Speakers stressed the importance of changing the conversation about substance abuse and addiction during a special event March 6 in Waukesha.
The presentation featured messages by Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, Flo Hilliard, director of Wisconsin Voices for Recovery, and Your Choice, a substance abuse prevention education program founded by the Lybert family. Rosecrance assisted with planning and sponsored the event.
Wisconsin Voices for Recovery is a statewide group that brings together people in addiction recovery, their families and allies to advocate for the recovery community. The group, which is part of the national Faces & Voices of Recovery movement, aims to eliminate the stigma around addiction and recovery, remove barriers to treatment and promote positive policy changes at the local and state levels.
Hilliard shared with the audience of about 80 people that she is in long-term recovery but said the topic hasn’t always been easy to discuss.
“Saying I’m a person in long-term recovery from alcohol dependence was very difficult for me and something I didn’t do for many, many years,” she said. “I didn’t feel comfortable telling people I was in long-term recovery because of one word: stigma.
“We’re trying to help people get out, talk about it, put a voice and face to recovery.”
Hilliard said Wisconsin Voices for Recovery wants to create recovery centers across the region. An example would be partnering with a church that would donate space so people can gather to socialize or get help finding a job. The group also wants to help change the language associated with addiction, educating people that it’s a brain disease and a chronic disease similar to diabetes that needs to be managed.
Schimel lauded the event, saying similar events and efforts need to happen to change the conversation about addiction and “get people to move away from the notion that being addicted means you’re morally flawed or weak.”
He highlighted some of the programs Wisconsin has implemented in recent years such as drug treatment courts, training for more people to use Narcan, which helps reverse the effects of opiate overdose, and installing medication return units at local law enforcement offices.
Schimel also said proposals exist that would strengthen prescription medication monitoring. Rosecrance has an office in Waukesha County that offers a variety of substance abuse treatment programs for adolescents, young adults and families.
“If we don’t do crazy things to solve this problem, the ripples from this will go on and on and on,” he said. “Let’s do some crazy things to make Wisconsin a healthier place.”
Your Choice, a Rosecrance partner, closed the program with an emotional testimonial about the family’s own experience with addiction.
Tyler Lybert started experimenting with drugs in sixth grade as a way to make friends and fit in. He battled addiction for nearly a decade. His parents, Rick and Sandi Lybert, and sister, Ashleigh Nowakowski, also shared their stories during their presentation.
The event was especially emotional for the family because it was Tyler’s six-year anniversary of being in recovery.
“If you had told me six years ago to this very date that my son would be in recovery, I would have looked at you and said, ‘How?’” Sandi said.
“We had no clue where to go. We didn’t know who to speak to or where to go for help. … Your Choice started because we wanted to go after the demand. We had no clue there was such a stigma to it. It was just amazing. We realized that the way we are going to change this epidemic facing our youth and our parents is by educating them in the prevention of it.”
Tyler called the past six years the “best time of my life.”
“I don’t have to worry about court dates or going back to jail. I don’t have to worry about mom crying about me, unless it’s in a good way like she did today,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about waking up in the morning with regret, wondering how I’m going to destroy my life again today.
“What I’ve accomplished in the past six years I could have never done if I wouldn’t have gotten sober. And I love being sober.”