FLORENCE, Kentucky — McKenzie Cokonaugher will never be able to erase from her mind the look in her mother’s eyes the day she was put into handcuffs in front of the courthouse last summer.
What You Need To Know
- Three women tell their stories of addiction, recovery, helping others
- Graduates from addiction program are mentoring residents on same path
- Director says the pandemic lockdown led to an overdose spike
Her own pain and disappointment in herself and the life she was living was clearly reflected back at her in her mother’s tear-filled eyes — it was the turning point for the 21 year old.
"She was terrified. She was absolutely terrified," Cokonaugher vividly recalled the day her mother saw her arrested. "I seen things in her eyes at that moment and it put things into perspective for me.”
The fear in her mother’s eyes struck a chord with her.
"I didn't realize the effect it had on her. It had a toll on me but that really opened my eyes for me to take a look at what I was doing, not only to myself, but to the people that loved me as well,” she said. "And that's when I really sat down and thought about what it was that I was putting myself through because I've never had something make me so careless in my life.”
Her addiction, she said, "made me a terrible person. It hurt other people, people I didn't know, people I've known my whole life. I was just a dark, dark person. I was in a dark place.”
For five years, “bad things happened,” she said.
Wearing a black mask over her face, Cokonaugher sits inside the Brighton Recovery Center, reliving those darkest memories from living on the streets.
"I've had guns put to my head. I've been raped. I've been molested. I've been robbed repeatedly,” she said. "It's easier to deal with now, but it doesn't go away, ever.”
When she was arrested for the last time in June 2019, she had been homeless for about eight months, by choice, she said. She hopped from house to house and "crashed wherever I got tired.”
"If I was walking, I would literally just stop and go to sleep,” waking up on someone’s front porch, someone’s backyard — wherever she passed out, she remembered.
And her first thought each time she woke up: "OK, how can I get high today?”
Born and raised in Nicholasville, Kentucky, Cokonaugher recounts her journey to living a sober life but it was not an easy one to tackle. Along the way, however, she has had help from others traveling that same journey.
Her story started in high school while drinking with friends. She didn't like drinking, she said, because she would get sick, but she liked the effect that drinking had on her. So, she started venturing out to other substances that would give her the same effect she desired without getting ill afterward.
"[I was] trying to hide all the emotions I didn't know how to deal with because I didn't know how to explain myself. I didn't know how to feel anything and I was scared to. There was a lot of fear,” she said about why she started using drugs.
It quickly spiraled.
"I got wrapped up with people, the wrong people... and started using Xanax and then it just kind of took off from there,” she said. "Everybody noticed something was going on with me. I was very different, very angry, very withdrawn from everyone around me—I wasn't a part of my family; I wasn't very active in social events anymore.”
When her family tried to intervene, she left.
"It got worse from there,” she said.
She started experimenting with harder drugs like opioids and methamphetamines, she admitted. She stuck with meth.
For her, it gave her a sense of euphoria and made her feel "invincible." When she injected the drug into her bloodstream, she said she could feel it move throughout her body.
"It was a huge rush. It was easy; it was there; it was cheap. Time just seemed to disappear and that's what I really loved about it. I hated it and loved it at the same time,” she said.
But when the euphoria wore off, things started coming into focus. And it was bad.
"Everything got crazy, crazier. I was hearing stuff. I was seeing stuff.”
She could not get a job; she was sick and rapidly losing weight from a lack of eating while using meth.
"My lowest point was when I was sleeping outside and I had starting using the needle and I didn't care where it came from. I didn't care who used it before me; I didn't care if it was clean,” she said. "I didn't care about any of the normal things that I should care about.”
She dropped out of high school four months prior to graduating.
"I wanted to be sober, but I didn't know how to be sober,” she said about her struggle to stay clean. "I stayed in and out of trouble, going to jail, going to treatment, going to jail, going to treatment.”
Over two years, she had been in and out of jail eight times and her longest stretch of sobriety was three months.
"I was tired of running around on the streets and not having my own place to be in—having to worry about where I was going to sleep and who was out to get me, and if I had to rob somebody to get what I wanted,” she said. “I was tired of not having a relationship with my family.”
When she was arrested, yet again for possession, in front of the courthouse and in front of her mother, something clicked while she sat behind the all-too-familiar bars.
"Jail is no big deal—it doesn't bother me. It's very easy to sit in jail but I didn't want to do that. I was tired of the same old routine. But I knew, on my own, I couldn't stay away from drugs. So, I knew I needed something and I decided to come to long-term treatment,” she reconciled.
With that arrest, she was mandated by the court to seek treatment, however, it was her choice to enter Brighton's program. She knew she needed something different and more long-term than she had done in treatment before.
That choice to begin a new life brought her to the Brighton Recovery Center in Florence, Kentucky 10 months ago.
She paused her story for a moment when her mom stopped by to drop off some items for her and before she leaves, they say “I love you” to each other.
It’s a big step for them both.
Cokonaugher was not close to her mom prior to her admission into the recovery center. In fact, they had a turbulent relationship, she said. But ever since the look she saw in her mom’s eyes the day she was arrested, she has realized that her mom will always be by her side.
"I'm grateful she didn't turn her back on me ever,” she said.
Today, she said she feels “amazing,” calling hope “beautiful.”
"It's like reality and life has never been so clear. Even before addiction, I struggled with seeing the brighter side of things.”
"Today, it's like I have hope for my future. I know that I'm capable of accomplishing many things as long as I do what I need to do to stay sober,” she said. "It feels right waking up in the morning. It feels worth it. I don't dread the next day.
"I feel happy and peaceful with who I am today. I'm more comfortable being who I am. I don't have to hide behind a mask and I don't have to cover anything up anymore, and that's amazing. It feels amazing.”
But from her sobriety came a flooding of emotions and guilt.
“The way that I've treated people and the things that I've done and the things that have been done to me because of the situations that I chose to put myself in. And it was hard dealing with that. It really was.”
That is one of the main things that have kept her sober for 10 months this time around.
"I don't want to go out and relapse because I don't want to deal with getting sober again,” she said. “Going through that process and all of the pain, and the emotions and the shame that you feel afterwards, it's not fun. It's not easy. But it was worth it, definitely worth it in the end.”
And the only person who can keep her sober, she said, is her.
"I'm doing it for me this time.”
Now, still in treatment herself, she peer mentors those alongside her on her ongoing journey—and that helps her as well.
"I think the only thing that gets me through it is trying to help other young people in similar situations, so hopefully they don't have to go through all that and if they have, just to be the person they can reach out to and confide in,” she said.
"Hopefully, I can just be the change that they need to see so they don't have to experience those things like I did.”
But before Cokonaugher helped others, she was mentored by those who overcame their addiction.
"It's all about having the support, and I think that's where a lot of my hope came from and a lot of my faith came from—is watching the women in the house who have been in the program longer and overcome their obstacles. That really is what got me through the most difficult time here because I looked up to them. They're happy, they enjoy life, they're smiling. I want that. I want what they have.”
She said seeing graduates come back and mentor other women like her is inspirational.
"It shows me that we do recover—that relapse doesn't have to be a part of your story. And it inspires me to be the change that I want to see.”
"They showed me that it was OK not to be OK all of the time,” she said. "This house has changed my entire perspective on life and what it's like to have genuine people that care about you—that care about your well-being, about what you're going through and how you're feeling. It's about building each other up.”
Those women showed her what the other side of addiction looks like, encouraged her and gave her an ear whenever she needed it. And by mentoring those still struggling in their own recovery helps her as well, reminding her how far she has come on her own journey.
Inside the mentoring office where she works at Brighton, quotes flood the walls around her: “Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try;” “When it rains look for rainbows. When it’s dark, look for stars.”
As she greets women coming in and out of the office, she said being a mentor allows her “see how far I’ve come, get them to the point to where I’m at.”
Before COVID-19, the women would have gathered for large peer support groups. However, these days, it’s more about small groups or one-on-one meetings.
Cokonaugher trains others in the program who want to be peer mentors like her. She also uses the office to have sit-down, one-on-one sessions with women who just need to talk, vent or share what they are going through—giving them an ear and listens to their fears with an understanding mind of someone who can relate to their experiences.
When she was addicted, she said, she was a loner. But in treatment, she has learned to lean on others and let others lean on her.
“Now, I’m learning to be a part of something—it’s unity. We are more comfortable with ourselves,” she said.
“They feel the love; they feel the compassion. No matter what happens, at the end of the day, we just want to make sure each other is OK,” Cokonaugher said, pushing her mask up over her nose as it slipped down.
“Before I got here, I wouldn’t offer to help anyone,” she said. “I was a selfish person—it was a really dark time in my life. I can never imagine being the person again.”
And her plans for the future, go beyond not being a more supportive person, she also wants finish her high school education.
"I wanna be somebody. I wanna be something more than just a drug addict or an alcoholic,” she said.
For her, sobriety is nearly indescribable.
"The only way I can describe it is like watching the sun when it reflects off the ocean and blinds you. That's literally what it felt like to be sober and to be happy with myself, with my life. To look forward to leaving treatment and being able to start over,” Cokonaugher said.
Graduates from the program, like Morgan Borens, have also come back to help other women who are on the same path they traveled not so long ago at Brighton Recovery Center.
Borens, 27, was a first-time treatment resident and graduated from the program in May.
Wearing a rainbow leopard mask and a pink hoop nose ring, and donning long, sky-blue manicured nails with one bubblegum pink nail on each hand, she sits inside the center where she lived for 13 months recovering from her addiction.
She rests her arms on the table in front of her showcasing several tattoos that remind her of her journey over the years.
A blurry "Alice in Wonderland" is tattooed on her forearm because, she said, she and Alice have a lot in common.
"She's always been my favorite; I always felt like I kind of fit in with her because I, too, got lost for a long time,” she said.
And just below Alice is a skull inside butterfly wings, next to the words scrolling below: “All you touch and all you see is all your life will ever be”—a quote from her favorite Pink Floyd song, “Breathe.”
"Stay Golden” is freshly inked in cursive on her hand, reminding her that "even on my bad days, I still have to ‘stay golden’—I still have to do what I'm supposed to do and be good,” she said.
Borens grew up in the small western Kentucky town of Benton—evident by her thick southern drawl. It’s about a five-hour drive from where she sits today in the Florence treatment center.
She started using methamphetamine when she was 15 years old.
“That just kind of escalated. I started getting in trouble when I was 20. I thought that would be enough to get me to stop but it wasn't,” she admitted.
She remembers that her house growing up was considered the "party house.”
"I wanted to do whatever I wanted to do and not have to worry about consequences,” she said.
But in 2017, there would be consequences for her action—and not just for her.
While driving high on meth, in the middle of nowhere, along with two friends, she was traveling down a long, straight country road.
It was pitch black.
She had been up for three months with little to no sleep, she recalled.
"When I looked up, I seen something in the middle of the road but I'd been seeing stuff for a few days because I needed to go to bed," she said.
"I slowed down still and I realized it was a person, so when I tried to go around him, he jumped out like he was going to jump in front of my car. So, I went back the other way and as I went to go around him, he actually jumped on my car.”
"I stopped; I looked over at the guy that was with me—all of us are on probation that was in the car—and the best idea that I could come up at the time was to go home.”
She left the scene, leaving the stranger lying in the road.
"I was looking at 15 to 20 years in prison. By the grace of God, he lived and they dropped the assault because I didn't mean to do it.”
Although he survived, that choice to drive away haunts her to this day.
"Sometimes stuff still comes back..." she said choked up with emotion. “But I learn how to deal with that now. It's not like [I'm] forgetting that it happened, but [I'm] just forgiving myself for letting it happened and moving past it.”
But as soon as she left jail, she was drinking and getting high again.
"Up until this point, every day I was like, 'I'm just gonna serve out, I'm gonna do my time and I'm gonna go home and do whatever I want,’” she said. "I've always been the type of person, like, I wasn't ever gonna go to treatment; I didn't ever want to get better. I wanted to live my life the way I'd been living it 'til I died.”
But sitting inside a jail cell again, she had a rare moment of clarity.
"I hope I never forget the moment that I decided I need help. I was sitting in the county jail for the umpteenth time and somebody had brought some drugs in. I got high in jail.”
She was awake for two days and on the second day, she sat up and knew she was done for good.
"That's when I realized that I was completely powerless. I couldn't put any kind of drug into my body and still function like a normal adult,” she surmised.
"I'm done. I don't want to sit in a jail cell anymore. I want to go outside when I want to be able to. I don't want to hurt my family anymore because they catch the end of it all the time. I just decided at that point right there that I wanted something different, and I didn't care what I had to do to get it.”
After a six-month stint in jail, Borens was sent to Brighton by court order.
"I learned a whole new way to live,” she said. "As long as I don't put a drug in my body, I can handle whatever life throws at me. I feel good. I feel better than I have my entire life.”
Today, she is sober and has a car and a job; she pays for rent and insurance—and for the first time in her life, she is living independently. Moreover, she does not have to look over her shoulder with fear any longer.
"I don't have to worry about who's chasing me or owing this person money, or that person money. I literally just get to live my life and help other people.”
For her, staying sober means steering clear from her hometown in an effort to avoid the temptation that lurks around every corner—at least, for now.
"I have to stay away from anyone I used to hang out with," she said. "I put my 12-step program before everything else in my life, well, God and then my 12-step program,” she vowed. "When I do think about [using], I know, like, I have all of this stuff that I would lose. I would lose everything and it's just not worth it to me anymore.”
She started peer mentoring in October 2019 while still in recovery, and when she graduated in May, she returned as a graduate mentor others still living at Brighton.
“It helps me stay sober to help others,” she acknowledged.
She presents for classes, chairs meetings and works in the mentor office alongside Cokonaugher.
"Mostly I just go visit with everyone and let them know, like, 'Hey, you're gonna make it and it's gonna be OK.’"
"I think it helps them to see when you get out of here, as long as you do the right thing, your life's gonna keep paying back to you. It's not just gonna be, you get out and it's just over.”
There is a glimmer at the end of tunnel and she shines that light for the others to see.
These days, she is a server at Cheddar’s in Florence. She is also in school with the hope of helping those who find themselves on the wrong side of the law a—place she found herself on so many times before while addicted to drugs.
She is in the process of earning her associate’s degree in criminal justice and would like continue with school to earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology and social work so that she might further her journey of helping others like herself.
In fact, she would like to take what she has learned and be an advocate in her hometown.
"I'd like to go into court and advocate for people that's in jail—I've been through it personally."
"That's what helps me stay sober, helping the next alcoholic or helping the next somebody that doesn't know any better,” she said. "When I help the next person, it helps me remember when I was there and how I felt when I was there, and when I had to have someone help me.”
Jennifer Perry, 46, graduated from the recovery center in June after restarting the program following a relapse in 2014.
This time, however, she stayed in the program for 18 months.
But it took a close look at death to get her to that point.
Sitting inside Brighton with light-pink glitter nails, Perry looks across the table. Her green eyes, outlined in black to a cat-eye point, peek out above her black mask covering her nose and mouth, and she begins telling her story.
Perry started "partying" toward the end of high school in Wisconsin. In her 20s, she started bartending, and that is when her addiction escalated.
"Later in my 20s, I just started dabbling in more substances," she said. "I started using cocaine. I started smoking crack. I started doing pain pills, which eventually just led to heroin, which is actually my drug of choice.”
For her, she said, it allowed her to hide from reality.
"It was burying those feelings. You're not having to deal with reality. But then, the thing is, when you sober up, that reality always comes back. So, you have to cover it up again. And it's a cycle that you go through to try to get out of yourself and get away from those feelings, and then when those feelings come back, you've gotta do it all over again,” she said.
From the ages of 27 to 44, she had six DUIs, relapsed after her first time in treatment and overdosed several times.
In fact, spanning an 18-month period from 2015-17, she was given Narcan 20 times for heroin overdoses.
"I shouldn't be here today, and I know that,” she said. "Heroin is one of those drugs where if you don't have it, you think you're gonna die. But then when you do have it, you're probably gonna to die.”
The last time she was arrested, she was charged with possession while on the run for skipping bail, she said.
But it was somehow a relief when they handcuffed her this time because she knew something finally had to change.
She remained in jail on those charges from April to December 2017, and that is when she wrote to one of Brighton's case managers and asked to have her name put on the waiting list.
"I just knew that if I didn't change everything this time that I was going to be dead before my next birthday,” she said.
After the court signed off, she was admitted to Brighton for the second time.
And that is what saved her life.
From treatment, she was able to realize that she was "always looking for something to take me out of me, to deal with, just, I don't know, I guess any kind of situation: happy, sad, it just came with everything—just the way that I dealt with every situation at the time.”
She realizes, she said, that she was given an opportunity to live her life sober, and today, she is taking that seriously.
"I know if I go back out, I'm not going to get this chance again. I might come back as a picture on the wall with all those girls—that's just the reality of it today,” she said, pointing to a tree painted across an entire wall near the center’s entrance with framed photos of women who lost their battle with addiction.
It’s a stark reminder for her, reading the words on the wall next to all of the photos: “Because someone we love is in heaven, there’s a little bit of heaven in our home.”
"I wish I could tell these young girls, 'Do this now. Don't wait until you're my age. I wasted 20 years partying.'”
That is part of the reason this alumni came back after graduating: to help those women still in treatment at Brighton.
When she was a resident, she remembered alumni coming back to the center to talk to them and gave her a goal to set: freedom.
"It's not that I was jealous of them, but I wanted what they had. And that was being happy and being free. You could just see the freedom in all of them,” she said. "I wanted to come into the house and be that [same] inspiration.”
So, she started mentoring while she was a resident as a peer mentor, and now she comes back to continue mentoring as a graduate.
She sponsors about a dozen women, including four at Brighton.
She wants them to know that "there's a different way to live; you don't have to live like that.”
While working with them, she said she is reworking her own 12-step program and keeping it fresh in her mind.
"They're helping you more than you're ever helping them. It reminds you of why you don't want to go back to all that too,” she said. “Connection is key, letting them know that other people have done all these things that they have done and they're not alone.”
Today, thanks to her network of support surrounding her, she is truly happy and finally has the freedom that she was longing for.
"I would not trade the life that I have today. My life is amazing today,” she said. "I don't take things for granted today.”
"I know that I don't have to rely on anyone to take care of me, that I am self-sufficient. I can do the things that I put my mind to today. It's not in my time—everything's gonna happen when it's supposed to and everything happens the way it's supposed to. As long as I don't try to force things and control things, if I keep my hands out of all that, it's gonna happen the way it's supposed to and I just know that today.”
Since graduating, she ended a 16-year co-dependent and "toxic" relationship, and it gave her the independence that she needed, including moving into an apartment of her own with the hopes of owning a home of her own one day.
"I moved in by myself, and I was scared to death. I was scared that I wouldn't be able to financially do it, and I'm better off today than ever,” she said.
Because of all of her DUIs, Perry had not had her license for 17 years, and now she has an appointment for a permit to drive. She bought a car a few months back in anticipation of this big step in her life and another step toward her freedom.
"That just shows me that this program works. I mean, I really honestly had given up years ago on ever thinking I was going to have a license again.”
One of the things that she is looking forward to is getting a call from a one of the women at Brighton who needs a ride to a meeting and she can pick them up in her own car—something that was a luxury she has not had in a long time.
"It's things that other women did for me, and I do what I can for others today in recovery because it's what other people did for me when I was first getting started.”
For her, recovery is all about taking it one day at a time.
"You don't have to worry about tomorrow. You just stay in today and worry about what you're doing today,” she said.
"I know that all I have to do is do what I did yesterday and then maybe a little bit more, just to keep my sobriety—my sobriety is something that's just really important,” she said, proudly showing off what she refers to as a “recovery tattoo” on her leg. The letters: “AA” with the words: "Twisted miracle of God.”
And it is a reminder of all that she has overcome.
"I'm not willing to throw away this opportunity that I've been given this time, away. I've got another relapse in me, but I don't have another recovery in me, and I know that today. It's just something I've gotta keep close and remember,” Perry said.
The peer and alumni mentoring program helps both sides of the coin simultaneously, said Anita Prater, the director of Brighton Recovery Center, which opened as a nonprofit organization in 2008 and is part of a statewide network called Recovery Kentucky.
One thing that has helped residents who remain in the program amid the COVID-19 pandemic is peer mentors, like Cokonaugher, who live at Brighton and are still residents within the treatment program.
"The peer mentors are extremely important," Prater said. "They teach the majority of classes; they review their homework assignments. They are the first person that the residents go to if they have a question or concern or want to talk through something.
"It's important because they know; you know what I'm talking about because you just finished that part of the program,” she continued. “It helps the peer mentors to give back, what they've just learned, it helps reinforce what they've learned, help solidify that.”
Currently, Brighton has six resident mentors and countless alumni who come back to help.
Alumni, like Borens and Perry, come back and sponsor women and take them to meetings. But amid the pandemic, they were, along with all visitors, banned from the building during lockdown. Now, they are allowed back but by appointment only and with safety precautions like mandatory hand-washing and sanitizing, social distancing and face masks.
But when alumni do visit Brighton, it benefits the residents greatly, Prater said.
"It gives the ladies that are here, something to look forward to. Because most people that come here, once they realize they've agreed to a long-term residential program, they're second-guessing themselves. And when they see an alumni come back who is happy about being in recovery, it gives them hope. You know, 'She can do it, I can.’ They see someone get sober and it really gives them hope."
Some come back for years after graduating the program, and others like Borens, want to help their own hometowns understand addiction and advocate for others struggling.
"It's very humbling and very rewarding. That's what the programs are set up for... that they can multiply the hope across the state,” Prater said, sitting inside her office surrounded by framed inspirational quotes, like “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
The center graduates about 40 women annually and of those, Prater said 30-40 percent return to continue mentoring and sponsoring the women at Brighton.
Perry refers to Brighton as her “safe place” and her “home away from home.”
But it has been a challenge for the mentoring program, alumni and residents during the COVID-19 lockdown. No large groups or classes can take place with the mentors and one-on-one visits by graduates who are mentors, must be scheduled.
Further, the pandemic has affected how many women are in treatment and those who stay in treatment.
Currently, of its 108 beds, only 53 are filled with residents. Since courts have been shut down, the center doesn’t get the referrals like it did with Perry, Borens and Cokonaugher.
The lockdown also created a stir of anxiety and powerlessness for those living at Brighton, leaving a powder keg for relapses, and a spike in overdoses, Prater said.
"Just the stress of, A. being on lockdown and B. knowing there's something going on out in the community and they don't get a lot of information... so just the bits and pieces they hear from friends and family over the phone, sits with them and they get scared, anxiety, the powerlessness,” Prater said. “And of course, they've got children and family out there that they're worried about and sometimes it's just too much for them. So, we've lost a lot of people in the last six months.”
Many have left the program unfinished and because of that, she said.
"I honestly think people leave the program because of their anxiety, I think that's causing the spike,” she surmised. "It's just a different world we live in. One of the most difficult things I think we've faced.”
Prater remembers one woman in particular who came to Brighton battling a meth addiction. She had high hopes for her.
"People who use methamphetamines, it's almost like they get to a point of where they're near a psychotic break, and even when the drug's out of their system, it's still affecting their ability to think and process and know if what they're seeing and feeling and hearing is part of the real world or part of that lingering effects of the drugs,” Prater said.
"It took this young lady quite a while to even look at people in the eye, and even longer to start smiling. I'd pass her in the hallway and she was just always looking down, and she just looked so empty, just very empty, maybe confused but mostly empty, like she was just walking around like a shell of a woman.
"But then when she started looking at you and smiling, then I saw a different person. You know, the light came on; there was somebody inside there,” she recalled.
Then, COVID-19 hit and the center went on lockdown.
"She got to a place where she left early and it wasn't a week after she left... and we had worked so hard with her, so hard to get her stable mentally and physically.”
“That was heartbreaking. Very heartbreaking.”
With years of experience treating addiction, Prater explained why someone might overdose when they relapse.
"Whether we are in a pandemic or not, when people are in a program or even in jail, as their body physically sheds the substances in their system, their tolerance for that chemical decreases. And so, if they make a conscience decision to go back to using, they don't know how much it takes to get high at that point. All they can remember is how much they took the last time they used and that's where a lot of the overdoses come from because they take too much and their body can't handle it,” Prater said.
She also attributes the growing number of overdose deaths to the wait time to enter a treatment center. They do not currently have a waiting list for beds, however, they do have a wait time because of quarantining once admitted.
"People are dying while they're trying to get help,” she said. "It just puts people over the edge that are barely surviving to begin with.”
Perry has seen the effects of COVID-19 on those struggling with addiction. She said there have been so many relapses because there are not in-person support groups available, so desperately needed during recovery.
"I've seen too many friends through this COVID; the relapses are ridiculous. People that I know have passed away due to this disease because there was no meetings to attend,” she said.
In fact, a month ago, one of her "sisters" from Brighton overdosed.
"You don't have the community to reach out to. They've got the meetings we go to shut down. This house is closed. Everybody that is alumni here, this is our safe place,” Perry said. “We can come here any time of day or anytime of night, and there's somebody here to talk to. There's always somebody working; there's always tons of women in this house. And we can't do that right now.
"The fact of it is, so many people are dying from this today, that they think they can do that 'one more' and it's usually that 'one more' that you don't come back from.”
And isolating yourself is the worst thing you can do, she said from experience.
"I tend to want to stay to myself and not want to talk to people and that does lead to relapse a lot — isolating and not talking to people. If you feel like releasing or you feel like drinking, using, whatever, when you talk about it, it loses power. And when you don't have that opportunity to talk about things like that, it just festers and festers and festers, until you're so miserable that the only way to shut it off is by drinking or using,” Perry explained.
For her own sobriety, especially during the pandemic, she reached out to what she calls her "fellowship" of women via Zoom meetings, text messages and phone calls.
"I have such a strong group of women around me that I've got probably 50 numbers in my phone that I could have picked up and called anybody... I surround myself with people in recovery,” Perry said.
She holds up her forearm in front of her, showing off a nod to one of those 50 women — her sponsor who was recently diagnosed with cancer.
It’s a tattoo of an arrow, with the word: “Warrior” running through it.
For her, the meaning is two-fold.
"Thirteen of us went and got this for her fighting cancer, but it pertained to all of us too [as] recovery warriors,” she said beaming with pride.
The Brighton Recovery Center is located at 375 Weaver Road in Florence, Kentucky. For more information and resources, visit their website, at www.BrightonCenter.com.
While the center cannot open its doors right now to volunteers, it is always in need of donations and prayers, Prater said. Right now, monetary donations, as well as crafts and personal hygiene items can be dropped off at the center.
For a complete list of items you can donate, visit their Amazon Smile charity account.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, call the 24-hour northern Kentucky addiction hotline, at (859) 415-9280. For more substance abuse assistance and resources for families in Kentucky, call (833) 859-4357 or text “HOPE” to 96714.