Stories of Hope
Check out these inspirational stories of hope and perseverance from our past participants!
Dylan Walker’s life has always included music.
It is a relationship that has grown and changed with him throughout the years, starting as a teen and carrying him through many events in his life, including his addiction to methamphetamines.
“It was kind of like a punk rock lifestyle. I wanted to skate and play drums and guitar,” Dylan said. “I just wanted to live that life. So, I started off with skateboarding and then got into music because those two lifestyles are kind of tied together. ”
Dylan shared that, “I did meth since I was a freshman in high school. It was kind of involved in that lifestyle of skateboarding and punk rock. It was all live fast, die young. I was all about that. I got used to that lifestyle.”
Dylan continued through high school and into college while actively using drugs, pursuing a career in music production until he couldn’t hide his addiction anymore.
“They said I couldn’t be around our clients if I’m using meth, so I had to leave the team,” he said. “I was homeless for a little while. It was not ‘fun’ but for me at the time, I was 21 years old, so it was party time.”
Dylan shared that after what felt like losing his career dreams in music production, he abandoned his passion for music all together and dived deeper into active drug use.
“I moved back home, and my family wanted nothing to do with me anymore,” he said. “I ended up being homeless on the streets in my hometown, a very small town, to the point where no one trusted me because I was stealing from everyone.”
Dylan said that he eventually tried to enter treatment for his addiction but that he wasn’t ready and left. He was houseless for another two years before an arrest for drug possession forced him to decide between prison time or entering treatment to begin to his recovery journey.
“I would still be in prison right now if I hadn’t [entered treatment]. Having the opportunity to seek help over a prison sentence “made me decide to give recovery a chance”, Dylan said.
“Within 30 days of putting effort into my recovery, and thinking I could do this, it changed my perspective and gave me hope. It really gave me hope that things didn’t have to be that way forever. ”
Almost a decade in recovery later, Dylan is a program manager for Bridges to Change and focuses on using his experiences to help other people find hope in their recovery journey.
“I see myself in a lot of people I work with, and I like the community at Bridges to Change. The team we work with, it’s all peers with shared lived experiences of what we’ve been through,” he said. “Knowing we can all give back and share that experience and give hope to people that come in, is powerful to me.”
Best of all, all these years later, music has made its way back into Dylan’s life and so has his dreaming of a career in music.
“I’ve recorded so many songs and forgotten so many songs,” he said. “I still have a dream of being on the stage one day.”
“All of the times my life was incredibly hard was when I didn’t have a place to live,”
said Hannah Leyshon, housing services director for Bridges to Change.
Hannah knows from her lived experience in active addiction that not having a reliable home only delays many people’s ability to pursue recovery.
“That’s what got me here, was clean and sober housing,” she said. “It meant so much to me at the beginning of my recovery and was what helped me learn how to stay sober.”
Now in her thirties, Hannah shared that the death of her father as a teen perpetuated her experiences with unstable housing and using drugs and alcohol.
“When my dad died, it was when my whole life plummeted,” she said. Hannah started dabbling with alcohol as a pre-teen and after her father’s passing, eventually turned to drugs like meth in her teens.
When reflecting on what led her to seek recovery, she said that, “in the end, it was a choice that I didn’t want to live that way anymore. I didn’t have it in me. I didn’t have it in me to be in my addiction.”
Hannah was able to find initial recovery housing with the help of the Oxford House. From her lived experience, Hannah knows that making the decision to pursue recovery is complicated and often feels lonely or isolating. This is why she believes housing to be a critical step in a person’s successful recovery journey.
“I remember one day [in my sober home], there was a huge snow-storm and the whole town shut down for two weeks. All of us went outside and started to build a snowman and we decorated and had Christmas,” Hannah shared. “Those are the things in recovery that are important because a lot of us in recovery don’t have those family histories. It gave me the beginning stages of learning what a healthy family looked like.”
Now as the Director of Housing Services, Hannah focuses on helping other people access a safe place to call home through Bridges to Change. When she reflects on her own recovery journey that got her here today, she feels pride in who she has become.
“Today, I have a life that I am proud of, my family is proud of. There aren’t pieces of me that I feel like I have to hide anymore.”
“If you’re not shown different, how can you do different?”
said Terri Collins, senior finance manager of Bridges to Change. She is referring to the lack of services available for recently incarcerated folks who are seeking recovery, treatment services and stable housing.
Terri has been in recovery for 24 years. After beginning to use drugs at 12 years old, Terri went through a cycle of arrests and incarceration until she was 38.
During her time using drugs and alcohol, Terri wasn’t aware of what resources were available for people seeking help in their recovery, especially for women.
“I didn’t know that people [entered recovery],” she said. “I mean I knew people disappeared, but I figured they were either dead or ended up in prison.”
She shared that while incarcerated, she didn’t receive any offers of assistance for addictions treatment or housing services after her release from prison.
“If you’re not shown different, how can you do different?” Terri said.
She believes this lack of available services contributed to her continuing in and out of incarceration throughout a cycle of arrests.
“Back then, there were no options for people coming out of prison. I didn’t even get a bus ticket when I was released from prison. They just let me out in Portland with no plan,” Terri said. “All I knew was to go back to old people, places and things. I did and ended up going back to prison.”
However, Terri said that there was one moment that helped her decide to seek help pursuing recovery from drug and alcohol use.
“What happened for me, in August of 1998, I was staying with some guy and using [drugs] with these people and I ended up overdosing and they left me for dead,” Terri said. “When I woke up, I was bleeding out of my nose. People talk about what they call a spiritual awakening, I just knew that was it. I didn’t have any more chances. I had to quit.”
From there, Terri received assistance from family to enter sober housing at the Oxford House, an organization that empowered her to pursue recovery while adjusting to life after incarceration.
It was after this that Terri learned of Bridges to Change and the recovery services offered there for people being released from prison. Here, she became interested in working to help other women who have similar lived experience with incarceration and substance use disorders.
“I just remember how excited I was when I heard about Bridges because I didn’t know anything like this existed, and nothing had,” Terri said. “[Bridges to Change] was a pioneer in the industry.”
She has dedicated her career to helping Bridges to Change in assisting other women on their own recovery journeys, ranging from direct outreach at women’s prisons to her current role as senior finance manager.
“That’s what is so important about what we do here, that our mentors have lived experience,” she said. “I have lived experience with my substance abuse being tied to my criminality. I understand how important it is to be able to access resources, a safe place to stay, and a mentor.”
Reflecting on her own journey to where she is today, Terri’s favorite part of being in recovery are the gifts that life has given her in the last 24 years.
“I started using when I was 12 years old. I never dreamed about anything, about being anything, because I had a single focus,” she said. “I think about the life that I’ve been given, I’m a homeowner, a senior finance manager. Sometimes I’m just like, someone wake me up. It feels like a paradox because sometimes it feels like just yesterday that all that happened and then other days it’s a lifetime.”
How has BTC impacted your recovery?
Bridges to change helped with giving me direction directly out of jail and support the whole journey back into early recovery. Without the help of our mentors, peers, counselors, and the rest of the BTC staff I would’ve been totally lost, would’ve had zero structure, and would’ve gave up on myself. I didn’t have to the pathway that was paved for me on arrival.
What was the most significant change you experienced while completing services with BTC?
The most significant change for myself I feel like was learning my new way of life. I knew one way for a very long time and that was difficult to veer away from. Criminal thinking and totally thinking like an addict in active addiction.
What would you want others to know about BTC?
Bridges to change through the program made us as clients set goals, very realistic, very achievable goals. Without the help of setting goals, I probably wouldn’t have ever thought about goals. My mission was to get clean, stay out of institutions, and keep my parole officer off my back. Let me tell you, every single goal I’ve made since bridges to change and even goals there after I’ve accomplished every last one of them. One of the goals I set was getting my children in my life, seeing them, supporting them, and growing with them. Not only have I done that I’m now a single dad of my youngest and that’s now my new biggest accomplishment would be getting custody of my little guy right there in the picture, and to never give up. Even when you start feeling hopeless that you’ve done all that you can achieve. It’s not the end, it’s how hard you work for what you want!
My recovery began in September 2018 when I got lost in the Mt Hood national forest. I was rescued by Clackamas county after almost 14 days of being lost. I was placed at OSH in Salem until I got better. I entered the Clackamas county Mental Health court in January of 2019. I was placed in a Bridges to Change house known as the Haven house. I was encouraged to go attend recovery meetings as a stipulation of living in the house. The mentors there Alex, Jeff and Wayne and a lot of suport from Shannon and Jason. They all were so amazing in helping me in my early recovery.
I was not quite convinced I had a drug or alcohol problem in the beginning but some of my house mates there convinced me to go to a palace called 4D to play a game of pool. Not knowing what 4D was being as I was from the state of Maine, I went. Next thing I knew I was in an AA meeting and the nurse who helped me get better at OSH in Salem was running the meeting. By the end of the meeting, I was so overcome with emotion and knew I was an addict, so I asked for help finding a sponsor. I quickly started working the steps with my new sponsor. The meeting was at 8pm and the curfew of the house at the time was 9pm. I took the bus so BTC gave me permission to extend my curfew on Fridays for that meeting and I always brought back a signed slip from it. That was one of my first times building trust with anyone in recovery.
A few months later I wanted to start having some independence and pay rent as the haven house is transitional living and rent free. I moved into the Hill St house in Milwaukie and the house manager Glen “Preston” was so amazing. I was scared of being a gay man in a house full of straight Men. The guys there were so nice to me. I could not have asked for better house mates. My house manager was always there and supportive of me. I made so many solid friendships with some great people in that house that I still have today. My house manger took me under his wing and mentored me. His story of strength and hope is why I worked hard in my recovery to want to be a house manager for BTC myself. I thought someone like me was worth nothing and had no future but after the people I have got to know in BTC and my former house manager, I began to come to believe I was not a bad person, I have worth, and I can help others.
I graduated CCMHC in January 2020 and had a solid year sober in recovery that with UA’s I could prove. I had finished my 12 steps and was sponsoring others in AA. I asked staff to let me know if there were any job opportunities as a house manager with BTC. In December, Hannah told me about a HM position in partnership with Quest for the LGBTQIA2S+ community. I quickly filled out the application and went through the process and interviews and got the job. I started work December 18th of that year. I continue to work a strong recovery and work with my sponsor who I still call almost every day. I maintain mental wellness through NARA. I sponsor others in AA and with the support of BTC, I can continue to grow learn and be the me I always wanted to be. I am so grateful to this program and all it has to offer. I never knew that such an amazing thing would happen to me here in Oregon. A truly traumatic situation on Mt. Hood was the best thing to ever happen to me.
When I came to this program, I was broken, afraid, unemployed, homeless, and had just spent a week in medically-assisted detox. I had been to traditional inpatient treatment before. This time I felt that I needed to do something different.
Although I didn’t quite realize it at the time (especially in the midst of post-acute withdrawal), I now believe that what I needed was a place to begin to learn how to live as a responsible, mature, sane human being…………….instead of the terrified, broken, self-hating, and self-destructive addict I had become. I needed a place that would allow me to begin the lifelong process of learning how to balance my recovery with the need to function in the real world as an adult. And, somewhat more importantly for me, a safe place to practice the new skills I was learning.
This program gave me what I needed: a safe, clean, supportive, and rent-free house in the community to live in; intensive outpatient treatment to give me insight into my path of addiction; structure, accountability, and routine; compassionate counseling to address my deeper issues; peer support; exposure to Portland’s large recovery community; and other things too numerous to name here.
But as I stated earlier, I believe that one of the most important things this program gave me was a supportive environment in which to practice the skills I was learning-and would ultimately need-in order to be successful after completing treatment. And through that process, I gained perhaps the most important thing of all: the hope that I really could change my life, and the self-confidence gained from actually changing my life.
My name is Dawn… I’m an addict in recovery coming back from a relapse. This program has saved my life. Now the rest depends on me and the work I put into my recovery. I say this because it’s given me new skills and helped me refine the ones I already had… Bridges taught me new ways to put them into practice. The hardest part for me was the MRT book. It was the digging and feeling, but with that came a lot of growth and last, finally a weight lifted off of my shoulders. Also learned about wise-mind and emotional regulation. The hardest for me yet the only reason I’m still here and graduating is ‘radical acceptance’. One of the hardest things to look at and live through. Remembering the past is the past… The things I’ve put loved ones through can’t be changed but only build a better future. So many things that I had learned but never refined them. Bridges taught me some new techniques to refine and a new way to look at them differently, but a way I now understand. The counselors and mentors actually believed in me. I think I threw this program for a loop. My situation is one of a kind and Bridges went with the flow and yet taught me how to be in the situation… “LIFE ON LIFE’S TERMS” Through my ups and downs no one has given up on me. In the beginning with the accountability, it taught me how to use INTEGRITY… Today I’m given the chance at a new way of life because the passion that was given to me. There are no words to say the impact Bridges had on me. Bridges gave me a new bridge to build on and become something bigger. A new bridge to cross and always remember to never cross back. I’ve learned through this program to work to get what I want and not give up… Even when it seemed like there was no hope to just “ride the wave”.
My name is Paul and today I am a free man. That wasn’t always the case, I found myself in trouble with the law and hooked on meth. This landed me in Prison. The judge was easy on me and sent me to Columbia River and then South Fork. I had a lot of time to think while incarcerated and knew that I needed to change my ways. In the weeks before my release I had a lot of fear. I was afraid that I would pick up my old habits, run into my old connections, and end up in prison again. Thankfully my PO released me to the care of Bridges to Change. It was here where I was able to get reintegrated into society and become a functioning member of the community.
I wasn’t able to do this on my own. Upon my arrival I felt lost and unsure of what the next step should be. Having just been released from prison I didn’t have much. Thankfully I was introduced to Doug and Jim. Under Doug’s supervision Jim became my mentor. He helped me look for work and provided the moral support and encouragement I needed to get my feet on the ground. Things were slow at first. But after two months I had found steady employment. I also found a host of new friends at New Life Church through their program Celebrate Recovery. Here I became firmly grounded in my sobriety and today have a powerful connection with a God of my understanding. I am still an active member there and eagerly look forward to our meeting each week and feel blessed every time I attend. I am so thankful for the support of Bridges and the fellowships that they introduced me to. I could not have done this on my own and I encourage any one who earnestly desires to change to attend Celebrate Recovery at New Life Church. It saved my life, it gave me a New Life.
I am writing this letter to thank you for all the help and encouragement I have received from the Bridges to Change program. It has made a big impact on my life, and has guided me to a place where I feel for the first time in a long time is a great place to be. I graduated from Nara residential drug treatment on December 14th with no clue as to what my next step was and was then referred to Crystal Cooper by my probation officer Jaree Spatz. From the first moment I met Crystal she made it clear that all she wanted to do was help, and that she made no judgment of me or my situation. She was like a breath of fresh air that I needed to rebuild my life. Never once did she hesitate when I asked for a ride to the food stamp office, or grocery store. She took me to meetings, and to get my driver’s permit, and drove me from place to place for job search. I am now the Sales Coordinator for the Marriott Spring Hill Suites in Hillsboro thanks to Crystal for she’s the one who gave me the ride that day I applied for the job.
I will never forget what Crystal has done for me. She is a wonderful person and a woman of her word and I will forever hold her in high esteem. I am lucky to have walked beside her because she truly is an angel on earth as she has touched my life.
Julie read this poem at her graduation:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We are used to failing and terrified of succeeding. It is our light not our darkness that frightens us most. We ask ourselves “Who am I to be? Brilliant, fabulous, or talented?” I’m just me, but actually who are you not to be? Your minimizing yourself does not serve the world. In fact it robs the world of your light. We are all meant to shine, it’s in every one of us. I would like to thank my family for helping me find my light again and to Terry and all my friends for helping and reminding me in hard times not to flip the switch. Thank You.”
At his graduation, Ken told this story:
“I was out jogging early one morning. So early it was just me and the raccoons out. It was one of those times that I was telling myself how worthless I was as a person. As I passed in front of West Linn High School, I found a quarter in the street. When I picked it up it looked like every set of studded tires in Oregon had run over it. It was old, dirty and beat-up. Kind of like I was feeling. As I ran along thinking about my quarter, I realized it was still worth 25 cents. It was worth exactly the same as bright, new, freshly minted quarter. Bridges to Change has helped me see myself the same way; I have value as a person. I can make something positive of my life.”