Battling addiction a matter of faith

Two Clark County churches pool resources to provide drug addicts, loved ones aid, comfort

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

Published:

 

Kicking heroin is difficult, doable

Drugs don’t just affect the addict. They also hurt loved ones, says Forrest Sippey, a drug and alcohol counselor.

“Everyone in the family plays a part in addiction,” he said.

With more than 10 years of experience as a drug and alcohol counselor, the co-owner of Battle Ground-based Helping Professionals Wellness Center has seen it all.

Heroin addiction is the worst, he said, because of the hold it takes on people.

By the time addicts reach him, they’re in the throes of addiction and have typically extinguished every resource they once had with their families.

When Sippey enters the picture, the psychological and physiological changes affecting their bodies are severe. For many, this leads to what’s known as dope sickness — when someone physically gets ill, like bad flu symptoms, while coming down from a heroin high.

People can successfully overcome their addiction, he said, but only with a regimented routine, which includes counseling.

For some, that could mean using replacement drug therapy, such as methadone — a synthetic substance that mimics the effects of opiates — or Suboxone, which quells both the dope sickness and urges to continue using.

But the most important thing is for addicts to want recovery, he said. To reach that point, they usually need to be at, or near, rock bottom.

“Once we can get people’s brain clear to see the benefits of recovery,” he said, “they’re there because they want to be there.”

Although Sippey sees the anecdotal evidence that heroin use is on the rise, he also knows there’s the possibility for recovery.

Addicts do stay off heroin, he said. But it takes commitment from both the addict and the addict’s family to work.

“What we hear about are the recidivism rates,” he said. “You don’t hear about the success stories.”

— Tyler Graf

BRUSH PRAIRIE -- For every life heroin claims, it irreversibly affects multitudes more.

There's the grieving father, kneeling by his son's grave; or the worried mother, feverishly texting hers after he disappeared on a bender.

Then there's society, which bears much of the cost for heroin dependency.

Faith Center Church of Brush Prairie and The XChange Church of Vancouver have united to fight heroin's spread. They join a big struggle at a key moment: the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney's Office reports a 550 percent increase in the number of heroin-related charges filed over the past six years.

So every Saturday, at 6 p.m. at Faith Center Church, 10702 N.E. 117th Ave., pastors lead a service specifically for people in recovery and their families and friends.

The service, started in February, is part of renewed outreach from the faith-based community. Its members hope to draw attention to drug addiction and serve a fast-growing segment of the population -- one that's in search of salvation.

But there's another reason. And it's the story of intersecting lives, with the common theme of heroin.

Prominent members of Faith Center Church, a growing congregation located at a large Brush Prairie campus, have seen their own loved ones struggle with addiction.

They come from respectable backgrounds. There's the small-town mayor, the well-liked contractor and the dedicated associate pastor.

Together, they're privy to a dirty little secret: Although heroin is a filthy drug -- conjuring images of blood-tainted needles and tar-encrusted cooking spoons with their undersides singed -- it can touch anyone, anywhere, despite people's perception of it as being the worst of the worst.

"It doesn't get any slimier than being a heroin addict in the eyes of the world," said Bruce Washburn, a Vancouver contractor, whose son Gabriel died at 24 from a heroin overdose two years ago.

They're not all bad people, said Washburn, who's been a member of the Faith Center congregation for decades.

Still, he added, people look at heroin addicts as criminals.

Gabriel was a special guy, his father said. He was full of kindness and had a caring disposition.

When someone had a problem, Gabriel didn't just listen -- he tried to help. He was an "amazing, amazing man," his father said.

Gabriel spent the day before he died counseling a friend who was having relationship problems.

The last phone number Gabriel dialed before he died was his dad's. He just wanted to check in.

Looking back on it, Washburn said, Gabriel probably made the call from the same locked bathroom where he shot the junk that killed him.

The end came too soon for Gabriel, who was "ministering up until the end," his father said.

Hope for the future

Taryn Trenda, an associate pastor at Faith Center Church, is trying to keep that end from snatching away her own son, Travis Trenda. At 31 and the father of a child, he's a recovering heroin addict who's working to stay clean. He was also one of Gabriel's best friends.

It hasn't been an easy journey. Trenda kicked Travis out of the house last Christmas Eve only to have him and his girlfriend, Mandy Cooper, wander the streets for more than a month.

They were on a long-term bender, shooting up near-toxic amounts of methamphetamines and heroin and growing increasingly paranoid of their surroundings.

Trenda's only means of contact with Travis during that period was by text message.

The couple eventually returned home on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 3, strung out after hitting rock bottom. After spending brief stints in jail, both now say they want to stay clean.

Travis is making progress, Trenda said. He entered a local rehab facility this week and reunited with his son.

Looking back at the difficult times, Trenda said her son's addiction was something she tried to rationalize, primarily because she didn't understand it. How could he hurt his family over and over and over again?

There's a reason for it all, she said, but it's something Travis will have to come to grips with someday in order to stay clean.

"I truly believe that each one of us has a story that nobody else knows," she said.

Like many others, Travis first got hooked on opiates after being prescribed Oxycontin, an opioid painkiller, following a devastating accident at a construction site. After using heroin, then meth, he never really looked back.

Despite being frustrated by Travis' failed attempts in the past to straighten up and permanently kick his addiction, Trenda is thankful for one thing.

Her son isn't dead.

A long struggle

If there is a glimmer of hope, it's offered by Lisa Walters, mayor of Battle Ground and a member of Faith Center Church. Her son, Kyle, was addicted to drugs, opiates in particular, for years.

After repeated attempts to stay off drugs, including a stint in jail, he was able to get clean.

It was a difficult process to watch, Walters said.

She remembers visiting Kyle during his first trip to a rehab center.

"We went in and I've never seen a child like that. He was talking to himself and he was green," she said. "It was incredible. I sat and watched, and I remember the tears running down my face. He was somewhere where I'd never be able to reach him."

He was practically a stranger.

It took years of treatment before he came back to the family, she said.

But in doing so, Kyle learned to use the story to his advantage.

When he feared a drug-related felony conviction would prevent a landlord from renting him a three-story townhouse -- a dream of his after drifting from transitional housing, including a stint in an Oxford House group home for men in recovery -- he decided to open up about his experiences.

It was Walters' idea.

"I held his hand and I said, 'Tell your story. It's worth telling,'" Walters said. "And he walked out of there with a place to live."

Trenda said the three stories -- hers, Washburn's and Walters' -- are mirror images of the same issue.

"There's a connection to all these boys," Trenda said. "And I think it's pretty amazing how God is bringing us together."

A bigger plan is at play.

Because of the rising tide of heroin use in Clark County, members of the church -- and others -- want to take a long-term approach to tackling it.

Work to combat drug addiction at the community level draws praise from people who work closely with addicts, including Forrest Sippey, the co-owner of Battle Ground-based Healing Professionals Wellness Center, a recovery facility.

He said having more resources would be a good thing for Clark County, as it would complement the work he does.

Ultimately, the key will be providing resources so recovering addicts can find housing and jobs, he said.

"If we don't do something about the social aspects --housing or jobs -- addicts are likely to use the same defense mechanizations they always had," he said.

The team-up between Faith Center and The XChange Church is only the first step, said Pastor Bill Smith, who, along with his wife, Vicky, run XChange and its recovery center. Building more transitional housing is the long-term plan.

The church works closely with people in recovery. It operates three transitional houses through a nonprofit organization.

The partnership gives The XChange Church a place to reach people in recovery on a weekly basis.

"We can give them hope. We can listen to them. We can love on them," Vicky Smith said. "For someone who's struggling to see that, it's like, 'Wow, I can do it.'"

She works with women in recovery daily at Grace Lodge, a mansionlike recovery house in Brush Prairie.

The long-term project between the two churches calls for expanding the scope of recovery resources in Clark County. All told, the project comes in four phases.

The first phase calls for raising money to purchase about 13 acres adjacent to the existing Faith Center Church.

The second phase would buy the surrounding properties for what would be known as the "Gabriel Project," a ministry-run recovery center.

The third phase would involve building the new facility.

Paying off all of the debt would be the final phase.

Looking ahead, Pastor Bill sees opportunities for optimism. He works with heroin addicts on a daily basis, and he's seen how they can turn around their lives.

But that only happens after the addicts, and their families, start believing in it.

Typically, there's one flickering moment of hope when that happens.

"The lights go on," Pastor Bill says, "and then they're not fearful anymore."

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities; tyler.graf@columbian.com