Washtenaw County residents share addiction and recovery experiences in "It Is Possible" campaign

Last summer, 11 county residents shared their stories of addiction, relapse, and recovery with the Washtenaw County Health Department as part of the department's "It Is Possible" marketing campaign.
This article is part of a series about mental health in Washtenaw County. It is made possible with funding from Washtenaw County's Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage.

"The core of the disease of addiction is we don’t know how to be vulnerable," says Ann Arbor resident Pepita Peckham. "That’s what treatment is for: to help us get vulnerable. That’s where it all starts."

Last summer, Peckham and 10 others shared their stories of addiction, relapse, and recovery with the Washtenaw County Health Department as part of the department's "It Is Possible" marketing campaign, an effort to spread awareness of harm reduction materials and recovery resources throughout Washtenaw, Lenawee, Livingston, and Monroe counties. Along with 10 other individuals across these counties, Peckham hopes her story can show those struggling with addiction that resources are available and recovery is possible.

"I became addicted as a young child, and I’m living proof at 53 that I still deserve a life and can live a life," Peckham says. "You don’t have to live in shame and guilt because you aren’t the only one that has done wrongful things, and you can change."

The campaign wasn’t the first time Peckham had openly shared her story with the goal of inspiring others. While exploring Facebook groups focused on recovery, she came across a post from a sober man who was grappling with the loss of his son and felt the only solution to deal with the pain from the loss was to relapse. Peckham, who was four months sober at the time, had just lost her son to alcohol addiction. She reached out to the man through the comments on his post, sharing her personal experience and telling him that if she could manage to stay sober through this hardest time, he could too.
Washtenaw County Health Department Communications Coordinator Beth Ann Hamilton.
This interaction introduced Peckham to Beth Ann Hamilton, communications coordinator at the health department, who told Peckham about the "It Is Possible" campaign and encouraged her to share her story again on a larger scale. Now, Peckham says, people approach her at her workplace to ask about her story – and sometimes ask advice for themselves or a loved one going through addiction.

"I’ve had people come up to me, confiding in me that a son, a grandson, someone they love is struggling and they don’t know how to approach them," Peckham says. "I know that by putting my vulnerability out there, others will be less ashamed to be vulnerable themselves."

Hamilton says that when the health department first launched the campaign back in 2020, there was less awareness of harm reduction methods and resources such as the efficacy of fentanyl test strips or the overdose-reversing medication naloxone. While the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges in distributing campaign materials, Hamilton says the past four years have been integral to the campaign’s evolution into what it is today.
"It Is Possible" campaign posters.
"We want to meet people where they’re at so they are as safe as possible," Hamilton says. "I’m very glad that harm reduction is the approach we’re taking broadly throughout the region."

Hamilton explains that harm reduction is a major component of the campaign, but the stories of real community residents are equally as powerful when it comes to reducing the stigmatization of addiction. 

"Sharing more about what addiction means and why harm reduction is important leads to safer use and fewer people dying," Hamilton says. "Shame and stigma, which are never good for people's health, prevent people from reaching out to help when they want or need it."
"It Is Possible" campaign participant Chris Sudduth.
Another Washtenaw County resident featured in the campaign is Chris Sudduth, who feels that being open about recovery is integral to alleviating the stigma both Hamilton and Peckham describe.

"I'm a living, breathing person that’s gone through addiction. My whole story isn’t going to be the same as someone else’s, but if they can pick parts that are relatable, that’s important," says Sudduth. "I wish that I’d had that. If I knew someone had gone through what I was going through, it could’ve stopped me from going through some situations."

Sudduth’s passion for harm reduction and recovery advocacy extends beyond the "It Is Possible" campaign. As the director of community initiatives at the Ann Arbor recovery nonprofit Home of New Vision (HNV), Sudduth says his work in the recovery community has a "one band, one sound" approach – teaching those in recovery spaces the importance of sharing their stories to build community and help others feel less alone.

"Getting the word out there and educating people are the two biggest things," Sudduth says. "Showing people of all different backgrounds and ethnicities going through recovery shows the importance of how you can change your life around and emphasize that there is no linear timeline to recovery."
"It Is Possible" campaign participants Pepita Peckham and Chris Sudduth.
Sudduth was a client of HNV just over five years ago. Before he began his recovery journey, he says much of his knowledge of recovery came from media portrayals. He says his recovery process and hearing stories from others in recovery groups like those at HNV helped him realize the number of different forms recovery can take – and he hopes he can do the same for others seeking recovery now.

"When I share my experience, I explain how I curated my own way of recovery using everything Washtenaw [County] had to offer," Sudduth says. "I see it as a duty of someone in recovery to share your story, how you got to recovery and what recovery is doing for you, and that recovery is ultimately possible."

To learn more about the "It Is Possible" campaign or to receive promotional materials, visit the campaign’s website. Washtenaw County residents seeking recovery support can call Washtenaw County Access and Crisis Services at (734) 544-3050.

"I’m living proof that there is help out there, and people are willing to help, especially here in Washtenaw [County]," Peckham says. "I’m only giving back what was so freely given to me."

Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.

All photos by Doug Coombe.
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