“In life, we are most qualified to help the person we used to be.” -unknown
By Shannon Steele EBS COLUMNIST
Contributor’s note: This article was made possible through the collaboration of Andy Malby, Andy Pilch, Hope Finch and Shannon Steele.
A new program in Big Sky connects those struggling with substance abuse with peers who have found a road to recovery. The program is made possible by a partnership between the Big Sky Behavioral Health Coalition and the Rimrock Foundation of Billings, which focuses on addressing a critical need in Big Sky: accessing substance use supports to aid in recovery.
People with lived experience are uniquely positioned to help others live a recovery-oriented lifestyle, no matter what they are recovering from—addiction or other mental health issues. In Big Sky, connecting with a peer support specialist is not only free, but also eliminates barriers that many face in starting the road to recovery. The impact of peers is especially profound because you can walk beside someone on your recovery journey, and receive non-judgmental guidance rooted in lived experience.
There’s an axiom favored by people in recovery which states, “you only have to change one thing in recovery—everything!”
Andy Malby, a peer support specialist with the Rimrock Foundation and now a local Big Sky resource, shared, “I have found this to be true in my recovery: new friends and associates, a new daily routine, and a commitment to going to any length to protect my recovery, among other changes. It’s all been based on personal willingness to overcome fear of change.”
Fear, among other barriers to admitting you have a problem, asking for help, or accessing care can easily trap you into thinking recovery and healing are impossible. Statistics and others’ lived experience will tell you that you are not alone in this. A large number of people need treatment but don’t receive it.
In 2021, 8.33% of the population in Montana reported needing treatment but were not able to get it. A study interviewing 1,296 people found that the most commonly reported barriers to treatment of alcohol use disorder include:
- Time conflict and constraints (99.5%)
- Perceived absence of a problem (80.5%)
- Fear of treatment (68%)
- Lack of social support (49%)
Similar to Malby, Andy Pilch, another Rimrock Foundation Peer Support Specialist, shared that his barriers also started with fear.
“I always feared the stigma of addiction and what people would think,” he said. “I also didn’t know how to access low-cost/no-cost programs, sober housing or entry-level jobs that would take a chance on someone new in recovery.”
For Malby, cost and the ability to obtain insurance got in the way, along with his own thought patterns.
“Financial barriers delayed my entry to treatment by nearly six months,” he said. “I also thought that recovery wasn’t possible for me, or that I wasn’t worthy of it.”
The power of being seen
Peer support removes barriers, real or perceived, and can eliminate the stress of navigating often complex and overwhelming systems. Peer support is NOT one and done—it is an ongoing relationship. Those in peer support roles intuitively understand that healing is not linear, and that real, sustainable change requires a willingness to acknowledge a challenge and seek support. They know from experience that this process takes time.
Malby’s journey to recovery began as a teenager with alcohol and progressed over the years to marijuana and other drugs, and eventually methamphetamines. Using stopped being fun and became a daily necessity, which resulted in a host of problems.
“I threw away everything in pursuit of drugs—friends, family and other relationships, and in the end my will to live. I decided to go to treatment but didn’t care if I made it there or not. But I did make it, and I took that as a sign; I decided to surrender to the treatment process and to put as much effort into recovery as I had to stay addicted.”
For Pilch, the hurt and pain caused by 12 years of homelessness and addiction was the catalyst that eventually led to his recovery and purpose as a peer support specialist.
“Today I try to help others to find the freedom that recovery offers,” he said.
Why not you?
A peer’s lived experience is invaluable. Who better to advocate for others than those who have walked the same path before? A peer support specialist is not a one-size-fits-all role. Though the trajectories of Malby’s and Pilch’s lives were deeply impacted by their relationship with substances, their paths to recovery were not the same. However, both now use the power of their experience to instill hope in others that recovery is possible for anyone who wants it.
“We are people in long-term recovery and offer non-judgmental recovery support regardless of where you’re at in your recovery or addiction,” Pilch said. “Recovery is not a timed event, it is a process. My goal for anyone in or thinking about getting into recovery is about finding freedom from the bondage of self—that is, addiction and mental health issues.”
Recovery is difficult to do alone A peer’s ability to empathize and support self-directed recovery, based on first-hand experience, is unique in the field of behavioral health.
What can peer support do?
- Help you make healthy choices to stay accountable for your goals.
- Connect you to community and recovery resources.
- Educate, support and guide you through behavior change.
- Help you build essential life skills.
- Support you through stressful life events.
- Help you create a personal recovery action plan
Get connected to peer support
Need to reach someone right now? Call or text Rimrock Foundation’s 24/7 peer line: 406-876-1623
Become a peer support
The Rimrock Foundation and the Big Sky Behavioral Health Coalition are seeking a dedicated and compassionate person in recovery to continue the efforts already underway to establish a peer support program in Big Sky. Your lived experience, combined with training, expertise, and knowledge of the Big Sky community will empower others to develop skills and the resilience necessary for sustained recovery.