MANCHESTER, NH – Jonathan “Frenchy” Bijeol has lived 33 years under the influence of one thing or another – an addicted mother, a series of foster homes, the prison system, cocaine, crystal meth, heroin.
He says his biological mother lost custody of him when he was 3 months old, not just because of her addictions to coke and heroin, but because she abused him.
“I was thrown up against a wall,” he says, no outward emotion visible as he recounts the facts of his life that have led him to a place where he can’t see a future.
Not without making a change.
He spent the rest of his childhood in and out of foster homes and group homes – too many to count; most of them he’d like to forget.
When he was in grade school they put him on Ritalin.
“Normal for me was someone telling me there was something wrong with me,” says Frenchy.
That message sunk his spirit like an anchor, and haunts him still.
He’s tired of being an addict, tired of the life he’s lived. He can’t believe he’s wasted so many years, and that he has absolutely nothing – nothing – to show for it.
He’s overdosed 11 times in the past 11 months. The last time he used was on the Fourth of July.
“I’m on the path to recovery now, 44 days of a slave-free life from heroin,” says Frenchy. It is Aug. 17. He is counting the days to rehab. Three weeks earlier he walked into the Farnum Center, looking for that change, and a way out of his addiction. They told him they would help him, but that he’d have to wait three weeks for one of the 33 treatment beds available.
So he got on a suboxone regimen to avoid being dope sick, and found his way to Hope for NH Recovery, 122 Market St., a peer-counseling community center, where he quickly became a fixture.
At the center he can keep busy all day, weeding the area around the pathway that leads to the front door, or decorating the white board with art.
It’s the only safe place he knows in this city. He doesn’t want to jinx it, but it feels like the beginning of something he’s never known before; something like stability.
“I want this for me. I’m tired, really just tired of having my life go the same way. I have a lot of goals I can’t ever achieve living the way I was living,” says Frenchy, who prefers to be called by his nickname.
“They’re encouraging me here to start using my real name. They think it’s one way for me to get away from my past. But honestly, there’s so much negativity attached to my real name…,” he says. “I’ve done some crazy shit. It’s not that I’m running from it. There just hasn’t been much of anything good attached to my name.”
His first taste of alcohol was at age 9. He started smoking weed and tobacco a short time later. He remembers drinking shots of beer from the tiny glasses he would line-up along his windowsill to pass the time, where another boy might have assembled toy soldiers or Legos. It wasn’t long after that Frenchy tried running away – from home, from his mother, from himself.
“I was state raised; a ward of the state my whole life,” he says. “I was emancipated at 16 and pretty much from that time on, I was pushed to work and pay my bills. It became a vicious cycle of making sure I was OK enough to work so I could make enough to afford drugs just so I could feel well enough to work, so I could make enough for drugs.”
The first time someone called the police on him he was still a teenager He’d crushed up his prescription Ritalin pills so he could snort them. The first time he tried heroin or meth was in prison. He’s served time in Arizona and New Hampshire.
While in prison here he waited a year to get into the dual diagnosis program, which turned out to be nothing more than a hand book.
“That was a disappointment,” he says.
He hopes this time will be different. He hopes he will get the kind of help that will untangle his brain, set him straight. He doesn’t want to self-medicate any more. He doesn’t want to use. He doesn’t want to lose another minute to the drugs that have stolen the first 33 years of his life.
Hope for NH Recovery has been the missing link, says Frenchy.
“This is what I was looking for. Before they were in my life, I was trying to get clean, but I always fall back into my old habits. I’m afraid of losing the next 15 years to drugs. What I need is community support,” he says.
And that is exactly how the center is supposed to work, says Melissa Fortin-Crews, who is a peer volunteer and board member.
“Frenchy is the perfect example of someone waiting for treatment. Even though we keep hearing there’s no waiting for beds in New Hampshire, three weeks is a long time for someone to wait when they’re ready,” says Fortin-Crews.
“That’s true,” says Frenchy. “For me, my current housing arrangement is a problem. Where I’m waiting now is unsafe. It puts me back at risk, so I have to wait in hell to get where I need to be, and that’s out of my control.”
And while the center has been a positive distraction, it’s limited in what it offers — currently the doors are only open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m to 5 p.m.
Holly Cekala, Director of Recovery Support Services, acknowledges it’s not ideal, but there’s only so much funding right now. She says the goal is to be open 24/7.
“It’s important for the community to see the value in this,” says Cekala, who came to New Hampshire from Rhode Island, where she successfully launched several similar centers.
What they are looking for is community partners so that they can extend their hours, she says — a donation to cover the cost of a staff person for late shifts, or to cover the electricity bill to keep the lights on past 5 p.m. — with the ultimate goal of moving to a larger space — and replication.
“We’ve already outgrown this place,” says Fortin-Crews. “We can’t fit one more chair in here during group sessions, which is great that people are finding their way here, but we need a bigger space.”
Part of the challenge is gathering the persuasive data needed to prove what they already know, that community peer-based recovery centers are working in other states, and can work here.
“We welcome partnerships with hospitals, businesses, Employee Assistance Programs. It’s minimal support we need — but it’s crucial,” she says.
Cekala and Fortin-Crews have both been down the same road as Frenchy. They have both made it to the other side of their addictions, and understand the challenge of long-term recovery. That is why they are so passionate about this community-based center, and why they want to bring more of them to New Hampshire.
“Frenchy is an anomaly,” says Cekala. “Most people would already be gone, given the way it works for most people looking for help. He’s sick, but at least he’s sitting here in a waiting room that’s kind.”
Frenchy smiles at that thought. He’s experienced more at Hope for NH Recovery than kindness. He’s experienced support and encouragement.
One week after he entered treatment, Karla Gallagher, a board member for Hope for NH Recovery, reports the good news that Frenchy not only made it into the door at Farnum, but is still there, still working on his recovery. Even though he had some doubts by day three, he used one of his lifelines and got the encouragement he needed from a fellow center volunteer.
He’s had visits and calls from his peers at Hope for NH Recovery, says Gallagher, who went with Frenchy for moral support on admission day.
After his 30 days of treatment at Farnum is finished, the plan is to help Frenchy find a sober living arrangement. They are working on that now.
Frenchy says he’d like to hear New Hampshire focus more on rehabilitation than simply “recovery.” Thirty days isn’t enough for anyone to build a new life.
His plan, long-term, is to own his own home some day.
“The only thing I have to show for my life at this point is a really expensive track mark. I would like to work for myself, have my own business. I don’t want to live on this roller coaster ride anymore just to have my basic necessities met,” he says.
He isn’t sure what the future holds, but he’s staying positive. He says no matter what, he will be back to the center once he’s released from Farnum, to maintain his sobriety and to pay it forward. It’s become a lifeline and a saving grace.
“I needed a place like this a long time ago,” says Frenchy. “But I’m glad I found it now.”
If you or someone you love is having a problem with alcohol and drugs, there are places you can find help in NH today. Here are a few places to get started:
- Hope for NH Recovery
- NH Treatment Locator
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Narcotics Anonymous
- Families Sharing Without Shame
- Find Treatment
- NH Bureau of Drug & Alcohol Services Resource Guide
- Smart Recovery New England
- Drug Free NH
- Keene Serenity Center
- Derry Friendship Center
- Celebrate Recovery – CenterPoint Church Concord, NH
- Find a Celebrate Recovery Meeting
- FASTER:Families Advocating Substance Treatment, Education & Recovery
- Live Free Recovery Consultants