My name is Melvin Williams. I'm 33 years old, and am blessed to be a father to four of the most beautiful daughters a man could hope for. While there have been good times, it has also been a traumatic journey to get me to where I am today.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was dramatically affected by it. Like so many other Americans, I lost my job. On top of losing my job, I wasn’t able to see my children, because I was living in sober housing and the regulations would not allow me to see outside residents. The combined stress of losing my job and not being able to see my children pushed me into a deep depression. The only way I knew how to cope, and to survive, was to fall back into my old lifestyle of using and selling drugs. On April 20, 2020, I relapsed after having 19 months of sobriety. I lost all hope; I honestly saw no hope for my future. I had given up, and thought I was going to die in the streets.
In May I began to get sick. I was constantly running a fever, couldn't breathe, had a terrible cough, and I was having severe pain in my lungs and heart. When I finally decided to go to the hospital, they immediately placed me in the ICU. My condition was very severe. The doctor later told me that if I had come any later, it is likely I would have died. I had a very serious case of pneumonia and I was suffering from congestive heart failure along with endocarditis.
I was admitted to the Providence Portland Medical Center in early June. Within the first few days, a social worker came to my room to talk about helping me with resources. I would turn her away each time because I didn’t want anyone to know about my personal life. After a couple of weeks, a different social worker came in to talk about my discharge plan, including housing options and getting on medical assisted treatment. After a visit with my kids, and the doctors’ warnings about what could happen if I decided to use drugs again, it became clear to me that I needed to do something different with my life. I knew the first step was to accept the help that was offered to me by the social worker.
After three weeks in the hospital, the social worker was hesitant to discharge me back into the streets. A couple of options she gave me were referrals to the Blackburn Center and other alcohol and drug residential treatments. However, due to the severity of my medical issues, my brother offered a safe place for me to live. The social worker was still concerned, because I had no community support. She asked if I would be interested in working with a peer support specialist. I declined at first, but she convinced me to at least meet the support person and go from there.
The Providence Better Outcomes Thru Bridges (BOB) team helped to secure housing at my brother’s and connected me to my peer support specialist, DJ Alex. She contacted my probation officer to make sure it was approved for me to stay there. Thankfully, DJ and my probation officer have worked together in the past, so my probation officer trusted DJ’s judgement on whether it was a safe place for me to be.
The first thing I noticed when DJ Alex entered my room was that she had a lot of interesting tattoos and a friendly smile. As soon as she began talking, her voice brought soothing vibes to my heart. She sat with me for over an hour. She allowed me the time I needed to get to know her. I trusted her immediately because she has been down the same paths as I have. It was the first time that I felt someone genuinely cared about me.
I thank God every day for sending DJ Alex into my life. I can now once again see that light at the end of the tunnel. She has gone to many doctor’s appointments with me for support. She sat with me for over four hours applying for Social Security Disability Insurance. She has met me at numerous recovery meetings in the area. She goes above and beyond to help me. With the help and support of family and friends, I have remained clean and sober since June 18, 2020, and I am proud!
I would love to become a peer support specialist as well some day. Because I am able to connect with others who are struggling with the same barriers I faced, I believe I can be an advocate for them along their journey. One of the most important messages I would give others is to accept the help that is offered. I learned that we can’t walk this journey alone. I’d also suggest they stay active in addressing any of their medical and behavioral health concerns. I put them off for too long and ended up close to dying.
I am so grateful to the Providence BOB team and to DJ Alex for not giving up on me, and showing me this new way of life. I now see all four of my children every weekend. Since I have decided to not use drugs, I get to be present in their lives as much as I want. Coming so close to death really put life in perspective for me. Today, I am the father that my children deserve; today, I want to live!
About the BOB Peer Support Specialist Program
DJ Alex learned about the Providence BOB program from a friend of hers in recovery, who suggested she apply to be a peer support specialist. Peer support specialists are people who have their own lived experience with behavioral, mental health and/or substance use. This role supports patients that have substance use disorders, experienced a behavioral health crisis, and have been discharged from the hospital.
DJ Alex has worked in the addiction/behavior health field since 2015 with individuals who have experienced barriers in accessing community services that are needed to balance the health and overall quality of life. As a woman in long-term recovery, DJ says there is nothing better than taking the wisdom of her lived experience and showing others that they are not alone. She gets the opportunity to empower people by strengthening individuals and families affected by addiction, mental health, poverty, and homelessness. She believes creating pathways to support individuals in their recovery and journey is one of the biggest blessings, and that all people deserve to live their lives with dignity and grace.
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