Why do people become addicted to drugs or alcohol? While the answer to this question often varies from person to person, there is usually a common thread of a person’s desire to escape what’s happening around them. For this week’s article, Dan Pew shares what that experience was like for him and how he found recovery. Dan is the Director of Community Outreach for Parkman Recovery Center in Warren, Ohio. Him and I met last month at a community outreach event in Ravenna where I went to share relink.org. When I met Dan, he exuded positivity and I was so excited to learn about his recovery journey.
Dan grew up in the Youngstown area as an only child with two loving and gracious parents who were always trying to help others. Dan excelled in school and as an athlete, eventually becoming football captain. Early on in his childhood however, Dan started to notice that there was something different about his home life. Dan said he remembers first realizing what was going on after seeing a DARE poster with pictures of drugs on it in elementary school. That’s when Dan first knew that his dad was using drugs. Since Dan saw the destruction and pain of substance use at an early age, he never wanted to try any drugs or alcohol. And he didn’t, until he was 16, the peer influences became too much, and he starting using alcohol and marijuana. He also started taking drugs from his dad’s stash. Soon other kids caught on and started asking him for a supply.
“everyone looked at me like I was going to save the day. I couldn’t save the day.”
Dan’s use escalated from experimental to full blown addiction in 2005 when he began using his dad’s prescription opioids. Dan said that his dad had so many pills that he could take from the supply every day without him noticing. Looking back, Dan now realizes that this was around the start of the opioid epidemic. His dad had chronic pain from a injury as a teenager, but was definitely being over-prescribed, fostering addiction like it did for many others at the time.
Even though Dan’s addiction was still progressing and he had no future plans, in 2006 he graduated from Canfield High School with a 4.0. After high school there was a massive shift in Dan’s life that eventually drove him to the breaking point. In 2007 after a few months of sobriety, Dan’s father relapsed and a week later died of an overdose. Dan said he remembers waking up at 5am to his mother screaming and going up stairs to find his father had passed. At the time, Dan said “everyone looked at me like I was going to save the day. I couldn’t save the day.”
“I get to have another chance, I get to maybe make my mom proud.”
After the death of his father, Dan starting using heroin in addition to other substances which landed him in jail and in and out of treatment a couple times. At 27 years old, Dan made his second attempt in treatment at a center in Georgia. Dan was miserable at first, but he remembers something changed when he was talking to another guy in the program. Dan had expressed that he just didn’t want to go to any more meetings and groups and the guy looked at him and said “you don’t have to go, you get to go.” That’s when he realized, Dan said, that “this was an opportunity, that I get to be alive today, I get to go to this group, I get to have another chance, I get to maybe make my mom proud.” Though she struggled at times, it’s clear that Dan’s mom is his hero. Throughout Dan’s time in active addiction, she maintained a demanding full-time job while caring for Dan and his foster brother with mental disabilities. Without his mom guiding him into treatment, Dan said, “I would not have survived.”
After returning home from treatment in Georgia, Dan had to go to court for several criminal charges he received beforehand. That’s when Dan became a participant in Mahoning County’s Drug Court, where he excelled. He got a sponsor and a home group. He started writing again and really dedicating himself to his recovery. He was all in and ended up graduating the drug court program in 11 months. Because of Dan’s people skills and connections he made in his recovery, Dan acquired a job at a local treatment center running groups with clients. That’s where Dan first learned about meditation and mindfulness which completely changed his life, helping him work through trauma, fear, and anxiety.
“what do I have to be afraid of? The anxiety is gone, the fear is gone because I got perspective from recovery”
In 2017, the treatment center Dan worked for was raided by the government and shut down due to medicaid fraud. This left Dan and many others without a job. At that point he considered walking away from the addiction treatment field, but one day while praying about the situation he said he just felt like his higher power said to him “who are you to not do this? Go do this and give it another shot.” Soon after Dan learned about a new center that was about to open, Parkman Recovery Center. He was eventually hired there as a case manager/CDCA tech. Because the center was new, Dan was promoted fairly quickly. In his supervisor role he was finally able to use those leadership skills he had developed being a football captain when he was younger.
Today, as the Director of Community Outreach at Parkman, Dan is in charge of community involvement, marketing, and planning ways to reduce the stigma of addiction. Dan said that “addiction is a community disease” and it goes beyond just drugs or alcohol, but in recovery amazing things are happening every day and people need to see that. Dan enjoys his new role and the opportunities he gets to talk to the public because he said “what do I have to be afraid of? The anxiety is gone, the fear is gone because I got perspective from recovery that no human being is better than me and I’m not better than anyone else.” Dan also serves on the treatment team for the Mahoning County Drug Court where he was a participant and said “that it is so unbelievable” to be “inside of the thing I was a part of”.
“the biggest part of recovery is continuing to stay in the process of change.”
Currently he is working on creating a yoga studio at Parkman where people are able to pause, be in the moment, and connect with themselves. Dan said the results and feedback from it have been amazing so far. For his own recovery and connection to his higher power, Dan utilizes yoga and mindfulness. He loves getting to incorporate these into his work life as well as personal life he shares with his wonderful fiance Raven. Dan is still involved in a 12-step fellowship, has a sponsor, and attends meetings. Dan said “I still continue to grow and work on all my defects and short comings” and he thinks “that the biggest part of recovery is continuing to stay in the process of change.”
Dan loves what he is doing now, because he gets to continuously to see people at the beginning of their recovery come out of darkness and pain onto this path to eventually creating positive change in the world themselves. When Dan and I spoke about this, also discussed how hard it is to be confronted with the realities of addiction every day working in this field, but those difficult times spur us on to appreciate the good when it happens and stay motivated to keep working to impact more lives. So far, Dan has had the privilege to take part or participate in hundreds of peoples journeys in recovery, but when it comes to helping others, Dan said “I don’t do anything, my higher power gives me the opportunity, that’s it.”
For those struggling today, Dan wants you to know that “you are worth it, you are loved, you are accepted”. If you run towards recovery, things will get better. As Dan continues his work, he hopes to show the world that no matter who you are, what your job is, what you’ve been through, you can positively change someone else’s life.
To get connected with Dan or learn more about his work, you can reach out to him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.