A new start for Zoe: Free Through Recovery staff support clients on their road to healthier living

At just 20 years old, Zoe* had already experienced a lifetime of troubles.

Her mother had mental health issues and hadn’t been in her life for years. Her relationship with her father was rocky, as he drank too much and had a lot of unresolved anger.

Early on, Zoe also drank heavily and struggled with her own undiagnosed mental illness. While still a teen, she found herself in court for an assault charge.

The judge placed Zoe on probation and referred her to Free Through Recovery.

Free Through Recovery is a state-administered, community-based program designed to increase recovery support services to people who have been involved with the criminal justice system and have mental health and/or addiction issues. The recovery program uses peer support and care coordinators to support people battling addiction or mental illnesses so they can begin to heal, recover and be well in their communities.

Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota is one of the organizations that helps facilitate the program.

Care coordinators help clients navigate life in recovery

Julie Metcalf was chosen as Zoe’s Free Through Recovery care coordinator. Initially, Zoe was far from a willing participant. She avoided Metcalf’s attempts to contact her and appeared disinterested in getting help for anything. Concerned, Metcalf talked with Zoe’s probation officer, asking if the young woman even wanted to be on the program.

The probation officer, who knows Metcalf well, didn’t hesitate to respond. Yes, Zoe would participate in the program, the PO said, and once Metcalf got to know her, they would get along famously.

After the probation officer connected with Zoe, the young woman started showing up and accepting Metcalf’s coaching. As predicted, the two women clicked. Metcalf found her new client to be creative, caring and incredibly hard working.

Zoe "is a very artistic girl who loves life, and her fur babies,” Metcalf says. “She has a heart of gold and likes to help people. She is very resilient and a hard worker.”

Metcalf helped guide Zoe through many of the decisions, problem-solving and day-to-day tasks that a young person might normally learn from a parent. She helped her apply for Medicaid, checked that Zoe made it to her therapy appointments and encouraged her to stay on her medications.

When the COVID-19 outbreak hit North Dakota, Metcalf worked with Zoe so she would troubleshoot the best way to reach out to her employer and let them know she was still interested in working. In the past, Metcalf says, Zoe probably would have simply given up and walked away from the job.

“A lot of my population, we never think of the consequences, we just do,” Metcalf says.

Metcalf isn’t afraid to draw on her own life, when appropriate, to help her clients see that she understands their struggles. Besides the training she received through Free Through Recovery, Metcalf also has personal experience with mental health and addiction. When she was younger, she used to abuse alcohol, only learning later that she was trying to self-medicate undiagnosed bipolar disorder.

“I disclose a lot because I know what it’s like,” Metcalf says. “I’m very transparent. What you see is what you get. I tell them, ‘You’re going to start feeling better and think, ‘Then I don’t need my meds.’ In reality, you have to look at the pros and cons of something like that.”

New beginnings are always possible

Metcalf says almost all of her clients are dual-diagnosis, meaning they deal with both mental-health and addiction issues. If they wish, she also connects them with peer support specialists, who typically are in recovery and act as combination friends/sponsors/mentors to clients.

Metcalf’s services are more professional and practical: Giving clients rides and helping them apply for social services or figure out insurance. But she’s there for emotional support too, when needed.

“If I do anything it’s listen to what they want and believe in them, coaching them all the way. I’m that cheerleader in their corner that believes in them.” – Julie Metcalf

In the case of Zoe, Metcalf’s support was what she needed, right when she needed it. Through her work with Free Through Recovery and her counselor, Zoe realized how drastically alcohol affected her personality and that she needed to find healthier ways to deal with her anger.

Today, Zoe is 21 and sober. She has moved to a new community, where she is working, pursuing her GED and learning how new beginnings are always possible.

She still has work to do, but Metcalf feels optimistic for the young woman who has learned recovery is the foundation on which a healthier future can be built. “She’s living it right now,” she says. “If she does everything she should, she should do well.”

Learn more about Free Through Recovery by contacting Monique at moniquew@lssnd.org or (701) 566-9020.

By Tammy Swift

Zoe's name has been changed to protect her confidentiality.

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