Peer sup­port group cel­e­brates suc­cess at Christ­mas party

The Standard Journal - - FRONT PAGE - By Diane Wag­ner DWag­[email protected]

More than 200 North­west Ge­or­gians strug­gling with men­tal ill­ness or sub­stance abuse gath­ered last week for a twofold pur­pose: cel­e­brate their on­go­ing re­cov­er­ies and of­fer each other sup­port through the hol­i­days.

The High­land Rivers peer sup­port Christ­mas party, now in its se­cond year, brought to­gether groups from Floyd, Polk, Bar­tow, Gilmer and Whit­field coun­ties. Games, songs, prizes and a visit from Santa pre­ceded lunch at the fes­tively dec­o­rated Cartersville Civic Cen­ter.

Betty Gard­ner of Rome ar­rived full of glee and passed that spirit along to ev­ery­one she met. She gig­gled and posed with Santa — played by Jim Mc­Grath — be­fore pick­ing up a gift bag do­nated by An­gel Ex­press and strolling off to an­other of the event sta­tions dot­ted around the room.

“I am hav­ing fun,” the Mis­sis­sippi na­tive de­clared with a bliss­ful smile. “Yes, ma’am, I am.”

High­land Rivers spokesman Michael Mul­let said that, for some in the peer sup­port pro­grams, the party is the only hol­i­day con­nec­tion they have.

“Some have no fam­ily or they’re es­tranged. Oth­ers may not have the re­sources,” Mul­let said.

Through the peer sup­port groups, peo­ple in re­cov­ery share their set-backs, their per­sonal dreams of well­ness and their cop­ing strate­gies for deal­ing

with stress. Each of the groups pre­pared a spe­cial pre­sen­ta­tion for the party.

Early on, the fa­mil­iar strains of Bill Withers’ “Lean on me, when you’re not strong ...” rang out as a karaoke pro­duc­tion by the Cedar­town peer sup­port group. Brenda Byess called it their re­cov­ery an­them.

“We lean on each other and sup­port each other,” she said as the singers waved homemade signs nam­ing is­sues they each have risen above.

At a nearby ta­ble, Michael Fears of Rome was fill­ing out his Party Peo­ple Bingo card — an ice­breaker game that sent

peo­ple off to find “a peer who likes to cook,” “a peer who has been to a NAMI Walk” or “a peer who has gone Christ­mas car­ol­ing.” The party grew more fes­tive as raf­fle win­ners were called.

“It helps,” said Jimmy Moore, who’s in the Cedar­town pro­gram. “We get to know peo­ple who are go­ing through the same chal­lenges we are and see some we haven’t seen in a while.”

Deb­bie Strotz, di­rec­tor of re­cov­ery-ori­ented care at High­land Rivers, has been in re­cov­ery her­self for more than 23 years. She said it’s a

life­long com­mit­ment that must be reaf­firmed daily.

“At the hol­i­days, it’s re­ally im­por­tant to know who your sup­port group is,” she said.

Re­mem­ber­ing to stay in the mo­ment is an­other stress-re­duc­tion tip, Strotz said, adding that med­i­ta­tion has been help­ful to her.

And it’s en­cour­ag­ing to en­joy a lit­tle hol­i­day cheer with oth­ers who can re­late to you.

“The peers are the ones who show re­cov­ery is pos­si­ble. They give hope to other peo­ple by show­ing it can be done,” Mul­let said.

Diane Wag­ner

Jimmy Moore (right) and his peer sup­port group from Cedar­town sing a karaoke ver­sionof “Lean On Me” to en­ter­tain and en­cour­age the crowd dur­ing the five-county High­landRivers Health Christ­mas party Wednes­day at the Cartersville CivicCen­ter.

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