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On recovery from substance abuse disorder: A Q&A with Scott Theurer

Scott Theurer (Source: Provided)

Scott Theurer is a member of the Lancaster County Reentry Coalition, Pennsylvania Recovery Advocacy Project, and Lancaster County Recovery Alliance. He also is a Certified Recovery Specialist at R3 Recovery House. He hopes to destigmatize mental illness and to help others reentering the community.

Theurer himself struggled with substance abuse earlier in his life. In recognition of October as National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, One United Lancaster decided to highlight Theurer’s recovery journey.

One United Lancaster: What was your childhood like? Did you grow up in Lancaster?

Scott Theurer: I’ve lived in Lancaster all my life, since about [age] 3. I have a good family: One sister, a mom who went back to school and got a job, and a dad who worked in telecommunications.

OUL: Was there a significant moment that you remember that kicked off your addiction?

Theurer: It wasn’t one thing; it was more of a combination of a bunch of different things. I was predisposed to it because it runs in my family. Addiction doesn’t just pop out of a vacuum. It’s not because I woke up one day and said, “I want to be an addict.” I made some choices that affected me along the way, but other things influenced those choices besides my free will.

You’re also a product of your own experience. If you grow up with issues, it affects who you are. For some, this happens during their addiction and can affect their social anxiety or ADHD. It’s not something you’re born with, but something developed because of stimulus.

I have ADHD, which means my brain is in a million places at one time. Most of my life I was taught that this was wrong or bad. I was told by my parents, teachers, and mentors that you have to be somebody other than who you are.

Early on, I started to learn that alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana helped my anxiety. I was in and out of prison for most of my adult life, from 23 on up. That was kind of my form of rehab; going to prison or a county jail, sobering up and saying I was going to change my life. Yet, things wouldn’t change much when I got out because I had spent 20 to 25 years in a lifestyle that supported substance use disorder.

It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I recognized this was a problem. Getting treatment in 2010 at White Deer Run Lancaster helped me come to terms with my mental illness and helped me get an education.

OUL: What were some of the challenges you faced when reentering the community?

Theurer: Having a criminal record, not having a job and money, and not understanding what recovery really is, as opposed to what I thought it was supposed to be.

I equated recovery as being sober, but it’s really not. Sobriety is part of it for some people, but mental health is much more of what it’s about than anything else. Being OK mentally, physically or spiritually is really the foundation of recovery, but that’s different for everybody.

OUL: What resources did you have after reentering the workforce/life after being in prison?

Theurer: There weren’t many resources. I had AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), NA (Narcotics Anonymous), and your traditional programs, but being accepted back into the community helped me the most. It was important to have community and people who understood enough about drug addiction to know that it wasn’t all about choice and criminal behavior. There were certain people along the way who welcomed me back despite my record.

One woman in Elizabethtown heard my story and some of what I was going through. She told me, ‘Your voice is important; you need to be part of this coalition that I run.’ I was very reluctant, as I was dealing with social anxiety and other issues while trying to be sober. I hadn’t yet dealt with my mental health in a way that was going to help stabilize it.

I was reluctant but got involved. This helped me move forward, as I felt like I had purpose and meaning. I started to realize that there are different kinds of ways to recover, not just one.

OUL: You’re involved with several recovery and reentry programs within the community. How did you begin this work? Did you face challenges while working with these programs?

Theurer: I started at the RASE Project, a recovery community organization, during the overdose epidemic. I began by doing warm handoffs when some were dying or hurt in the bathrooms. This led me to TW Ponessa later. Over time, I met different people and ended up in different places.

Now my passion is in reentry work, whether it’s people that are incarcerated, reentering our community, coming back from drug and alcohol treatment, or living in recovery houses.

As a coach and teacher, I try to encourage people to learn who they are. Most of the people I’ve worked with, especially in the prison, have spent their entire lives being told that they don’t fit in. So, a lot of times their behavior is a result of addictions or mental health instability which they’ve never been able to just leave.

It can be difficult or uncomfortable to come to terms with this, but it’s important when beginning the process of reclaiming yourself.

I think it’s important we associate mental health with recovery. This is true for everybody. There are healthy people out there there’s not so healthy, some of us have issues with drugs, because it works up until it doesn’t. When somebody with anxiety first tries alcohol, it temporarily calms them.

OUL: You’re currently involved with R3. Can you tell me more about this?

Theurer: I think I’ve been with R3 almost three years and have done reentry work for about the same amount of time. R3 is a recovery sober living environment housing 80 men and women in six different properties around the city. We try to build a safe place to live and environment that’s fostered by accountability and provide different kinds of support, information, and options.

There are high standards to live [at R3] because it’s work. We require people to have jobs and follow through after probation or on their aftercare plan when coming from treatment. There is never any misunderstanding about how hard it is to recover from a drug addiction.

We have people that have done this for years. Most of the time, we have a lot of successful retention. We have a very low relapse rate, which tells us that what we’re doing is working.