Evidence of Steven Beidler’s past is only a few clicks away. That’s how he started a recent conversation about his sobriety — plunking his name into a search engine to find a 2012 newspaper story about the day he smashed cash registers on the hunt for funds to feed his crack cocaine addiction. The burglaries landed him in jail, rehab, and, eventually, recovery.
“I knew there had to be something better than that lifestyle, continually going to jail and being involved with the criminal justice system and hurting my family and friends,” Beidler said.
Now, nearly three years clean, Beidler is among a growing network of recovering drug addicts who are helping others find sobriety.
Beidler is a certified recovery specialist, a title offered by the Pennsylvania Certification Board, a Harrisburg nonprofit organization.
As the opioid crisis grows, so has the number of people working with addicts. Ten years ago, there were seven certified recovery specialists in the Lehigh Valley, now there are 41, a nearly 500 percent increase.
They have a desire to do that themselves, to give back, to help someone in the same way they were helped — Mary Jo Mather
To become a certified recovery specialist, applicants must be in long-term recovery from drug addiction, pass exams and complete 54 hours of training on topics such as recovery management, addiction advocacy, confidentiality and ethics.
The training program has been around since 2008, said Mary Jo Mather, executive director of the Pennsylvania Certification Board. Most who enroll consider themselves a link in a chain of addiction recovery.
“Most of them have been helped through their own recovery process by somebody,
The Pennsylvania program is not unique. Most states have similar peer counseling certifications.
The Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs does not oversee the certification program, but “believes that certified recovery specialists can provide critical support to people in treatment because of their experience living in recovery,” spokeswoman Ali Fogarty wrote.
Recovery specialists don’t provide treatment, said Tiffany Rossanese, administrator of the Northampton County Drug and Alcohol Division. They provide a support network for someone re-entering society after a stint in inpatient treatment.
Northampton County contracts with Lehigh Valley Drug and Alcohol Intake Unit for addiction recovery services. The intake unit has three full-time and two part-time recovery specialists. Full-time specialists manage between 20 and 30 clients and help with things like scheduling appointments, finding jobs or education programs and searching for housing.
“When people come out of a facility that’s very structured and they come back into society, there’s so much that’s going on and so many demands,” Rossanese said. “There’s so much value in having somebody who has been through it who can say, ‘Let me walk you through this.’”
Getting the recovery certification can also help start a career in addiction recovery, Mather said. And that’s good — while the opioid crisis fueled an interest in certified recovery specialist training, it also has fueled a need for addiction counselors and rehabilitation mentors. Even retired counselors are returning to the workforce.
“We’ve never had more employers send us employment opportunities, never,” Mather said. “In the last six months to a year, we’ve seen a tremendous uptick in all kinds [of jobs] — nurses in detox centers, [certified recovery specialist] employment opportunities, counselor employment opportunities, clinical supervisors.”
Steve Beidler is a Certified Recovery Specialist. He helps people recovering from drug addiction manage their treatment and things like careers, education and housing. His motto is “Always encourage, never judge.”
Beidler is on that trajectory. He is taking online classes in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in psychology and addiction counseling, which he hopes will lead to a career in counseling.
His most valuable experience may be recovery itself. Beidler can relate to the clients he works with at an Allentown outpatient addiction treatment center, Confront, because of his messy climb away from his own addiction.
He tries to be a source of nonthreatening accountability for his clients. His motto: “Always encourage, never judge.”
“If they have somebody calling, not necessarily like a parole officer, just calling to check in on you and [ask] ‘How are you doing, do you need anything?’ that can make a world of difference to somebody,” he said.
Recovery specialists follow the “practice what you preach” mentality, Kristina Ward, Lehigh Valley Drug and Alcohol Intake Unit supervisor, said. They also keep each other from burning out in what can be a highly emotional field as some clients relapse and others stay clean.
“If we’re encouraging people to get dentist appointments, or medical appointments that they’ve neglected, [we’re] making sure that we’re taking care of ourselves in those ways too,” she said. “It does help us stay on track.”
Beidler agreed. While he counsels others, he keeps himself clean. Every day is a reminder of how drug use will derail him.
“Just the thought of having to start this journey all over again is a great motivator, seeing how when people first come in they’re like, so broken,” Beidler said.
It took a few relapses and a handful of years for Beidler to return to Confront in Allentown, where he received addiction treatment years ago. He had two unsuccessful stints in rehab before a switch flipped.
“I had people who believed in me in a time I didn’t, and they didn’t give up on me,” Beidler said.
Now, it’s his turn to listen, encourage, understand.