Enabling Recovery From Substance Abuse Through Community Service

Mar 29, 2017

For those struggling with addiction, Eric Moffitt’s advice is that “If you want something you’ve never had you’ve gotta do something you’ve never done.”

Moffitt, who has been free of drugs and alcohol for three years, says changing course can begin through simple steps like attending a meeting and listening, not using today, or focusing on the positive rather than the negative. 

Eric Moffitt is a recovering addict and volunteer at Better Life in Recovery
Credit Scott Harvey / KSMU

“Anything that helps the addict focus on a higher goal, a more consistent road to travel. It’s different for everybody,” says Moffitt.

For Moffitt, 44, addiction started in college. That’s when he turned to opioids for pain relief from sports injuries.

“I will make a long story short; it led to incarceration, joblessness, homelessness, multiple losses of material goods and relationships.”

Moffitt says he lived a very violent, inconsistent life. While serving time in prison, which included stints in solitary confinement, he began to realize he’s capable of being better, and knew who to contact to get help once he got out.

Moffitt is quick to summarize the past and shift attention to current work which, as he puts it, aims to produce responsible, productive men in recovery.

“And not just live in recovery but spread messages to other men in recovery to help them. It’s kind of like Amway for the spirit,” he quips. “I mean I wanna be the head of my own little pyramid, and I wanna help people try and figure out the right way to go.”

Moffitt is a volunteer at Better Life in Recovery (BLR), a Springfield nonprofit started in 2012 that helps those struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues through community service, awareness and education events. These activities celebrate individuals in long-term recovery, according to David Stoecker, BLR’s founder and executive director.

“[It’s] people in recovery; their family, their friends and allies giving back to the community. I think last year we picked about two and a half tons of trash out of Missouri river ways. And this year we’re looking at picking up even more and giving back,” he says.

The organization has what’s called a stream team, or group that goes on float trips and hikes.  He tells me there are eight float trips planned this year. Additionally, there’s a group that meets for laser tag or paintball monthly, bowling on Sundays, and annual events like Recovery Day at Hammons Field and a 5k at Rutledge Wilson Farm Park. In 2016, BLR organized roughly 80 events.

David Stoecker is founder and executive director of Better Life in Recovery.
Credit Scott Harvey / KSMU

Stoecker, 44, says he’s been in recovery now for eight years. But early in his treatment, he only felt like a member of a recovery community, and not of the community as a whole. These events, he says, offer a chance for former addicts to normalize activities that they use to associate with substance abuse.

"I mean for me to float sober was something I never would have thought would happen. I didn’t know you could do that,” he said. “Now, I float sober multiple times and I’m able to introduce that activity to other people in tandem with them cleaning the river ways and making things pretty that at one time they might have trashed.”

Stoecker is also one of three co-founders of the Springfield Recovery Community Center, described as a safe place where people can meet and offer support for one another.

“We have everything from traditional 12-step support groups, to faith-based support groups, all the way to smart recovery, which is a science-based, secular support group,” says Stoecker.

He believes there are multiple pathways to recovery, acknowledging that one person’s way may not produce the same results for others. Also, the type of substance abused could warrant different recovery patters.

If you go by drug seizures in the area, which can offer a glimpse into the scale of drug use, then more people in Springfield were doing methamphetamine, heroin and ecstasy in 2015 than the year before. That’s according to an analysis published in November by the Springfield News-Leader, which compared the amount of drugs seized by the Springfield Police Department over the past five years. 327 grams of heroin, an opiate, were seized in 2015.  That’s more than in the previous three years combined.

Stoecker referenced these numbers during a Facebook Live session in February, noting that “We’re looking at a huge influx of heroin that’s coming into our community.”

During the session, which focused on the opioid antidote Naloxone, he even suggests best practices for people that are using, noting that if they’re going to use, they need to do so safety. That’s because Stoecker understands some people may not be ready to quit. But when they are, his organization will be there to help.

“We’re trying to get people – for people to be alive long enough and healthy long enough so that they don’t have HIV or Hep-C whenever they finally go ‘You know what, I’ve had enough.’”

For Stoecker, it took not one, not two, but three opioid-related overdoses before he started to put his life back together. Now eight years clean, Stoecker runs an organization that helps those struggling with substance use and mental health issues through community service, awareness and education events.

“And last year I had an organization that put in over 2,000 hours of community impact, giving back to the community, beautifying the community, making the community better. And that wouldn’t have been done if it wasn’t for the fact that somebody that was there for me to save my life three different times.”

Contributing to the BLR’s give back campaign is Eric Moffitt. Earlier, we informed you that his recovery strategy was predicated on doing something different.

“The whole point I guess where I decided I wanted something different – I always knew I did – I just didn’t realize how capable I was of achieving that until I had a positive message and positive people around me,” says Moffitt.

In terms of sustaining that recovery, Moffitt points to three additional keys. It starts with an elevated self-interest – to know he wants better and can achieve better. Second, commit to the action steps by embracing personal responsibility. Finally, it’s important to share his story with others.

“Our stories are other people’s inspirations,” he says. “Our stories are the other people’s toolkit in training videos. We are the message of recovery. We wear shirts that says ‘This is What Recovery Looks Like’ with fingers pointing at us. Today, I am what recovery looks like.”

Follow Scott Harvey on Twitter: @scottksmu