RiverMend Health Center of Atlanta Manager Helps Patients Find Support and Community in Structured Living
Matthew Newcome had loving parents, a solid middle class upbringing and the financial means to go away to college. But none of that was enough to protect him from becoming addicted to opioid painkillers.
A Percocet prescription after a car accident rapidly spiraled out of control. When his doctor refused to continuing refilling his prescription, he went searching for drugs on the streets, which led him to heroin.
“It was a very dark time in my life. I got strung out really quickly,” Matthew said. “Heroin dictated everything in my life. My whole life was consumed with how I was going to use, and how I was going to keep using. The feeling was, ‘If I don’t have this, I’m not going to make it.’ It’s primal.”
“I went from drinking and smoking a little pot, to fast forward three years I’m an IV heroin addict wondering what in the hell happened.”
At the urging of his parents, he sought treatment, and stayed sober for nearly two years. But after his 21st birthday, he started drinking again – and the road led right back to heroin.
His parents gave him an ultimatum. “My family basically said, ‘You can either go to treatment or we’re done with you.’ I really believed them. I believed this was my one opportunity to get better. I didn’t want to be that way. I just didn’t know how to be any other way.”
The second time, treatment was a success. He returned to school, earned his Bachelor of Science in Psychology and committed his career to helping others recover from addiction. Today, Matthew is a Certified Peer Specialist and residence manager at RiverMend Health Center of Atlanta, where he oversees two sober living residences for patients in the Intensive Outpatient, Partial Hospitalization and Outpatient Programs.
“A lot of people who become addicted to heroin don’t make it. A lot of people die. I think it’s very important for people like me who have gained a life back to share a message of hope. Not just for addicts to hear, but for families to hear as well,” Matthew said.
Establishing Routines, Sticking to Schedules in Structured Living
Having spent six months in a sober living residence during his own treatment, Matthew knows the importance of a stable, supportive living environment during treatment and while preparing to transition to life after treatment.
RiverMend Health Center of Atlanta’s Structured Living Program includes separate residences for men and women. The environment offers patients the opportunity to practice sober life skills, and receive support and encouragement from a community of their peers.
For patients in recovery, establishing routines and sticking to schedules is crucial, Matthew said. Maintaining a normal sleep and wake cycle helps avoid triggers, such as staying up late into the night, which could lead to relapse. Eating meals at regular hours is a healthy habit that’s especially important for individuals in recovery – feeling hungry and fatigued can make it harder to resist cravings. Being ready to go to meetings on time is about being accountable to others in the residence and becoming a person that others can count on.
Patients are also given the opportunity to volunteer several times a week at a local animal shelter, providing comfort to animals in need. “To have that sense of purpose, to participate, to show up, to give back to the community – they’re all those life skills that pack positivity back into the stream of life,” he said.
Residents are expected to participate in cooking some meals during their stay. They also receive help with applying for jobs, learning how to follow up and follow through and what to expect on their first day.
“A sober person gets up at a reasonable hour. They cook for themselves. They show up for their job. Show up to volunteer. Plan out what meeting they’re going to that night and they go. They manage their medication. They get themselves to bed at a reasonable hour. People in recovery have to be shown how to do that. We were so consumed with the drug use and the alcohol use, that we either never had those skills or they’re very depleted fc8kfwr.”
Learning to Have Sober Fun
Matthew also works with residents on planning group recreational activities, whether it’s going to the movies or for a hike. “I can speak from my own experience before sobriety. For many of our clients, their recreation was drugs and alcohol. Their routine was drugs and alcohol. With the disease of addiction, when you are that consumed with a substance, it dictates your routine. Drugs told me when I was going to wake up, who I was going to interact with that day, what I was going to get done that day and what was important. It was all based around finding and using drugs.”
“They are so used to using or drinking for fun that when we take that away, we have to show them, this is what a sober person does for fun.”
It’s a lesson that Matthew is grateful to have learned. Sober for five years, he has repaired his relationship with his family. He’s happily married. And he has a rewarding career helping others achieve the success and contentment that he’s found in sobriety.
“If you had told me five years ago, this is what your recovery is going to look like…You’re going to be a manager. You’re going to have a wife who loves you. You’re going to have sober friends who call you and check up on you. You’re going to have your family in your life. You’re going to have tools to deal with the highs and lows of life. There was no way I could fathom that. All I knew was drug addiction.”
“When you get sober, it’s about learning how to live again. My goal is to help other people learn that too.”