Crisis to Career I Kayla Sargent-Perkins

On November 1, 2018, Addiction Recovery Care cut ribbon on its first joint crisis-stabilization center/maternity center.  The center, called Hazel Hills, is located in Owingsville, Ky and is the 8thtreatment campus operated b y ARC.  Hazel Hills marks the culmination of a season of growth for the substance use disorder treatment company.  ARC has almost doubled in size since 2017, and now employs close to 500 people. 

Hazel Hills will have a dual focus.  In the crisis stabilization wing, women will be able to safely detox and medically-stabilize prior to going to a treatment center.  That’s important because one of the biggest challenges rehabs face is patients leaving during the painful detox period.  If they’re able to weather this period in a medically supervised environment, under the care of physicians and nurses, they’re more likely to stay and not leave treatment early.

The maternity side of the center is for longer term stays.  Here, ARC houses expectant mothers  and, eventually, both moms and their babies for a period that typically won’t exceed 3 months.  By creating a safe, medically-supervised treatment option for moms in addiction, the company increases the potential that the mom will be able to keep her baby and ensures healthier outcomes for baby and mom alike.

The addition of Hazel Hills to the ARC family clearly marks an impressive operational capability for a company that began as a grassroots ministry 10 years ago this month.  It’s easy to look at the company’s numbers and be impressed: it employs hundreds, treats thousands, and invests millions in Kentucky communities that desperately need not only the services but also the economic return.  But at its core, the company remains focused on giving every person that comes through its doors the best possible shot at finding and realizing their God-given destiny.  To accomplish this, it needs an impressive team.  That’s why staff like Kayla Sargent-Perkins are so vital.

Kayla is the newly hired Maternity Center Director at Hazel Hills.  Her job will be to coordinate care for mothers and babies at the 36 bed facility.  Taking care of some combination of 36 expectant and new moms and their infants isn’t a job for the meek.  It requires courage and compassion, intelligence and empathy.  Add to this mix the fact that each of these moms will be in early recovery from addiction, and it’s downright intimidating.  But Kayla isn’t easily intimidated.  She’s a survivor and she knows from her own path what it takes to recover.

The 33 year-old native of Gainesville, Florida spent 15 years in addiction.  Her path to addiction started innocently enough.  At 12 years old, someone passed her a Lortab for pain.  At the time, she viewed the oxycodone tablet the same way most would look at a Tylenol.  It was a way of medicating.  Soon, she realized that not only could you medicate for your pain, but for your grief, as well.  She had lost her father at the age of 9 and spent a lot of years in mourning, and the pills took the edge off all that.  When the pills weren’t enough, she starting using heroin intravenously.  Addicted by 16, she would spend nearly 15 years in active-addiction.

For a while, addiction gave Kayla the illusion of success.  She had friends.  She partied.  She had nice things and drove nice cars.  She could be excused for thinking she was living on top of the world.  Then, in 2012, her drug use entered a new phase.  That was the year the FBI came calling. 

Her boyfriend was on federal release on an old trafficking case.  When he absconded his probation, the FBI tracked him down.  They busted both of them on a host of charges, but when he agreed to plea on all charges, they dropped charges against Kayla.  She was free, but she’d lost much of the material wealth she had grown used to. 

“I had gotten so used to living without consequences .   I’d had nice things.  The reality of going from having everything I needed to having nothing sent me on a downward spiral that didn’t stop for a long time.”

Kayla’s addiction amped up, and with it came increased risk.  She followed her mother to Huntington, WV where she caught a felony possession charge in 2014.  She was on probation.  She became a regular in the court system.  When she caught the inevitable probation-violation charge for not going to appointments, she just blew it off.  Home incarceration was the most she’d possibly face, she thought. 

She was in for a rude awakening.  When she went back in front of the Judge, he dropped the hammer on her.  “Kayla”, he told her bluntly, “I’m tired of seeing your face.  I’m tired of hearing you promise you’re going to change.”  Then, he looked at her mother and said sternly, “You need to go and ahead and start writing your daughter’s obituary.”

Remanded to custody, Kayla was furious.  She felt defeated and wanted to die.  In her cell, there was a Bible.  “I picked up this ratty old jailhouse bible and I said, ‘Ok, God, I need you to show me something and save me.’  And when I opened it, it opened to Jeremiah 30:11.”

Kayla remembers how the meaning impressed upon her that God had not abandoned her.  She recalls the verse: “I will not let you go unpunished, but only in due measure.”  “And at that time I gained acceptance.  I was there for another 6 months and finished my sentence.  Spiritually I spent a lot of time reflecting.”

When you work in addiction-treatment, you realize there’s no straight path to sobriety.  Recovery is a road with many curves and, occasionally, dead-ends. 

In November 2015, Kayla was out of jail.  She was upset with herself that she’d missed her son’s  Halloween.  She had no good career options.  So within days, she’d relapsed again.  Soon, she overdosed.  This wasn’t her first time overdosing, but this may have been the most severe.  To resuscitate her, first responders had to use Narcan.  She couldn’t feel her face, after she came to, for a long period of time.  Her mother was fed up.  She told Kayla, “either get help, or you’ll never be a mom to your son again.”

The combination of her previous jail sentence, her overdose, and her mom’s threat were key factors in Kayla’s decision to finally seek residential rehab in February, 2016.  But another factor was also at work: her spiritual awakening.

She insisted on getting help in a faith-based facility.  But where?  Her counselor didn’t know of any close-by in West Virginia.  Then, off handedly, he recalled some brochures that “this really nice lady named Dana” had brought over.  They were for Karen’s Place, and had been left by Dana Greider.  “It was the only faith based pamphlet they had”, recalls Kayla. 

Karen’s Place is where it all began for Addiction Recovery Care.  It was their first treatment center and is located outside of Louisa in Lawrence County, where the company is still headquartered.  When Kayla made it there, she recalls how welcoming the staff were.  “Tammy Dillon, Ms. Ruth; they were so loving and maternal.”  “I remember walking through the doors and I was greeted by Congetta Horn and the staff who were there, and they were so happy I was there.” 

Kayla was happy to be wanted again.  “I had not gotten that reception in a long, long time.  That was really special to me; to feel wanted and to feel like I actually belonged there.”  Of course rehab isn’t easy.  It was hard work.  There were days Kayla wondered if she could stick it out.  “One of the main reasons I stayed was because of my counselor, Jennifer Brammer.  She was so one on one with me and got on my level.  She taught me so much… and I stuck it out.” 

Kayla finished her first phase and moved into what ARC calls Phase 2.  She continued to grow in her recovery and learn coping.  She grew spiritually, as well.  But she need more.  She needed a purpose.  “I really didn’t know what I was capable of, or what I wanted to do; but I remember Ashlea Leslie and Crystal Craig and Loretta Smith telling me about my potential.  They encouraged me to apply for an internship.”  She did, and she was selected to intern at the center that spared her mom that heart-breaking task of writing her daughter’s obituary. 

Kayla had grown and made tremendous strides in her recovery, but there were still struggles.  Can you stick it out?  Are you worthy?  What about those things you did in a previous life?  “I remember Crystal [her supervisor] told me one night, “Kayla Bug, if you’ll just get out of your own way, God’s going to do big things in your life.”” 

“Getting out of my own way was exactly what I needed to do!”, she recalls.  Kayla committed herself to making a different life outside of addiction.  She didn’t try to walk this path by sight.  She just let God take her and owned up to the fact that she had been her own worst enemy for such a long time.

Part of letting God take the wheel was soaking up the opportunities she’d been offered.  She was an intern in one of the fastest growing addiction-treatment companies in Kentucky.  “My internship was a million dollar training.  It was where I put in a lot of grunt work, but I didn’t mind it at all.  I knew that was where I needed to go to get where I needed to be.”  With Kayla, God gets the credit.  “The work I was putting in was my way of righting all the wrongs that I had done in the past.”

She entered the Peer Support Academy.  ARC’s Peer Support Academy is a partnership between the company and the East Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP).  The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Human Services defines a Peer Support Specialist as follows:

“[It} is a structured and scheduled therapeutic activity with an individual client or group, provided by a trained, self-identified consumer of mental health services. A Peer Specialist guides clients toward the identification and achievement of specific goals defined by the client and specified in the Treatment Plan.  To become qualified, a Kentucky Peer Specialist (KPS) completes 30 hours of training and passes both a written and oral test. The job of a KPS is not to replace current clinical mental health staff but to offer additional and/or alternative options to help people in their efforts to recover.”

A newly created position in the treatment world, and now insurance and Medicaid billable, the PSS offers new ways for those in recovery to give back and to simultaneously make a living.  The academy gave Kayla a formal education in addiction to structure her experiential knowledge.   

She was eventually hired on as full staff at Lydia’ House.  She served as Residential Staff and Peer Support Specialist.  In the spring of 2017, she transitioned back to work at Karen’s Place.  By 2018, she’d moved to the second Karen’s Place, ARC’s first maternity center known as Karen’s Place Maternity Center, and also based in Louisa.  By now, Kayla was flourishing.  “I’d always loved my job, but when I got to do it with babies, I REALLY loved it.” In this season of her recovery journey, she was loving her career, her treatment friends, and her colleagues- many of whom had gone through treatment with her.  And Kayla was planning a wedding.

In the treatment world, it’s well-known that relationships can be dangerous to recovery.  “’I’m a borderline feminist.  I believe in teaching these ladies to love themselves and to find their identity before loving someone else,” Kayla says.  Every profession has its inside-jokes, and the one in the drug-treatment world is: “if you think you’re ready for a relationship, buy a plant.  Then, if you keep it alive for 6 months, you’re ready… to buy a pet!”  The reasoning is simple: autonomy.  So often, relationships can lead to clients leaving and, eventually relapsing. 

But Kayla was cautious and she knew her identify.  She’d met Johnny Perkins, also a long-term recovery client at Addiction Recovery Care, at 11 months sober.  It was the end of 2016 and the two were both in the Peer Support Academy.  By her 1 year sobriety date, Kayla and Johnny were dating.  Now, in 2018, Kayla was happy in Louisa at a new job at KPMC and planning her wedding.

In the summer, Kayla started hearing about the new center that would soon be coming online.  Hazel Hills sounded intriguing.  She entered into discussions about being Assistant Director at the Maternity Center there.  Despite planning a wedding and a career move that would require her to move, she wasn’t worried.  “That had been my career goal, and I wasn’t intimidated by it at all.” 

In the closing days of October, Kayla started her new position as Director of the Maternity Center and got married.  Johnny is working for Addiction Recovery Care overseeing all the peer support specialists and works out of Morehead.  Their wedding was very much ARC centered.  They were wed at New Life Outreach Church in Fort Gay, WV.  Matt Brown, ARC’s chief of staff, officiated.  The church is one Kayla used to attend while she was in treatment and then working at Karen’s Place.  Because New Life is so supportive of recovery, they often allow ARC to use their facilities to have meetings, so it’s a common hangout for any ARC employee.  Their wedding party consisted almost exclusively of ARC employees. 

It’s a reflection of another old saying in the recovery world:  “It’s not enough to get sober.  Recovery requires changing playgrounds, playmates, and playthings.”  Or, as Kayla puts it, “a new family.”

With her new family, Kayla is flourishing.  Her son is returning to live with her later this year.  She has a new job and loves working with both the clients and babies.  She remembers how appalling she often felt when she was in addiction.  “I just wanted to die all the time.  I remember praying for overdoses,” she says, before clarifying “that I wouldn’t wake up from.”

Now, Kayla is loving life.  She wants people struggling with seeing a loved one suffer from addiction to know, “the people that are in addiction- that’s not who they really are.”  “Addiction puts you in a haze and such a false sense of identity that you lose track of who you are.  And when you come out of it, it’s a shock.  You’re not such a waste of space.  You really do have potential and something to offer the world.”

Addiction Recovery Care’s motto is simple: From Crisis to Career- #FromCrisisToCareer .

ARC is a substance use disorder treatment company based in Louisa. It has outpatient and in-patient facilities around Kentucky. It gives select clients with 60 days of residential treatment the option to become an intern, and to simultaneously continue with their treatment and learn the “ins and outs” of operating a treatment program.  As a specialty area of this practice, ARC provides maternity and crisis-stabilization support for women.     

ARC  believes supporting a client’s discovery of a sense of purpose combined with employment is a critical factor in long-term recovery, and it prides itself on helping clients first achieve sobriety and then helping them discover their God-given destiny. 

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