Meet the Resident: Erik

Finding Hope in the Shadows: A Journey from Isolation to Empowerment

In the heart of every community lies stories of struggle, growth, and the pursuit of redemption. Such is the narrative of Erik, whose journey from troubled beginnings to an empathetic counselor exemplifies the strength found in perseverance and empathy.

In May, Erik arrived at Dismas House after multiple decades of living in what he describes as a high-stress state. “Like many people suffering from addictions, I spent years and years running.  I consistently placed myself in dangerous positions, physically and emotionally. I was running from my past, the police, and the inevitable  doing everything I could to get by daily. I knew at some point that it would catch up to me, but I didn’t understand how to address the root problems then.”

Coming to Terms with His Past

Erik’s life was marked by instability from an early age. “I grew up with an abusive mother — mentally, emotionally, and physically. My dad was around but not really present. I would say that’s where it all started. I was a child looking for an ‘Attaboy’ and didn’t receive it.”

After losing his mother at age 12, Erik found himself navigating the complexities of the foster care system and, without being equipped with proper tools to develop coping mechanisms, found himself entangled in a constant cycle of trouble. “Many addictions stem from similar situations as what I experienced. Traumatic experiences. You feel badly in a situation, and you learn to do whatever it takes to not feel that way. You want to be seen, and you figure out ways to feel ‘understood.'”

Ultimately, this tumultuous path led to his incarceration in 2018.  Amidst the shadows of his past, however, Erik discovered a glimmer of hope that would shape his future.

A Paradigm Shift

During his time in prison, Erik found a unique job opportunity that shifted his paradigm. “I started receiving counseling in prison after the pandemic started — when the government provided checks to us. I spent that money on counseling services. That was a game-changer for me personally. I then learned that I could provide peer support as a job and help facilitate classes, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.”

It was in this unexpected role that he began to recognize similarities between his life and others. Through addiction counseling, he found purpose and recognized the profound impact he could have in supporting other individuals on their journey toward healing.

“That’s when I started the process of becoming a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist. Everything changed  from my worldview to the way I viewed myself.”

“I remember talking to a friend of 30 years and telling her that I was looking into becoming a CPRS, and she said, ‘That’s exactly what I do for a living now!’ I’ve known her since before I was in the juvenile system, and we’ve done similar things all our lives. Some of that involved the wrong things that resulted in prison. I was amazed to see that we had both come full circle and were now on a path of recovery to help others.”

Creating a Meaningful Career

Upon arriving at Dismas House, Erik wasted no time in seeking opportunities to complete the steps for his peer recovery certification. “I knew that I was going to have to change everything if I wanted a different future. I changed where I lived, the people I spent time with, and the activities I participated in. I dedicated myself to the career I wanted to have moving forward.” After working with his case manager to have his driver’s license reinstated, he steadily began completing an intensive, 40-hour training, which involves recovery, communication, co-occurring disorders, trauma-informed care, and more.

To complete the certification, Erik would also need to provide 75 hours of counseling services. In recent months, he has devoted countless hours to personal studies and practical experience, including volunteer work and supervised sessions with individuals in need. Just two weeks ago, Erik was hired as a counselor at an addiction treatment center, signifying not only a personal triumph but a testament to his commitment to helping others find their way. This week, he achieved the necessary supervision hours to finalize the certification process.

Erik excitedly shared, “It is truly a blessing to be where I am today. This passion was there for a really long time, and it will be amazing to become an official CPRS.”

Coming Full-Circle

Erik’s story resonates with empathy and emotion, inspiring those around him to embrace the power of resilience and redemption. As he walks alongside fellow residents at Dismas House, Erik embodies the spirit of mentorship, offering a guiding hand to those in need. Looking toward the future, Erik dreams of becoming a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LADC) and ultimately opening his own counseling center.

“What I love about the CPRS position is that I get to share with others that I have been in their shoes. I didn’t go to school or read books to learn to connect with them. I lived it. When I share these similarities with others, they open up quickly they feel understood. That’s what I had been searching for all those years. I want to show them that they are seen and valued.”

Through his courage and determination, Erik lights the way for others, proving that even the darkest nights can give rise to the dawn of a new beginning.

“The people sitting across the desk from me at the addiction center tell me they’re proud of me. They see hope, because they see someone who looks like them but changed for the better. Sometimes this work is terrifying it’s hard to change patterns you’ve followed your entire life. But every hard moment is worthwhile when I can look someone in the eyes and say, ‘If I can do this, you can do this.'”