Advanced peer support specialist helps others find path to recovery
“You hear people go around saying, ‘Hey I’m Stacia, I’m an addict.’ Well, I choose not to use those words because those could be very stigmatizing, so I’m in long-term recovery from a substance abuse disorder,” says Stacia Looper, the advanced peer support specialist for the diversion team at Ouachita Behavioral Health and Wellness.
“The cool thing about peer support is you have to be in recovery to be a peer support specialist because we’re the same,” she said. “How can you help somebody if you haven’t been through what they’ve been through or something similar?”
Looper works with clients or “peers” who have struggled with addiction, and helps them find a path to recovery.
“They’re peers to me, they’re not clients. We’re on the same level and so I help them find their pathway to recovery,” she said. “I believe that anybody has the ability to recover, whether it’s from mental health diagnosis or from substance abuse disorder.”
Although they may not realize it, the peers Looper works with help her in her recovery journey as well, she said.
“Helping my peers keeps me clean because we can bounce things off of each other,” she said. “Sometimes I’m having a bad day and they cheer me up or we just sit here and talk about what we’re going through.
“It doesn’t matter how many years I have in long-term recovery versus how many years or days the other person may have,” she said. “We’re both in recovery and we both have the same mission and the same goal. And that’s to change our behavior and change our life and remain in recovery.”
Originally from Bismark, Looper moved to Little Rock during her recovery around the same time the peer support movement was taking off in Arkansas.
“I wasn’t really interested in it at first because I was working in a factory job making good money, but I was volunteering at different organizations, reentry facilities because I like to give back,” she said. “Then finally, I decided that maybe this is what I want to do for a living instead of on a volunteer basis.”
There are only 14 others in the state with the same credentials as Looper. She is certified as an advanced peer support specialist through the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse
Counselors. She also recently applied to receive credentials at the supervisor level, she said.
Looper spent around 10 years in active addiction, she said.
“I don’t really, per se, have a drug of choice, but it was more like I wanted more of everything,” she said. “Anything that would change the way I feel, I needed it and that didn’t matter if it was drugs, men, anything to substitute the way I feel.”
In 2016, Looper traveled to Little Rock for her third treatment, where “something just really sank in.”
“I got tired,” she said. “I was just ready to surrender, and I was like ‘God, I can’t do this anymore. I cannot keep disappointing my family. I cannot keep hurting my kids.’ And God just took over in my life.’
With the introduction of the peer support movement, the offer of multiple pathways to recovery began to surface. The different options for recovery paths include medically assisted treatment, which Looper said helps people with opiate use disorder by slowly weaning them from those substances, natural recovery and mutual aid groups.
Looper is on the outreach committee for the Arkansas Peers Achieving Recovery Together Coalition. The A.P.A.R.T. Coalition’s mission is to expand recovery services for substance use and develop, implement and evaluate the state’s efforts to broaden recovery and awareness.
She also volunteers to help the homeless with a support group in Little Rock, which provides necessities including meals, clothing and Narcan, Looper said.
“The reality is they may not be willing to get clean,” she said. “But if they have that Narcan and they use it, something might click and they might decide to go into treatment.”
Looper was invited to attend the Recovery Gala at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion last month as well, and assisted the Wolf Street Foundation in raising funds to support their mission, she said.
She also started a peer support group that meets at OBHAW. The mutual aid group is for those with mental health diagnosis, substance abuse disorder or co-occurring disorder and open to the community, not just clients at OBHAW, she said.
“I have been to so many funerals and I’ve seen so many people lose their kids, and the stigma out there behind addiction is so bad,” she said. “People think that we don’t recover and the reality is that we do. And I want others to know that it’s possible for them to recover as well.”