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News / Health / Clark County Health

XChange Recovery’s message to families of those struggling with addiction: ‘There is hope’

Regular event at Living Hope Church in Vancouver offers support to families, friends

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: April 25, 2024, 3:18pm
3 Photos
*SECONDARY* Resource tables provided information for families struggling with addiction at Wednesday&rsquo;s XChange Recovery event at Living Hope Church.
*SECONDARY* Resource tables provided information for families struggling with addiction at Wednesday’s XChange Recovery event at Living Hope Church. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Becky Bernhardt vividly remembers bawling on the phone years ago as she spoke with her son, who was struggling with homelessness and addiction.

On Wednesday evening, she stood in front of a room full of people and spoke about the myriad of emotions that a person feels when a loved one is struggling with addiction. But, she said, a happy ending is possible.

“There is hope,” Berhardt said.

Bernhardt was a speaker at nonprofit XChange Recovery’s second Community Education and Support Night. The event brings together experts and people with personal experience to speak about substance-use disorders and support families of people struggling with addiction.

Two of Bernhardt’s sons recovered from their addictions and are now helping others in recovery.

“Even if there is one person that heard about this that is so desperately alone and scared for somebody that they love, we just want you to know you are not alone,” said Vicky Smith, co-founder of Ridgefield-based XChange Recovery.

The speakers at the event at Living Hope Church in Vancouver all touched on a similar theme: Recovery isn’t a journey for just the person with the addiction. Recovery encompasses the whole family.

Kami McKinzey-Bartelmie, a substance use counselor, gave families tools and strategies that can help them aid loved ones and also help themselves.

“If a loved one who’s stuck in addiction gets clean and sober but the family has not helped, we still end up with broken families,” McKinzey-Bartelmie said. “We need to be able to help the family members as much as we help the person dealing with the addiction issue.”

She told the audience that understanding your loved one’s addiction can help them in moving forward. One size doesn’t fit all people in recovery and change doesn’t happen overnight, McKinzey-Bartelmie said.

“Tough love doesn’t usually work with the person that’s addicted,” McKinzey-Bartelmie said. “It can result in the person not returning or being able to ask the family for help. And in the end it can result in their death.”

She added “I wish I had a magic wand or a pill that could make this all go away, and then I’d be out of a job and I’d be super happy. But that’s not how addiction works.”

Overdose Awareness Day

In 2012, Lyn Fortner lost her 18-year-old son to a heroin overdose. A few years later, she learned about Overdose Awareness Day and decided to bring it to Vancouver.

“I decided I had to say something,” Fortner said. “Because there were more people like me, more families like mine” that come from generations of addiction.

Tyler Chavers, a retired Vancouver police officer who spent years working with the Homeless Assistance and Response Team, spoke about law enforcement’s response to drug enforcement. He talked about the ever-changing landscape of drugs and how police officers are at the mercy of the law on how they respond to people using substances.

But, Chavers said, recovery and ending the drug crisis is a community effort.

“Honestly, it’s amazing that you’re all here tonight,” Chavers told the crowd. “You guys are the picture of hope, because you’re here and it takes the community to come together and ultimately it will pay off with the positive stories with people who are now a new person.”

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.