22 May 2010

Kalamazoo Community Mental Health Event Highlights 'Peer Support' Addiction Help

Kalamazoo News

Antonio Lambert thought he knew everything about getting high on drugs.

No one could do it better or drink more liquor than he could.

After spending 16 years in prison and suffering nine bullet wounds, Lambert met with a mental-health professional and realized that he had a serious problem.

“All this time I thought I was just high,” Lambert said. “Now I know that there are chemicals in my brain that begin to shift when I put an illegal substance in my body. Now I can teach someone about being euphoric.”

Lambert was the keynote speaker Friday at Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services’ annual Mental Health Breakfast in the Radisson Plaza Hotel and Suites.

A noted peer specialist from Greensboro, N.C., Lambert told the audience of 500 how to take pride in working in a peer-support network.

The definition of a peer specialist is not isolated to someone who has struggled with drug and alcohol abuse or has a criminal background, Lambert said, but can be anyone who has been through some kind of pain or trauma and is able to help someone else going through a similar circumstance.

“I’m a person who has had help and now I can help people,” Lambert said.

“If you have been through anything and you can assist someone else go through it, you are a peer specialist,” he added.

Lambert became a peer specialist after spending time in prison at the age of 17 and recovering from addictions to cocaine, heroine and alcohol.

“Sixteen years incarceration, nine bullet holes, and not a sad story,” Lambert said of his experience. “I put myself in their jurisdiction by the choices I made. If I was not incarcerated, I’d be dead.”

After he was released, Lambert realized he needed to change his lifestyle and sought professional help. Now, he said it is his time to help others. Currently Lambert works in a treatment program in Greensboro.

“Everyday I now have the opportunity to help somebody,” Lambert said. “It doesn’t stop at five o’clock.”

Friday’s audience was made up of mental healthcare professionals, local community leaders and recipients of care.

“You got up this morning to do something positive,” Lambert told the crowd. “You did not let your trauma get in the way.”

During the breakfast, many people thanked loved ones, professionals, peer supporters and Michigan substance abuse treatment programs for the assistance they have received.

The sum of the talks at the breakfast showed the direction mental health is taking — not about treating an illness, but building a person’s life, said Stephen Batson, project coordinator for the Michigan Recovery Center of Excellence.

“You’re not defined by your illness,” Batson said. “The goal is to improve the quality of life.”

An award was presented to Kalamazoo Valley Community College for their collaborative efforts with Kalamazoo Community Mental Health in offering a peer support certificate program at the college.

“The partnership is natural,” said Bruce Kocher, vice president for academic services at KVCC. “We are in the same business of helping people change their lives for the better.”

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