Katie O’Leary, Director of Recovery Support Services at North Suffolk Mental Health Association is a certified Recovery Coach, as is 28 of her staff. This cadre of people have had various struggles with substance use disorder, and now live drug and alcohol free lives. Every day Katie shows up for work ready to provide support and guidance for people who are in recovery or on a path toward it. Katie is strong, confident and dependable. However, it has not always been the case.
Katie grew up in Charlestown and started drinking at a young age. “There were no consequences for drinking at 13,” Katie said. “I went through school and life and there were never any consequences for my actions.” It was socially acceptable, a rite of passage almost she said.
Then, in 11th grade, Katie’s parents took a trip to Alaska. Katie stopped going to school and she finally experienced consequence for her behavior. Given the option to stay back a year and go to Catholic school, she did. Katie stopped drinking, and her grades went up significantly. She was accepted to a number of good colleges. She chose UMass Amherst. Yet, Katie didn’t connect drinking with these experiences at the time, it is only in hindsight that she sees how it was related.
“It all went by so quick. Somewhere in college I transgressed. School was no longer important. My family, I could do without. And drugs and alcohol began to call all the shots,” Katie said. After three years, UMass Amherst “kindly” asked her to leave. “My life came to a screaming halt. No matter how far I walked, I got nowhere. I gave up on every dream, every goal, and every aspiration. I was broken. The only thing I cared about was more,” she added.
The next few years were chaotic. Heroin became Katie’s life. She lived in and out of detoxes, holdings, recovery homes, and jail. “This lifestyle became acceptable to me. Unnecessary risk after unnecessary risk, consequence after consequence, I would do anything to feel numb,” she said. Katie said that her children became innocent victims. I”I had become so guarded and withdrawn that my own children were at the bottom of my priority list.”
Katie found her way to North Suffolk’s Intensive Outpatient Program. “I loved it there,” Katie said. “I did well there.” She said she met someone, fell in love, and got pregnant. Then, her husband started using. Katie followed suit. She lost custody of her son.
Eventually, Katie got arrested and her only option was treatment. She went to North Suffolk’s Meridian House. “Meridian House was the best experience of my life,” Katie said. However, she broke a number of rules, including becoming pregnant. She was asked to leave. This didn’t deter her desire for recovery though. She returned to North Suffolk’s IOP and stayed sober for two years. She gave birth to her daughter, began to reconnect with her son and she and her husband were doing well. Until he used and Katie followed.
Katie left her son with her in-laws but kept her daughter with her during this dark time. All that time out using she thought she was being a good mother. Until one day the cops showed up at a M to arrest her husband. It was a cold and snowy day. Katie and her 18-month old daughter were crouched behind a bush. Her daughter, who had no coat, looked up into Katie’s eyes and said, “Mommy I am cold. And that was it. “In that moment I knew. I had a moment of surrender. I believe God works through people and on that cold day in January, I believe he worked through my daughter. I felt a sense of relief,” Said Katie
Katie went to a treatment center for pregnant/parenting mothers, then a transitional housing program for two years. While there her husband ended up relapsing, yet this time she stayed sober. She attended the Recovery Coach Academy but didn’t do anything with it right away. Until one day Kim Hanton, [title] from North Suffolk was looking for a Recovery Coach. Katie interviewed and has been working at North Suffolk ever since.
Today Katie, sober 12 years, her ex-husband, sober 8 plus years, and Katie’s boyfriend and father to her youngest, sober 10 years, all co-parent their three children in a loving and open way. “By aiding me in my time of need and providing services and support throughout my journey, North Suffolk has positively impacted me and my children. And for that, I will be forever grateful,” said Katie.