Over the years I have realized that everyone dedicated to help those struggling with addiction has a story, either of their own personal journey, a loved one’s, or of simply being overwhelmed by the tragedy of addiction in their community. People don’t typically set out from the start to work in this field, and that was definitely the case for Stefanie Robinson.
This Thursday, July 9th, Stefanie will be celebrating 12 years in recovery from addiction and an eating disorder. She is married with two kids and currently works as the Executive Director of Hope Recovery Community and the Peer Support Services Coordinator for OhioGuidestone in Medina, Ohio where she is originally from. Stefanie and I have known each other for several years. Her team has helped with the ongoing development of relink.org by providing valuable insights on community needs. As a part of our article series to honor those in recovery working to help others, I reached out to Stefanie to see if she would be willing to share her story.
Stefanie grew up as a sort of “golden child”. She excelled in school and sports, and found herself in a successful career after college, but behind closed doors Stefanie’s life told a different story. Stefanie started drinking and using drugs in high school. She loved it from day one because she had always struggled with perfectionism and said that using drugs or alcohol made her feel normal in situations that weren’t. Her drug use continued throughout college where she had a division one soccer scholarship at Bowling Green State University. “I was really good at wearing a mask and leading two lives” she said.
“I was constantly running from reality.”
Despite giving up her scholarship and being sucked into the college partying environment, Stefanie was able to graduate with a degree in journalism and marketing with few knowing she was truly struggling. After college, Stefanie had a couple overdoses that lead her to slow down her drug use. She started a six figure corporate sales job, but she was still abusing alcohol. At that time she also developed an eating disorder. She said she “was constantly running from reality”. In 2008, Stefanie’s eating disorder is what finally brought her down and lead her to seek help at a christian treatment center for addiction and eating disorders in Virginia.
“That’s when I got in the back seat of my life and let God, my higher power take charge.”
Stefanie was very non-compliant in treatment at first, but one day she said, a counselor “slid me this purple bible and said ‘if you never get to know him, then you’re never going to be able to trust him'”. From that day on she started to look into scripture and that’s when she solidified God as her higher power, she said “I got in the back seat of my life and let God […] take charge”. Stefanie spent a total of 90 days in treatment before returning to Medina.
When Stefanie returned home from treatment, everything in her life changed. She realized that she couldn’t go back to living life like she had. She felt a new sense of purpose from God. She left her previous career behind, became deeply involved in recovery, and started helping with a local nonprofit that worked with those struggling with eating disorders. Through that work and more people hearing her story, Stefanie was approached to come speak to students at schools about her experience. Stefanie spent the next seven years traveling and speaking. She said that through speaking engagements, TV appearances, radio interviews and magazine and newspapers stories she probably reached over 100,000 people, but she wanted to do more, especially in her own community.
In 2016, Stefanie was starting a family and winding down her speaking career, when she started to see the addiction epidemic worsening in her hometown. She knew that she wanted to settle down in Medina and she wanted her kids to grow up in a community that talked about addiction, had support, and didn’t have stigma. While working as a peer supporter in the local drug court program, Stefanie got involved in advocacy through becoming a board member of Ohio Citizen Advocates for Recovery (OCAAR). She said that’s when she started to learn about how to make real change in communities.
Through her involvement at OCAAR, Stefanie learned about Recovery Community Organizations or RCO’s. RCO’s are nonprofits, governed by people in recovery, dedicated to increasing those in long term recovery by providing support, resources, and advocacy. Studies show that if someone makes it to the five year mark in recovery, they are 85% more likely to stay in recovery. RCO’s fill a vital gap in recovery services by providing ongoing aftercare throughout the years, which is beyond what traditional treatment can offer.
“I just kept feeling that call of: this is what you’re made to do, this is what I’m going to equip you to do.”
When Stefanie learned about RCO’s and the amazing impact they could have on a community, she thought about how there didn’t used to be free libraries in every community, but one woman launched a movement to change that. Stefanie wondered why there couldn’t be a free, safe place in all communities, where those in recovery could go to seek support or even just spend an evening in a sober environment. She saw that there was a huge need to relieve those struggling in her area from the loneliness and isolation of addiction, and provide hope. She said she “just kept feeling that call of: this is what you’re made to do, this is what I’m going to equip you to do” from her higher power, so she decided to start her own movement.
It took several years, some failures, a lot of hard work, and meetings over coffee, but with support from the local mental health and recovery board and her new employer, OhioGuidestone, in October 2019 Stefanie and her team opened Hope Recovery Community. The beautiful Hope Recovery Community center is open daily with recovery support group meetings, yoga, special events, and community meals. Peer supporters are on hand or able pick up to phone to offer help and placement into treatment.
“The most beautiful thing is being a small part of somebody’s life transforming.”
Since 2018, Hope Recovery Community has helped over 600 people access detox, residential treatment, and recovery housing. Each month, they average over 2000 recovery touches which can range from someone visiting center, to a peer support call. Stefanie said that “it’s like magic” when someone finds recovery and “the most beautiful thing is being a small part of somebody’s life transforming”. She shared with me that “recovery just blows your mind” because sometimes there are people that you have tried to help time and time again without success, but the next thing you know they are showing up to 12 step yoga or taking peer supporter training. She said it’s incredible to see how far some people have come to now be living lives they never dreamed of.
“We don’t save people’s lives, we help people save their own lives.”
The past several months have been trying for Hope Recovery Community as it has for many. “We are losing about one person every week” to an overdose Stefanie shared. When the lock downs started due to COVID-19, Stefanie and her team worked incredibly hard to adapt quickly. They moved all their meetings to an online format and started offering weekly, over the phone recovery check-ins to the community. They are back open now, offering meetings both online and in person, but it’s been hard. All Stefanie says she wants to do is help people see their potential and to help create an opportunity for someone to find help. “We don’t save people’s lives, we help people save their own lives” she said, people provide their willingness and she provides the opportunity.
I asked Stefanie what she hopes to do in the future to help others in recovery. She is very passionate about the idea of integrating more peer support within the community, and her advocacy work with OCAAR’s Recovery Bill of Rights. She is also excited because OhioGuidestone is set to be opening a recovery home for women soon that she will be running. For others working in the recovery field, Stefanie emphasizes the importance of keeping her own recovery a priority, still attending meetings every week and surrounding herself with support.
Stefanie’s recovery journey has brought about hope and the start of recovery for so many others. I am so excited to see what she does next! You can learn more about Hope Recovery Community or connect to Stefanie by visiting them on Facebook.
Did you know that there are many people working in the addiction recovery field that are recovering from addiction themselves? These dedicated and unsung heroes are often working behind the scenes, but on the front lines of the addiction crisis. To honor them and share some of their unique insights, this interview is part of a series. To make sure you don’t miss next week’s article, like and follow us on Facebook today!
About the Author
Bethany Friedrichsen is the Statewide Coordinator for relink.org. She has a background in psychology and has been working for the past three years in the addiction recovery and reentry space to create connections for people in need to the caring resources in their community.