MANCHESTER, NH – For people in recovery from addiction the message of transformation is a powerful one. Yes, it’s possible to live a full life without dependence on drugs or alcohol, but often there’s a learning curve.
Finding your way from darkness to light is hard to do in solitude. And it helps – a lot – when others who’ve been there and done that are there to help light the way.
HOPE for New Hampshire Recovery aims to be a beacon to those looking to connect with others in recovery.
What began four years ago in a small office space on Market Street continues to evolve.
Under the direction of newly-appointed Executive Director Keith Howard, the focus is still on peer-to-peer recovery. But it’s also developing into a vibrant community where there is something for everyone, with new groups launching this week, including a Moms in Recovery meeting, which starts Sunday at 12:30 p.m. and a Monday night Chess Group, which assembles for the first time on Dec. 10.
“We’re like the YMCA for people in recovery,” says Howard, a reference to the growing list of group activities available at the center.
Among the 50 to 60 weekly group meetings that draw up to 125 daily visitors are a rotation of Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, and less traditional versions of recovery-centered groups, like SMART Recovery (science-based cognitive behavior modification), Refuge Recovery (like AA, for Buddhists) and Heroin Anonymous, as well as groups that go deeper into other addictions that often can co-occur, including a group for those who struggle with gambling, and a group for sex and love addicts.
But in between visitors can experience camaraderie through a different kind of group dynamic that, so far, includes art, music, a singing ensemble, yoga, creative writing and, starting Dec. 10, chess.
“There are two misplaced perceptions about the HOPE center, that it is continuous focused meetings, or that it’s a hang out center where people come to get warm and feel miserable about the fact they aren’t doing drugs anymore,” Howard says.
Dave Cote, who organizes and oversees various art sessions, says his own 28-year journey of long-term recovery has been aided by his passion for art and photography, which he now shares with others.
“In my experience, what art did for me early in recovery is that it helped me express what I couldn’t say. If I am feeling something, it’s much easier for me to paint it than to say it,” says Cote. “It’s easier to identify my feelings that way. For me, it’s easier than sitting in a group and expressing my feelings.”
Cote recalls talking to someone who had come to the center about trying an art class.
“She’d never painted before, and she found out she had a talent for art – she’s created this beautiful painting and learned something new about herself, a new form of self-expression,” Cote says.
For some the group activities may equate to busy work, but for others groups provide a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment, whether they are rediscovering a long-lost hobby, or exploring uncharted territory.
Cote grabs a canvas painted by a woman who has been coming to HOPE for maybe a year or so. It’s an abstract painting that, for Cote, represents the essence of the beauty in found community-centered recovery.
“She had done a little work in the art room but never worked on canvas before. When she was asked to paint what she felt, this was what she created,” Cote says, setting the painting down and stepping back to take it in. “The canvas is stunning, to me. It’s amazing. I see hopefulness in the colors she used. I see a cityscape reflected with streets wet from the rain. It’s one of the biggest successes to come out of that room – and I’ve seen some beautiful art, but nothing as emotional as this to me.”
Howard picks up the canvas, gives it a 180 flip. He sets it back down as he shares his take on the painting by reversing the progression of the color patterns.
“Looking at it this way, the process began with her painting her feelings – all browns and grays when she began, and as it progressed she got in touch with bits of joy,” Howard says. “When I look at this I see it more like a brief video recording or time-lapse than a final product. The power of art for someone who doesn’t consider herself to be an artist, to start off in such a dark spot and end up with brightness leaking through, like she kicked at the darkness until it bled daylight, for me the darkness shines brighter than when there was no light at all.”
Art appreciation can feel as heavy at times as the recovery process.
Cote credits Howard’s strong creative sensibilities for helping nurture the center’s current direction.
“I’ve done art my whole life. I’m the creative one here, but when Keith came to HOPE the biggest part of my job was data collection and data analysis. He recognized that I was out of my element. He’s putting a really high priority on self-expression, whether music or art or writing or yoga,” says Cote.
Or angry haiku, something that Howard initiated not long after he arrived.
“I started it because I wanted to save someone’s life,” says Howard, explaining how things go, sometimes, when you’re looking for answers out of thin air.
“A former student from a previous life of mine came into HOPE in July and he talked about not wanting to be alive anymore. As we were talking, a woman who’s a former writing teacher happened to stop by the office. The three of us started kicking around ideas and we got to talking about what angry haiku would look like – taking short poems usually focused on nature and peace and comfort, and instead using that to express anger, disgust or rage. I could see his expression change,” says Howard.
“And seeing how delighted he was in kicking around that idea, we decided to start such a writing group,” Howard says.
Angry haiku is on a brief hiatus for the holidays, but will resume in the New Year.
“It’s never going to be a group that draws 25 people, but for the five or six at the core of the group, it’s an important part of their week. That’s my goal with all the other groups here – mothers in recovery may not like following a standard recovery meeting, so it’s just going to be folks getting together, maybe five or six moms will come and chat, in the same way Dave’s Open Studio may never get 30 people out. But for the six or ten people drawn to that group, it will be the most important part of the week for them, as well,” Howard says.
Same with game night, or Yarn Night, or Open Mic Night, or Improv Night.
“Yes, improv,” says Howard – we want to use improv to educate the public about what addiction feels like, what recovery feels like. It’s an idea we’d like to develop in the longer term and maybe something that can become financially self-sustaining by charging for performances at conferences or training days and workshops,” Howard says. “It’s easy for me to picture organizations booking the HOPE Improv Theatre for educational events.”
Part of HOPE’s challenge has been redefining what recovery looks like in a city like Manchester, where most of the images delivered to the public feature the pain of addiction, and the fallout. Monthly body counts, panhandlers and vagrants begging for spare change; ambulance crews reviving the mostly-dead with Narcan; needy, hungry, homeless, desperate people in the darkest depths of addiction who have yet to see the light.
HOPE, with recovery centers in Manchester and Berlin, are by design places where anyone who has been affected by addiction is welcome. In addition to recovery community centers, HOPE also works one-on-one with people to help them formulate recovery plans, offers telephone recovery support, and works closely with local hospital Emergency Departments through its network of on-call Recovery Coaches. HOPE also provides employment services, advocacy and support for family members with the goal of reconnecting families that have been splintered by addiction.
Outreach also extends to New Hampshire’s Recovery Friendly Workplace initiative, a collaborative approach to help businesses develop recovery-friendly environments. There are also group activities ranging from softball games and karaoke night to community clean-ups and cook-offs.
Howard talks about a man he first met during his tenure with Liberty House, John, who found his way to HOPE after years of struggling against the darkness of his addiction, and a recent brush with calamity.
“Two months ago John got pulled out of his house by a SWAT team. He was in Valley Street for almost a month. Since he’s gotten out he’s been coming here every single day, for SMART Recovery meetings. He’s not a wealthy guy, but he just now brought in five quarts of half-and-half and donuts as a way of expressing gratitude for what HOPE has done for him. That’s a model we love to see, people who come with nothing but need, and as they progress they recognize that, oh – I have things I can give back,” Howard says.
“Two months ago he wanted to commit suicide by cop. Now he’s found a community where nice men and women reach out to him, and while he brought in half-and-half and donuts, the recognition and welcoming came well before he started giving back,” Howard says.
Although the opioid crisis monopolizes the headlines, Cote says addiction runs deep throughout New Hampshire. If his years in the recovery trenches have taught him anything, it’s that this, too, will pass.
“Eventually heroin isn’t going to be the big drug problem. It will switch to something else, probably meth, from what I see. But the underlying issue is still alcohol – it’s the No. 1 killer here, and always will be. HOPE is a place where people can come and find support to stop drinking and doing heroin, and meth and weed,” says Cote.
“We’re not saying HOPE is the answer to everyone’s problems. Our flavor of recovery is not for everyone – just as AA is not for everyone. So maybe you will try SMART Recovery, or Refuge Recovery. I guess you could say our flavor is a lot like a buffet,” Cote says. “The door is open. We are here to welcome anyone looking for a sense of community on their own path to recovery.”
Want to help HOPE float?
Anyone interested in learning more should follow HOPE For NH on Facebook, for group meeting updates and general activities, which are frequently posted. Members of the public wishing to help HOPE for NH can consider making a donation – coffee, cash, AA Big Books for Christmas gifting. Volunteers with specific skills interested in leading a workshop should contact firstname.lastname@example.org to explore the possibilities.
Below is a list of meeting days and times.