PUTNAM COUNTY — Niki Payne has been there, done that.
Now she’s working to prevent that by steering others away from the devastation of substance abuse that hindered her life for more than 20 years.
Help them turn over a “new leaf.”
After all, she’s one of the lucky ones who did just that — which led her to become a recovery coach with Plateau Mental Health Center’s “My Recovery,” an online therapy program that links recovering addicts and offers support in the difficult days following their commitment to live clean and sober.
“My Recovery is an online aftercare program we have,” Payne said, noting that many participants come from Plateau’s New Leaf Recovery Center, a 28-day medical detox and counseling unit.
“My job as a recovery coach is to help them map out plans and goals for the future. We talk about issues they deal with day to day, but my main objective is to help them get to a place where they’re not drug-dependent anymore so they can be productive in their communities.”
But like a spider in the corner, the risk of relapse is always lurking. Ever ready to pounce.
Which is why peer support — encouragement from those who understand the struggle firsthand — is so important.
And getting that support online is “an amazing tool,” Payne said.
“Peer support is huge in recovery, and these guys can get in here and figure out problems amongst themselves probably better than I can,” she said. “They’re phenomenal about helping each other.”
The program — which is free through a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — offers daily chatting and blogging opportunities, as well as 12-step meetings, that are monitored by Payne and therapist Kim Sowell.
Payne works with 40 to 50 people per month through the program.
“Once we put that stuff out there, it kind of relieves us from carrying it by ourselves,” she said. “It’s much easier to deal with when we know somebody else is helping us carry our burdens.”
And Payne knows about burdens.
“I come from an extremely disfunctional family,” she said. “My mom married my stepdad when I was 4 or 5, and he was very abusive. I ran away from home (in California) at 14 and lived on the streets for a long time.”
Drugs seemed to be a way to cope.
“I started smoking pot when I was 9 and did my first shot of heroin at 15,” she said. “It was fun when I first started.”
But the fun was short-lived.
“You wake up one day and realize you have to have it to function,” she said.
More drugs entered the picture, and she admitted she “had a problem” in 1990, but stints of sobriety and relapses followed until she quit using for good at age 38.
“I’d been living here 13 years and had burned every bridge I had,” she said. “Nobody wanted to be around me or help me, and I don’t blame them.”
In November 1999, she and her 14-year-old daughter found their way to the Cookeville Rescue Mission.
“That’s when my life changed,” she said.
She said the choice of whether to stop abusing drugs comes down to desire. And a question: “Do I want to live more than I want to get high?”
“The desire has to be there, and then you have to build a network and press into it,” she said. “My network was the Rescue Mission, church, people I knew who didn’t use and people who had used and were currently clean.”
Payne went on to start a faith-based women’s recovery program in Jackson County — Serenity House, which operated from 2003 to 2007 — and volunteered as a recovery coach with the Putnam County drug court program before coming on to the My Recovery program at Plateau Mental Health.
She also earned an associate’s degree in social services from Nashville State Community College and plans to pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee to eventually become a licensed clinical social worker.
Although she had put drugs behind her, more struggles were to come.
In 2012, at age 50, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had “every side effect from chemo there is.”
“The last treatment was the hardest — it was darker than anywhere I had ever been in my addiction,” she said. “It was horrid, but I’m glad it was me that got to go through it instead of some of my other friends because I’m going to use it for what it is. I’m going to help other cancer patients.”
And if the cancer comes back, she’ll continue to use it.
“For me, my substance in life is to do what God wants me to do, and that’s reach out to people who are less fortunate. Every struggle I’ve been through has afforded me strength for the next one.”
And for her work and dedication to helping others, Payne was recently recognized as a prevention partner of the month by Power of Putnam, the community’s anti-drug coalition.
“It’s gratifying,” she said. “It means what I’m doing is being noticed — not so much for me doing it but because there are people out here who do fight for others.”
She described the work of the coalition — particularly its outreach to local youths — as “immensely important.”
“Cookeville was saturated — first, it was crack cocaine, then it was meth, and now it’s pain prescription meds,” she said.
“If Power of Putnam and those of us in the community who want to stop this will rise up and really start pouring into these kids’ lives, I think we’re going to see great changes in our community.
“If we don’t, we’re going to lose Cookeville — because the gangs are not far off, the drugs are always here, and the only way to stop it is to get a whole generation of kids to say, ‘I’m not going to put up with that.’ And they don’t have to.” Article Link…
PUTNAM COUNTY — Niki Payne has been there, done that.