and her brain injury has severely curtailed her employment opportunities.
Through the years, Sherri points to Advocates as her biggest partner in helping her to get her life back on track – a relationship that is 10 years strong and going. Well before she nearly died from the overdose, Sherri received outreach services through Advocates, and lived in a group home. Later, her brain injury meant she needed round-the-clock support, and she lived in another group home until she was ready to be on her own.
“In October, I will be two years on my own in my apartment,” she says proudly. “Advocates has supported me in every way possible. They’ve always been right by my side.”
There are innumerable things Sherri is grateful for thanks to her outreach workers and other team members in Advocates Behavioral Health Division. She’s been able to get proper health insurance, food assistance through a local organization, and she’s active in Advocates-sponsored recreation and social activities. Every year, she celebrates sober anniversaries with Advocates staff, like lunch at the Cheesecake Factory or a visit to the butterfly garden.
Colleen Lavendier, a member of Advocates Behavioral Health team, worked directly with Sherri for years and remains a close friend and mentor today. She says perhaps the most important lesson she learned from working with Sherri was how to be vulnerable, a key element to building trust, and an essential quality in a partnership.
“Partnerships create ownership in the common goal, allowing people to feel supported while doing the work to reach their goals,” she says. “Reaching goals take work, for all of us, and most of us partner with others to get there.”
Earlier this year, Sherri’s father passed away. While he was ill, Sherri’s mother appointed her power of attorney and she was able to move her dad from Louisiana into a nursing home in Massachusetts. Being able to care for her father at the end of his life was a pivotal moment for Sherri – it not only strengthened her relationship with both of her parents, but also fueled her recovery in a multitude of ways. “If I didn’t have the support of Advocates, I wouldn’t have been able to get through it,” she says.
The support team that has worked with Sherri over the years describe her as fearless, funny, strong, independent, honest, and hard-working. They all acknowledge the tremendous amount of work she has put in, on a personal level, and with the people in her life.
“Sherri brings her full self to every interaction that she has,” says Laura Poirier, an outreach clinician at Advocates. “Rebuilding relationships/trust with people who have been impacted by one’s substance use is a huge challenge.” Laura’s role requires her to be an active listener, celebrating Sherri’s successes and helping her to navigate tough times.
Perhaps one of the most significant milestones in Sherri’s life is her reconnection with her two children, both in their late teens. She recently got her driver’s license again and is excited about getting a car this summer, so she can regularly visit her son, who lives with his dad in Massachusetts; and she’s begun to repair her relationship with her daughter, who lives with Sherri’s mom in Louisiana. “I’m hoping to be able to be a stable support in their life,” she says.
Sherri recognizes how much she’s changed in 10 years. She’s currently exploring jobs that suit her condition and circumstances, like dog-walking and pet-sitting – but long-term, she dreams of becoming a recovery coach to help other individuals with similar experiences. Ultimately, Sherri knows how hard she has worked to get to where she is today. “I’ve really grown,” Sherri says. “I owe a lot of that to myself, but I wouldn’t be here without my team at Advocates, my closest friends, and my parents.”
Michelle Love, a peer specialist at Advocates who works with Sherri, agrees. “Sherri is an amazing person. I think that whatever she puts her mind to she can accomplish. If she chooses, I would love to be there for her and support her in her next endeavor."