Brooks holds dream job as recovery advocate

By Jeffrey Kanode, for RealWV

Today, Cherith Brooks works as a Certified Peer Recovery Support Specialist through Seneca Health Services. When someone enters Seneca’s Crosswinds Center for drug detox,  she labors to find that person a place in a long term recovery program. Some yesterdays ago, though, Brooks was drowning, immersed in the darkness and despair of drug addiction.  She found her way back up into light and health, and now she dedicates her life to the mission of helping others discover their own journey, upward toward the light of recovery.

“Addicts are my people,” Brooks said.  “You know how people talk about having ‘their people?’  Well, addicts are my ‘people.’ They will receive no judgment from me.  I still struggle. I work on my recovery every day. Helping people helps me. I see the full picture of addiction. I understand, and I care.”

Brooks’ major descent into addiction began when she was twenty years old.  She was sexually assaulted during her service in the military.  After receiving an honorable discharge after serving two years, she came home, and soon she began using drugs. She was attempting to mask the pain and cope with the trauma of being violated, she said.  “I used for twenty five years. I did painkillers, crank, cocaine, and meth.  I hit my rock-bottom when I started I.V. use of heroin,” Brooks stated.

After four-months of intravenous heroin use, Brooks found herself arrested for an escape charge, a situation connected to her drug abuse. Ultimately, she would spend eighteen months incarcerated, with another year of probation. Imprisonment led Brooks to the genesis of a new life. She attended RSAT (Residential Substance Abuse Treatment) and she dedicated herself to the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

In prison, Cherith Brooks began putting together the mosaic of a new dream, a calling perhaps she had always had—to help other people suffering in addiction. When she regained her freedom, she enrolled in the Jobs and Hope program and applied to Seneca Health for a position in the peer recovery program. As she made her way through the Jobs and Hope curriculum, Brooks also found work. “I had two jobs within three days of getting out of prison,” she said. “I worked at Fruits of Labor and The Big Wheel Restaurant, as a server.”

From beginning to end, Brooks’ journey from her release from prison to becoming part of the staff at Seneca Health Services took six months. For Brooks, the process of rebuilding her life has taught her one virtue above all other lessons. “Patience,” she said with a laugh. “I have never been a patient person, and I have had to learn patience.  Nothing in the real world is going to happen overnight.”

Cherith Brooks sits in her office at Seneca Health Services, sharing her story of addiction, recovery, and mission. Photo by Jeffrey Kanode.

Brooks’ work as a Peer Recovery Support Specialist has many layers, beginning when people are admitted into Crosswinds. “When someone comes to detox, they’re at least contemplating getting sober,” Brooks reflected.  Like every other life endeavor, though, this process too requires patience and grace. “I have good instinct. If you’re not ready, you’re not ready. You can try fifty times and the fifty-first time you might get it. It’s never, ever too late.”  She also facilitates group meetings and she helps people develop their own relapse prevention plan. Additionally, Brooks started a new Narcotics Anonymous program, the only one in Alderson. 

She passionately advocates the use of Narcan to save the lives of people who overdose. “I keep it with me all the time, and I keep it in my car, too. I’ll give it to people I know who are using, people I know who aren’t ready to get sober yet.  Not everyone is ready to get sober, but if you’re breathing, you still have a chance to get help.”

It’s her dream job, Brooks said: the work of recovery for those who are ready, the work of keeping people alive so they have a chance to find recovery, and the work of keeping those in recovery drug free. It’s a dream job that she embraces with deep humility. “I have prayed for this, but I never thought I’d be in this position that I am in.”

While she has worked so hard building her professional life, Cherith Brooks has also been lovingly striving to reconnect with her family. She takes very seriously Step Nine of the Alcoholics Anonymous tradition, the admonition to “make direct amends to such people wherever possible…” She said she has asked people to forgive her.  Brooks has two adult daughters, Alexis and Megan, and her smile beams when she talks about them. “Alexis has one more semester and she’ll graduate from college.  Megan just finished her first semester to be an LPN, and eventually an RN. We have a great relationship. Even when I was in prison, we spoke everyday on video calls.”

There are grandbabies now too, for Brooks. She has six grandchildren.  “I am ‘Mamaw,’ that’s what they call me,” she said, beaming again. “Even though my girls and I remained close even through my addiction, I missed so much when they were growing up.  Now, my grandkids get one-hundred percent of me. I love it. I am lucky get to be there, and present.”

Cherith Brooks wants to remain present– in her family, in her work, in her community–as an agent of hope and a force for good. “I want to invite everyone to get help. Anyone is welcome to look me up and get help,” she said.

Cherith Brooks and Rick Martin, Seneca’s Harm Reduction Program Coordinator.  Rick has been sober for eight years now; the day this photo was taken, Rick was celebrating the eighth anniversary of his sobriety: 2,982 days, as of June 15. Photo by Jeffrey Kanode.
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