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One Man’s Story of Incarceration to Healing and Addiction to Recovery

Hi, my name is Ramon Cruz and I am a person in recovery from mental health and substance use disorders. For many years, I carried a good deal of anger and resentment so, instead of addressing my issues, I turned to using drugs.

Unlike many others, my addiction began in prison. It happened at one of the lowest times in my life, when I lost my father. Here I was, incarcerated and drugs were available, so I turned to the one thing that I always tried to avoid. In trying to mask my pain there were times I didn’t want to live. Depression was evident, but I camouflaged it with drugs. I was overdosing and only through the grace of God was revived every time by someone in my community. Narcan was constantly used to save my life. I was arrested so many times that I started to begin to believe that incarceration was going to be my life. It was my reality, a cycle of incarceration and release, only to sell drugs again to support my addiction.

My light came on when I was sitting in a jail cell and decided that I no longer wanted to use drugs. I started to realize that I needed help to address my mental state. During my therapy sessions, I was told that I was holding on to a good deal of anger and resentment. In addressing my mental state, I could comprehend that I was masking my pain with addiction. I dealt with many sleepless nights but because of my therapy sessions I could release my pain. For the first time, I was able to cry. I discovered so much about my mental health struggles.

After my last incarceration, I followed up with therapy but was mindful to also work on my substance use disorder. I did this by building a support team that helped guide me through the steps. It was while living in a recovery house that my purpose revealed itself. But, keep in mind the process was slow – you must be able to accept the process in order to move forward.

I become a certified peer specialist in 2016, which gave me the opportunity to work at Community Behavioral Health in Philadelphia. It was there that I learned about Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) Mental Health First Aid Unit that hosted classes for both youth and adult populations. This training helped me understand that mental health issues affect all of society in some way, shape or form. I believe that knowledge and skills serve us well in navigating an emergency through early intervention.

Stigma plays a big role in society. Historically, it is also known to be a cultural problem. As a person of Puerto Rican descent, I was not allowed to talk about depression and other issues that would cause me to act out of character. It was due to this cultural stigma that shame played a major role in becoming a barrier for me to seek any treatment and find recovery for my substance abuse. It was through this training that I learned that no matter how long I had experienced mental health symptoms, people do recover.

Today, I am continually being blessed. I currently hold a position with DBHIDS. I have been able to use my story to help people who suffer from co-occurring issues by giving them a sense of hope and healing. Sharing my experience, knowledge and skills has been an important aspect of my recovery. My recovery has empowered me to reach certain goals in my life and establish a presence at DBHIDS. I am a facilitator for the Narcan training and I also was asked to be a part of a sub-committee for the Mayor’s Opioid Task Force. Today, I can be a father to my children, a son to my mother and a brother to my siblings.

Ramon Cruz is a peer specialist in Philadelphia.

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