The Upper Perkiomen Valley is unique in many ways. Its natural resources, small-town appeal and sense of community are envied by many. But one thing is not unique about the valley – its people’s struggles with drug addiction and alcoholism.
Addiction of any type can be isolating and leave both the addict and family and friends feeling helpless and hopeless.
A series of programs, sponsored by New Goshenhoppen United Church of Christ in East Greenville, hopes to change that.
“It’s about people helping people,” said Rev. Deborah Rahn Clemens. “There’s no 12 steps, no lectures.
“People need to know how desperate the need is and how high the stigma is. What we’ve said about drug addicts being the lowest rung of society – it’s not true. People need to know it’s everywhere.”
Clemens, who battled herself as the mother of a heroin addict, said the death of her son, Nate, in 2008 from an overdose, brought the issue to the forefront for her.
“While he struggled I struggled to learn about addiction,” she said. “At that time I realized how impossible it was to get help. I am a professional woman, I should know how to work the system, but there were roadblocks everywhere – what county you lived in to what income you had. The services were not available like we were led to believe.”
So Clemens started a 501c3 fund, the Nate Clemens Fund for Substance Recovery, through Univest which helps those fighting for sobriety with things like intake costs for rehab, court and other costs.
Next Hope for Families was born, a grassroots group which believes “people need to help each other find care and support when the disease attacks one of our own.” Hope for Families partners with community organizations like the YMCA, school district and The Open Link’s Senior Center to do outreach programs on drugs several times a year.
It also sponsors Wit’s End, a support group for addicts and their families, that meets at the church every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. This Sunday, Hope for Families is hosting a program on relapse at the New Goshenhoppen Park at 2 p.m. Entitled “Relapse; What it is and What it is Not,” it will focus on sharing experiences in a non-judgmental way. Refreshments and music will be provided.
“The fact is that 75 percent of addicts relapse,” Clemens said. “Families who are helping think they are beating it and then they get disillusioned. And addicts who relapse often take the same amount of drugs their bodies were used to before. It will kill you,” she said. “We want to share information. Relapse is common, it’s not failure. You can start again.”
The true heart of any program or outreach, though, is the people it helps. Each has a story to share.
David Lindvedt, 50, of East Greenville, said he was an alcoholic for 10 years and also did drugs like pills, cocaine and marijuana.
“The program (Wit’s End) gives everyone involved hope. It is a frightening feeling to have no hope of anything getting better, where only death can end the suffering and the pain. Part of this hope is knowing we do not face these problems alone, that there are others who have gone through or are going through the same things, facing the same challenges, and are willing to help see us through our dark days (or years).
“I am challenged every day to remember that I am powerless over alcohol and drugs. I no longer have a burning desire to use, but I never forget who I am and where I could go if I start to drink or drug again.”
An East Greenville woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said her youngest daughter’s struggle with heroin addiction left her and her family with many issues.
She and her husband attend Wit’s End regularly.
“It’s really helped us a lot,” she said. “It’s a small group and we’re able to vent. There’s others there we can share our experiences and feelings with. They can relate and we can relate to them, whether it’s a loved one like a child, spouse, parent or a best friend.
“My daughter had been in and out of detox and one day I walked in the bedroom and saw her using,” she said. “Finally it clicked with her because she was going to lose her son. She has been clean since February. But we have to finally start talking about this.
“We think it’s a horrible stigma with other people but when it happens to someone you love, then you want to do something about it. You think it’s just you but feelings of guilt and helplessness are so common… Drug addiction has become so mainstream and suburban, small-town. It hooks you so quickly. We need to get together to fight.”
Ricky Pfeiffer of East Greenville, a former addict, advisor to Wit’s End and state rep for 12-step program Celebrate Recovery, said Wit’s End can truly help people recover and rebuild their lives.
“Anyone wanting to deal with the issues in their life needs a safe place to be able to honestly face things that can be tough to look at. Finding a group of authentic and accepting people who have already accomplished what you want to do is crucial for success.”
For more information on available drug and alcohol recovery programs through New Goshenhoppen, call (215)679-2041.