Peer support specialist Stacia Smith speaks at a Carroll County Commissioners meeting Sept. 12, 2019 about the importance of helping people recover from addiction.
Peer support specialist Stacia Smith speaks at a Carroll County Commissioners meeting Sept. 12, 2019 about the importance of helping people recover from addiction. (Mary Grace Keller / Carroll County Times)

The Carroll County Board of Commissioners proclaimed September to be Recovery Month, and one of those in the Health Department helping people try to escape substance abuse is certified peer recovery support specialist Stacia Smith.

Smith began her own recovery years ago, and now she’s helping others through the process, specifically within the homeless population. There are seven peer specialists in the department who serve approximately 500 to 800 people annually, according to Sue Doyle, local behavioral health authority for the Bureau of Prevention, Wellness, & Recovery. Peer specialists meet people in their homes, the community, wherever they need to be met, to get them to treatment or simply to offer emotional support while they decide, Doyle said.

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“For me, it’s just a wonderful opportunity to advocate with individuals who believe that they’ve lost hope, who believe that their voices will go unheard simply because of their present circumstances,” Smith told the commissioners at their Sept. 12 meeting. “It’s not about us, it’s about just standing with an individual who’s trying to press forth and break barriers.”

The Carroll County Times connected with Smith to find out how peers support each other through recovery. Those interested in connecting with a peer specialist can call 410-876-4449 or visit the Carroll County Health Department Behavioral Health website.

Q: What are your responsibilities as a certified peer specialist?

A: My responsibilities as a certified peer specialist are to use the unique, life-altering circumstances of my life before recovery and my present state of recovering to guide others who are in some form of recovery as they see it. From the perspective of someone who has first-hand experience of active addiction and recovery we fill in gaps, build bridges, and break barriers while being a beacon of hope for others seeking recovery.

Q: How long have you been in this role? How did you get into this type of work?

A: When I began my recovery process in 2003, I now understand I was actually doing peer-to-peer without parallel by advocating, guiding others through a new way of life, and offering help. However, as a paid professional I have been in this role at the Health Department since February of 2014. I got into this role of peer support by simply doing what my heart desired anywhere the opportunity presents itself. Helping others is never work for me. It is my reasonable service to society.

Q: How do you become a certified peer specialist?

A: To become a certified peer recovery specialist it starts with 46 hours of behavioral health specific training with 16 of the hours in ethics and 10 hours in advocacy, 10 hours in mentoring and education, and 10 hours in recovery and wellness. It also entails 500 volunteer or work hours and 25 hours of peer supervision, an application and final exam. We are required to do a recertification with a signed code of ethics, application, and fee every two years in addition to continuing education hours.

Q: What are the advantages to having a peer offer support rather than someone who hasn’t been through recovery?

A: I believe some of the advantages are the ability to understand the feelings of those seeking wellness and recovery (empathy) while being sympathetic to understanding the recovery process. I also believe [in] the ability to understand the impact our negative behaviors have on our children, families, and friends. We are able to guide others through their process obtaining capital resources and the barriers of being without them. An advantage is understanding the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness in trying to rebuild from ground zero. We can connect with the desire without the strength, and the willingness without the understanding of how it works and how to get there. We meet our peers exactly where they are and care enough not to leave them there. We advocate, we defend, we stand for, and we stand with our peers until they believe and understand they have a voice and are able to use it with protest and judgment.

Q: What are your peers like, who you help?

A: My peers are like anyone else, just ordinary people; however, their circumstances are different. They are husbands, wives, sons, and daughters seeking self-help and other support strategies.

Q: How has this job impacted you?

A: When I hear that someone has lost their life as a direct result of an untreated substance use disorder I am saddened and even angry. Even though I know I carry a message of hope and recovery, I cannot carry the person. I sometimes question [if] have I done enough.

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Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to seek recovery but is hesitant to begin?

A: My advice is, give yourself a break. You have nothing to lose in a recovery attempt. Just try something different for different results.

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