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A Peer...In Recovery

By Guenter Gensbygel, Horizon Peer Recovery Specialist, CSAC-A, CPRS 

A Peer Recovery Specialist is a person in recovery from addiction who offers their services to other people suffering from addiction who want to recover. “Recovering” does not mean “to be cured.” There is no cure for addiction, and so far, the best proven way to recover to a life of usefulness to society, and to freedom from active addiction, is abstinence from all psychoactive drugs, including alcohol. I am a Peer Recovery Specialist, and I have been clean and sober, since January 10th, 1981. How did I get where I am today, providing services at Horizon’s Detox Unit? 

I was born (a long time ago) in Germany, and fell in love with alcohol at the age of 14 when I  experienced a complete blackout.  I continued my “career” in drinking and using other drugs from that point on. At the end of this “career” I knew that I was killing myself, and I still could not admit to others that I had a problem, and could not ask for help.  I was resigned to die and only by what I consider a personal miracle am I still alive to tell the tale. After having been detoxed in a hospital for 25 days, I had the privilege to stay in a psychiatric hospital for eight weeks which sent me on my way back into society. While I was in detox, I would have loved to be able to talk to someone who knew how I felt, who knew about my fears, and about my anxiety in looking towards returning to my workplace and “facing the music”. This, alas, was not to be, but I found peer support in self-help groups. 

After four years in recovery, I made the decision to emigrate to Scotland by getting a transfer from my employer to their factory near Glasgow. I continued to attend self-help groups in my new country, and learned how to live life on life’s terms, which is daunting at times. I had wonderful experiences, and I experienced tragedies, but with the help of other recovering alcoholics/addicts, and my Higher Power, I was able to continue to grow, staying clean and sober. Sharing openly about what was going on in my life saved me from fatal isolation, and helped me to accept the things I cannot change. The worst experience during my years in Scotland probably was to see my wife suffering two miscarriages within six months and only thanks to the support of others, I was able to support her, and be there for her. A heart attack and a stroke didn’t drive me back to using either. Neither did the divorces I went through. 

In 2006, I met a lady from Mechanicsville,Virginia and when I moved to Virginia in 2008 we married. My first employment in the US was with a big retail company, but then I decided to go to college and achieved my certificate as Substance Abuse Counselor Assistant. Working part-time for a non-profit organization in Richmond, I did my best to assist clients in reentry, coming out of correctional facilities. While I was working in Richmond, I achieved my certificate as Peer Recovery Specialist, and when I decided to leave my employment, I found a job at Horizon, where I have now been since March, 2017. I do not see my employment as “work” in the common sense: it is my passion, and the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life. Getting out of myself, and giving love and hope to people in the throes of a fatal and incurable disease has given me a purpose in life I could never have dreamed of in the years of my active addiction - long may it continue!