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Breaking the stigma: Navigating the holidays while in addiction recovery

The holidays typically include special get-togethers, which might not always be easy to navigate if someone is in addiction recovery.

“A doctor told me that if I didn’t make any changes in my life, I wouldn’t have but 6 to 12 months to live,” said Barbara Eichert.

Now 14 months sober, Eichert is sharing her story to encourage others with substance abuse disorders.

“I’ve had the best year of my life having fun, clean and sober,” said Eichert. “There’s a lot of things that can be done without the use of drugs and alcohol.”

But staying sober can be more difficult during the holidays. Besides temptation, Dr. Elizabeth Cuevas with Allegheny Health Network says people with substance abuse disorders face holiday challenges, but tenfold.

“Finances are a challenge for them, meeting up with family and friends who they have strained or stressful relationships with, and parties are ripe with alcohol,” said Cuevas.

Here are some tips experts shared with Channel 11:

→ Have a plan going into what could be an uncomfortable situation, like how to say no to a drink.

→ Bring a friend with you.

→ Have an exit strategy for when it gets difficult.

“I know I was stuck in so many places I didn’t want to be, doing things I didn’t want to do, so it was like I just give into it, but it’s like we don’t have to. I don’t have to do that today,” said Eichert.

Eichert didn’t come to realize that until she ended up in the hospital in 2021, faced with cirrhosis of the liver — a direct result, she says, of her addiction. That’s when Eichert got connected with the Pathway to Care and Recovery, a substance abuse resource center in Allegheny County, that’s easy to reach in downtown Pittsburgh.

“They can call us, walk in, we’re here. We’re that point person, we’re that linkage to services to people looking for care,” said Melissa Breckenridge, director of Pathway to Care and Recovery.

The center is there for outpatient services, inpatient, or just someone to talk to — 24/7/365.

The Pathway to Care and Recovery has helped 3,000 people since they opened at the end of 2020. They even have a safe space for people to stay for a few days while they’re getting connected to the right services and treatment.

“It’s their journey, we support them with what they need and what they want,” said Brackenridge. “We don’t dictate anything here, we’re just a support role.”

“I don’t think I’d be alive today if it wasn’t for this place helping me out with my journey,” said Eichert.

Both Cuevas and Breckenridge say they tend to see an uptick in people wanting help in January, after the holidays are over, and at the start of the new year.

You can find the Pathway to Care and Recovery at https://pathwaytocareandrecovery.com/. Cuevas says www.findhelp.org is a also good resource.

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