Recovery program helps Missouri residents get back on track
By Koby Levin
Nov. 11, 2017
JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — Depending on the circumstances, paying bills might be miserable or boring. If you're Brett Caywood, there's a third option. Paying an electrical bill might be the highlight of your week.
For Caywood, 52, it was a long road to normalcy. With the help of a new recovery program, he overcame three decades of alcoholism and homelessness to get a job at Mercy Hospital, where he was recently named Employee of the Month in his department.
"I've got a warm house to go home to," he said, rubbing his hands together with glee. "I'm part of society now."
His story of recovery through a live-in, structured program is rare. Only about 1 in 10 people with addictions receive any kind of specialty treatment, according to a 2016 report from the Surgeon General.
As government officials scramble to respond to an epidemic of opioid abuse, the expansion of addiction treatment programs has gotten little attention, The Joplin Globe reported. Recommendations released this month by a federally appointed opioid panel did not include plans for an increased federal investment in treatment programs. State-level efforts in Missouri have focused on early prevention and last-ditch interventions for addicts who overdose or face jail time — not ramping up treatment.
But Caywood's story points to the power of just such an approach.
James Brett Caywood was born in February 1965 and raised in Split Log, an unincorporated community in western McDonald County. His early life was troubled by family instability. He says he was given drugs and alcohol before age 10.
In those years, the young Caywood often turned to work to shield him from dysfunction at home.
Mercy custodian Brett Caywood tends to a load of laundry at the hospital. Caywood, a Watered Gardens success story, was recently named Employee of the Month in his department.
"I've always worked," he said, recalling the odd jobs he found in his rural community as a child. At 15, he left high school to find work. He landed a job drilling residential water. It paid well, and he found he had an aptitude for the work. He thinks of it now as a missed opportunity to establish a stable life.
Instead, he was overwhelmed by roller-coaster emotions, and he sank into alcoholism, losing out on the job.
"I was just doing things that would eat me up, tear me down, and destroy me," he remembered.
He often drove drunk, and was caught and incarcerated several times. The courts eventually tagged him a "persistent offender" and sentenced him to a four-year prison term.
Over years marked by alcoholism and run-ins with the law, Caywood became increasingly isolated. He remembers feeling uncomfortable around other people — everyone seemed to want something or to do him harm. When his prison term ended, he took to the woods of Jasper and Newton counties, hoping that freedom and seclusion would allow his mind to rest.
Indeed, as he endured homelessness, something seemed to shift. Peace of mind was still hard to come by, but there were moments of quiet. He sometimes walked to downtown Joplin from his hideaway on the city's western fringes and watched people go about their lives, marveling at their apparent stability.
Soon afterward, he enrolled at The Forge, a new residential recovery program operated by Watered Gardens, a social service center in Joplin.
Now employed and living on his own, he will soon become one of the first graduates of the program, which serves about 10 people.
At The Forge, he received food, a place to stay, counseling and access to health care.
Caywood credits God with helping him find his feet. He countered the most difficult moments of his journey — achieving sobriety, moving from the woods into a homeless shelter — with religious inspiration.
"People who have been at rock bottom for a long time come looking for hope," said James Whitford, executive director of Watered Gardens, when asked why Caywood's recovery was successful.
The Forge helped him find employment, and a temporary position at Mercy turned into a full-time job cleaning the hospital and doing laundry. He wakes up early every day and rides his bicycle to Mercy — "in rain, sleet or snow," he said.
He likes the job, and is good at it. In only a few months, he has already been named Employee of the Month twice in his department.
But he said his journey is just beginning.
"I'm not perfect," he said. "I've still got a road to go."
Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com