From the outside, things in Jake’s life seemed stable. He worked as a nutritional consultant and personal trainer. He coached football at the local high schools. It would be hard to see his addiction unless you were close to him.

“Keeping those secrets and trying to look good almost killed me,” says Jake.

Admitting the need for help

After using drugs and alcohol for years, his recovery began with a series of wakeup calls. The first was when he lost consciousness for 36 hours while he was supposed to be caring for his daughter. That’s when it suddenly came out: “I do need help. I need to go to rehab.” 

After admitting it out loud, Jake remembers the feeling of shock. He had been in denial about his addiction for decades.

As he worked through his recovery, Jake recognized that his use of drugs and alcohol was a symptom of other issues. Overcoming his addiction meant confronting trauma and adverse childhood events that he’d been avoiding for years. “I started hauling out all that stuff that I never wanted to talk about,” says Jake. “It’s not easy to ask for help. I have a hard enough time asking for directions!”

Doing this work, Jake developed a network of new friends in the recovery community in Ukiah. They gave him the trust, belief, encouragement, and compassion that he needed to navigate his way forward.

“One of my mentors often says, ‘It’s not about what you’ve done wrong, it’s about what you do next,” says Jake. “I was on to that ‘What I Do Next’ phase.”

Advocation for harm reduction

The facts of Jake’s life are very different today. He works as a case manager at Mendocino County AIDS/Viral Hepatitis Network (MCAVHN) where he helps people who are struggling on their own journey.

He’s a passionate advocate for harm reduction in the recovery process. That includes more than simply providing the means for safer drug use. Just as importantly, harm reduction is a part of how we positively interact with people who need support. 

“It’s about not harming them with your words or even your body language,” says Jake. “That’s where harm reduction begins: just treating people with respect, no matter what.”

Jake works with many individuals who have been chronically homeless. They will go for months without someone looking them in the eye or saying hello. This lack of connection can be devastating. As Jake says: people need people. He aims to make those human connections and encourages others to do the same.

“It really does take a village,” says Jake. “Not to get too cheesy, but we really are just walking each other home.”

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