‘I like what I see in the mirror:’ Struggling addicts get help at Quinault Wellness

Sep 8, 2023, 8:17 AM

Quinault Wellness Center addiction...

(Photo courtesy of Quinault Wellness Center)

(Photo courtesy of Quinault Wellness Center)

In 2022, construction began on a wellness center in Aberdeen. The hope was the drug treatment center could help the Grays Harbor community wage a formidable battle in the war against opioids.

Now open for nearly a year, some of the first success stories are coming out of the Quinault Wellness Center.

The center is a $20 million dollar gift from the Quinault Nation to treat addiction issues within Grays Harbor County and its own tribal community. The program it will use is based on the same holistic service model the Swinomish Tribe first introduced when it opened the Didgʷálič Wellness Center in 2017. Today, it claims a 75% success rate in keeping people in the program.

More from Colleen O’Brien: Quinault Wellness Center aims to combat ever-growing fentanyl crisis

The Quinault Wellness Center will celebrate its one-year anniversary in October with success stories of its own. Tracy, who prefers only to be identified by her first name, is one of those stories. She was the first person who walked through the door when the center opened.

“I don’t know what made me veer into the parking lot. I guess it was the big open sign. I sat in the parking lot until the security guards came out after me. So, I came in. It was just me,” Tracy remembers. “I was like a wet little bird that walked in hurt, you know, and they embraced me so comfortably that I just gave up right there. And I’ve been here ever since.”

The security guards are designed to act as their job would suggest but are also instructed to be friendly and to create relationships with those who choose to walk through the wellness center’s doors.

Tracy, who is almost 60 years old, tried drugs for the first time at 14. Her sister had been murdered, her parents were alcoholics, and she had no one to teach her how to grieve. It was just her and her pain.

“There was no help, there was no counseling, no nothing. So, the pain that I had was so unbearable that I reached out to the first person who said they would help me with that pain,” Tracy said.

That person gave her cocaine, and Tracy remembers it worked. Her pain was gone. Cocaine, however, was just the start.

“I ran with my addiction for 45 years. This is the first time in my life that I’ve ever been clean this long. It’s all new to me. It’s awesome, but it’s been a long road, and the Quinault Center is sacred grounds for me,” Tracy said.

What Quinault Wellness offers

This center is different from other treatment facilities in that they do it all. They offer childcare, medication-assisted treatment, group therapy, individual therapy and there’s a dentist office.

Quinault Wellness also offers something that is often overlooked: transportation.  Chief Operating Officer Jason Halstead says it is a big draw for those needing help getting sober.

“The transportation includes shuttles that would pick patients up in a catchment area as far north as Queets and as far south as South Bend. We go all the way to McCleary and additionally out to Ocean Shores. So, all of Grays Harbor County, some of Jefferson, some of Pacific counties as well,” Halstead said.

Even if you’re unhoused, that’s not a problem. Their shuttles will find you on whatever corner you call home.

Addiction: ‘It’s insidious. It’s sneaky.’

Colleen Chapin, a clinical supervisor at Quinault Wellness, often starts her counseling sessions with this question: Have you ever been substance-free in the past?

“Most of the time, there’s a ‘yes,’ and even if it was for a few months, it’s like, ‘What was it like back then? What did you like about your life back then?'” Chapin said.

Colleen knows how to get into the mind of an addict because she’s one, too. She’s been in recovery for a long time, but she’s the first to admit no addict is ever truly “safe” from their addiction.

“It’s insidious. It’s sneaky. It’s not something you just wake up one day and all of a sudden you’re an addict. It’s a slow process that happens over time where we justify, we rationalize, we minimize, and you end up over that line,” Chapin said. “Life is never the same. (It has) changed your thinking, (it has) changed the way you believe, (it has) changed your values, (it has) changed the principles that you maybe lived by at one time. Those things can be captured, it turns out, in recovery.”

While the patients at the Quinault Wellness put in the hard work to stay sober and rebuild what drugs tore down, Chapin wants those of us lucky enough to say we’ve never been addicted to drugs to work on something, too.

“Educate yourself. Stop being ignorant about addiction. Stop being ignorant about who the addict is. It’s all faces and all socioeconomic places. We can all become addicted. Blaming people, guilt-tripping people, it just doesn’t work. Incarcerating people doesn’t generally work either. Shame can be very debilitating. it can keep people from getting well,” Chapin said.

Tracy dealt with that shame for years: shame of her own addiction and shame for not being the mother she wanted to be. But at the Quinault Wellness she’s safe — and sober. There’s no shame in that.

“I like what I see in the mirror, when before I didn’t have any mirrors in my house. I can taste and smell food. It’s so different. I cry now when I hurt. Everything is just brighter, and my daughter is finally getting the mother she deserved,” Tracy said.

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‘I like what I see in the mirror:’ Struggling addicts get help at Quinault Wellness