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Recovery Month: Hope is real. Recovery is real.


September is National Recovery Month. A tagline for this year’s Recovery Month is: Hope is real. Recovery is real.

For Dawn, Jessica, and Karma, that couldn't be more true.


After her parents were both diagnosed with a terminal illness, Dawn didn’t know how to handle it. She began to self-medicate. She slipped into addiction. Over the next couple of years, things went from bad to worse.

Her sister helped her to reach out to Heartland RADAC (Regional Alcohol and Drug Assessment Center) in Hays.

From there, she came to First Step at Lakeview in Lawrence, a DCCCA residential addiction treatment program.

“It changed my life,” Dawn said. “I got to see other people in recovery, which I hadn’t seen before. It helped me develop tools to be able to deal with life on life’s terms.”

Dawn also came to the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center for services. She eventually moved into an all-women’s Oxford House in Lawrence, a self-run, self-supported recovery house.

“It’s all people in recovery,” Dawn said. “You are surrounded by people in recovery who can help you and support you.”

Dawn saved up money to get her own place and ended up getting a housing voucher through the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority. She was also reunited with her three children.

As they say in recovery, Dawn worked the program.

“I love Twelve Step meetings,” she said. “They give you a sense of fellowship and community. You learn to do things without drinking.”

Dawn met her husband in recovery. They met at a recovery event. They had similar stories. They ended up getting married. Now they both work at the Bert Nash Center. Dawn is a case manager on the supportive housing team.

“Life is just really good today,” Dawn said. “Because I have those lived life experiences, I know how to help clients, I can relate to them, I know about the community services.”

Dawn is grateful for those services and how they helped her on her recovery journey.

“That’s a tribute to Lawrence and all of these agencies,” she said. “I couldn’t have done this anywhere else. All these gifts that were given to me have come from here.”



To fit in, Jessica started using drugs when she was a teenager.

“But I was always able to step away from it,” Jessica said. “I was never ‘addicted’ to the drugs.”

In 2011, Jessica’s dad died, and she didn’t know how to deal with the grief.

“I didn’t know where to go or where to turn because my whole family was struggling. I was just stuck,” Jessica said. “Then someone introduced me to methamphetamines, which I had never done before. And I liked it. A lot.”

Over the next several years, Jessica lost everything because of drugs and the chaos of the drug world. She committed crimes and went to jail. She lied, she stole, and she lost her self-worth.

“I lost my soul,” Jessica said.

And she almost lost her boyfriend.

“I thought he was never going to leave me, but he was,” she said. “Because he was going to relapse if he stayed with me.”

Jessica decided to reach out for an assessment, but she was going to have to wait two weeks to get into treatment. So, she detoxed at home.

“Hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she said.

She reluctantly checked herself into First Step.

“I did not want to go. I did not want to get clean,” she said. “But I went.”

For the first five days, she hated it. But then something clicked.

“I finally realized that surrendering to everything was what I needed,” Jessica said. “I started applying myself. I listened to my therapist. I really devoted myself to getting better.”

Jessica started to regain the life she had lost. She got her high school diploma, 21 years after she was supposed to. She got her driver’s license. Then she applied for a job at First Step.

“I went to work at the treatment center that I got clean at, which was the most amazing feeling ever,” she said.

Jessica started working as a peer support specialist at the Bert Nash Center in June 2022.

“I can take my mess and make it my message,” she said. “I want to be that hope for people, to let them know that they’re not alone.”

And her boyfriend? He’s now her husband. They both have been in recovery for more than seven years. Jessica is grateful for the life she now has.

“If I had put down on paper what I wanted to get out of recovery, I would have totally shortchanged myself,” she said.



Karma remembers her first drink. She was 17.

But long before she took that first drink, she felt insecure, like she didn’t fit in.

Drinking changed that for her.

“When I took my first drink, all of those insecurities and all of that fear, just melted away,” she said. “It was like magic; I didn’t feel fearful anymore. I could talk to people I couldn’t talk to before. I thought I was the life of the party.”

The following Monday at school, Karma got the stamp of approval she had been craving.

“I had this instant notoriety,” she said. “From that point on, I set out to drink as much as I could and as often as I could.”

Over time, her life began to unravel because of her drinking. She dropped out of college. She quit her job. She started crossing lines she thought she would never cross.

“But I never thought I had a problem with alcohol or drugs. Because for the longest time it was the solution,” Karma said.

Loved ones started talking to Karma about her drinking. Her landlady talked to her about her drinking.

“I started to have people say things like, it’s noon and you’re drunk already,” she said. “I would always get really defensive. It didn’t even occur to me that I had a problem. Never.”

Then one day, her mom showed up at her apartment in Topeka and said she had 10 minutes to pack. She was taking her to a treatment facility. That’s when Karma went to Valley Hope in Atchison.

“The first thing I thought when I got there was, I don’t belong here. This is a mistake,” Karma said. “For me and for so many other people I know who struggle from alcoholism, the denial is so great. Now I look back and thank my mom for saving my life.”

When Karma left Valley Hope, it was recommended that she get a sponsor and that she left Topeka and her old life behind. She came to Lawrence in 1997 and moved into Oxford House.

“I was surrounded by people who were in recovery, which I needed that support,” Karma said.

Recovery isn’t a quick fix. It took a while for Karma’s life to improve. But she stuck with it.

“There were times when I thought this is too hard, I can’t do this anymore,” she said. “But I never left the program. I didn’t want to drink; I didn’t want my life to go back to the way it was.”

She worked in peer support at First Step for four years before coming to the Bert Nash Center a little more than a year ago, where she is a case manager on the integrated dual diagnosis team. She has been sober going almost 26 years.

“It has been such an incredible journey. I never thought that what I went through in the past would help other people,” Karma said. “But there is such power in talking to another alcoholic because we speak the same language.”


For mental health and substance use crisis, visit the Treatment and Recovery Center (TRC) of Douglas County, 1000 W. Second St., Lawrence. The TRC is open 24/7, 365 days a year. No appointment necessary. You can call the Douglas County Crisis Line at 785-841-2345 or 988 to speak to a crisis counselor.


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