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Drug counselor helps with Native American recovery program

December 10, 2018

MASHPEE, Mass. (AP) — Twenty-nine years ago Stephanie Tobey-Roderick, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, entered her first drug rehab program.

She went to a treatment facility in New Hampshire called Spofford Hall, a long-term inpatient treatment facility that is now defunct. She remembers the moment she knew she had a problem.

“My son was four,” Tobey-Roderick said. “I kept promising him tomorrow — tomorrow we’ll go to the park. And tomorrow never came.”

Tobey-Roderick had been struggling with addictions to cocaine and alcohol; she first began experimenting with substances as early as the age of 15. She liked to party at events like the powwow, the tribe’s annual homecoming, Tobey-Roderick said.

“I was surrounded by alcohol and drugs,” she said.

After getting treatment, she spent 13 years sober while her son — a skilled Native American drummer — went to school. Then she relapsed.

Ultimately, Tobey-Roderick managed to overcome her illness at the Partridge House, an inpatient addiction program specifically for tribes run by the New York-based Mohawk Tribe. The facility is the only native-specific program licensed through the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services that looks at how addiction affects Indian communities, according to its website.

“I knew there was an Indian reservation that helped natives,” said Tobey-Roderick, who just before entering into the tribe-based program was admitted to McLean Hospital in Belmont after she tried to commit suicide.

Inspired by a Mohawk tribal counselor, Tobey-Roderick has since become a licensed drug and alcohol counselor, and is applying for a trademark on a product she’d designed to use as a therapeutic tool, called “My-Life-Ball,” to facilitate conversation in a group counseling setting.

In recent years, Tobey-Roderick, her sister Laura Miranda and the tribe’s medicine man, Guy Cash, held weekly meetings at the Old Indian Meeting House to provide emotional support to tribe members suffering from addiction, Miranda said.

The meetings were not sponsored by tribal political leaders, said Miranda, who was a tribal council member. Tobey-Roderick, determined to maintain her sobriety, played an important mentoring role to tribe members to keep them from straying from the path to recovery, Miranda said.

“The people she’s actually helped are still sober today because of her,” Miranda said.

When Tobey-Roderick last got sober, she returned home jobless, carrying nothing but a plant, Miranda said.

Tobey-Roderick would take the Hyannis shuttle bus to find work, often walking to meet potential employers and to 12-step meetings, her sister said.

“She would walk to wherever she had to go,” Miranda said.

Tobey-Roderick said she grew up relatively free of serious trauma, but her father, Edgar F. Tobey Sr., who struggled with alcoholism, was among a group of tribe members spearheading a bid for federal acknowledgement, and was named in the lawsuits brought against New Seabury in the early 1970s.

Tobey Sr. was among a founding group of tribal leaders who sat on a board of directors at the time the tribal government was formally established. That board functioned as the tribal council does now, according to a tribal spokeswoman.

Tobey-Roderick said she remembers her father talking about the tribe every night at the dinner table. She didn’t realize, until he was dying, how important the politics surrounding land loss and federal recognition were to him.

“I never knew how hard of a time it was for my dad,” she said.

She described her own pain as intergenerational, as passing from previous generations.

The term is used throughout Indian Country to describe the deep wounds associated with the loss of historic homelands, she said.

Mainstream psychiatrists accept the concept of transgenerational trauma as it applies to Native Americans, African Americans and other marginalized groups whose ancestors had suffered for various causes and who, too, carry the pain of previous generations.

“They said I had this ‘moral anger,’” she said, referring to staff members at the Partridge House.

Tobey-Roderick credits the 12-step-program model, specifically steps one through five, which got her to look back at her childhood and make sense of what happened to her.

But she believes her trauma is intimately tied to historical injustices against her people, she said.

“They’ve faced tragedy,” said Mary LeClair, who served on the board of Gosnold Inc., for 27 years. “But they have an inner strength that is tied to their fight for land.”

Tobey-Roderick’s father ultimately achieved sobriety for the remaining 25 years of his life, a feat she said resulted from a “spiritual awakening” that led him to become a Jehovah’s Witness.

In 2016, there were 11 opioid-related deaths among the roughly 3,000-member Mashpee tribe, prompting officials to declare a state of emergency. According to state data, there were 24 opioid-related overdose deaths among Native Americans in Massachusetts between 2014 and 2016.

The tribe has now launched a new effort — dubbed Project 360 — to better connect its members to treatment and recovery programs, as well as to conduct a community needs assessment to identify gaps in resources used to address the crisis, according to a document detailing the plan.

Tribe members are four times as likely to abuse substances than the state’s nontribe residents, according to the document. Tribe members are 150 percent more likely to experience emotional distress and depression than their nontribe neighbors, and that 25 percent of tribal members report having attempted suicide during their youth, the document says.

And the state recently announced funding for a new program that would provide substance-misuse-and-prevention support services for Native American youth throughout the state. There will be $1.2 million allocated to target Native American middle schoolers to “enhance self-esteem, develop problem-solving techniques, reduce stress and anxiety, and build effective defenses against pressure to use tobacco, alcohol, opioids and other drugs,” according to a statement on the program.

Tobey-Roderick now has more than eight years of sobriety under her belt, and she’s getting ready to launch her “My-Life-Ball.”

But she still heralds the power of conversation in helping others achieve recovery.

“That’s what my business card says,” she said. “To just talk about it.”

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Online: https://bit.ly/2Uxylb6

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Information from: Cape Cod (Mass.) Times, http://www.capecodtimes.com

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