Breaking the Chains: Bo’s Path to Sobriety and Mental Wellness

Navigating the Challenges

When people don’t receive the mental health care they need, all too often they turn to drugs and alcohol for self-medication that rapidly turns into addiction. This month’s impact story focuses Bo, a 53-year-old man who, with the help of VOA Southeast, managed to turn his life around by fighting back against his substance use disorder. All his life, Bo has struggled with addiction, just one of many types of persistent mental disorders that VOA Southeast addresses through affordable housing, personal care assistance, supported employment, and other programs aimed at providing support and community integration. 

Severe mental health disorders come in many forms and can lead to many problems. 

“Mental health issues tend to bleed into other areas of people’s lives,” says Sherry Atchison, VOA Southeast’s Director of Project Development. “A lot of times what we encounter are individuals who can’t sustain housing because they have some sort of mental health crisis.”

And the issue isn’t just about housing. Often an untreated mental health crisis can lead to police involvement, an arrest, or charges that require future court appearances, fines, or other penalties, Atchison notes. Dealing with the legal ramifications of such incidents “takes [clients] down a whole other path in terms of need for services.”

There’s also persistent stigma about the reality and severity of mental health issues, says Kim Gregg, Director of IDD Services at VOA Southeast.

“[Mental health problems] are a legitimate disability, and a lot of people in the community don’t understand that,” she says. “People think [those who suffer from these problems] should just be able to go to work and do the things they’re supposed to do, but they really can’t.”

“That’s one of the biggest challenges [people with severe mental health issues] have: they keep trying to do things the way everyone’s supposed to do things, and they keep not succeeding because they’re disabled. Their brain doesn’t process things the same way. So they tend to lead transient lives for a very long time. Even if it’s not homelessness, it’s moving from place to place, from job to job, from relationship to relationship. They’re trying to find stability when what they need are services, mental health care, and a safe, quiet place to live.”

People can’t get better if they never have a chance to put down roots or live in a community. That’s why housing is so central to VOA Southeast’s mission. 

“The very first thing we do with our clients is get them in a stable housing situation and then we wrap services around them,” says Atchison.

Once someone has a safe place to live, VOA Southeast’s case workers can evaluate a client’s needs and help coordinate their care with medical professionals, state and federal agencies, potential employers, etc.

“Housing is healthcare,” says Atchison. “You can’t receive benefits [from the state] if you don’t have an address. It’s hard to have any consistency in services if you don’t have a place to lay your head.”

For people with severe and persistent mental illness, those services include:

  • Personal care assistance
  • Enrichment centers
  • Supported employment
  • Living situations customized to the client’s particular needs

Meet Bo

In addition to homelessness, addiction is one of the most common problems that follows in the wake of persistent mental health problems. People struggling with substance use disorder often have other disabilities that they’ve been coping with for a long time.

“A lot of times it’s people who are self-medicating because they haven’t been able to get the help they really need,” says Gregg.

One man who found the help he needed is Bryant “Bo” Laduke, a 53-year-old resident at VOA Southeast’s Woodland Valley apartments in Summerville, GA – a community for people with addictive disorders or severe, persistent mental illness.

Several years ago Laduke found himself on the verge of a 10-year prison sentence after he was arrested for drug possession. His only alternative was a long, difficult, uphill battle for sobriety through the Walker County drug court

“I could have sat there and got high in jail,” said Bo. “I mean, these guys were in there just getting all kinds of messed up in jail the whole time I was in there for seven months. I could have very easily stayed high.”

Bo had been high most of his life. One of five kids raised by a single father outside of Rossville, GA, Bo says he first smoked cannabis when he was just seven years old. Since then he’d spent over 30 years addicted to drugs.

“Throughout the years, it was just, ‘This drug’s not getting me high enough, let me try this one,’” he said. “And I just kept moving up that ladder until it got really, really out of control.”

But with the birth of his first grandchild, Bo said he felt a powerful urge to resist the path he’d been traveling.

“I kept telling myself, I’ve got grand babies now. Who would I be, watching my grand babies grow up from prison? That’s not me. That was my motivation throughout drug court.”

Partnering with Georgia’s Drug Courts

The Drug Court program Bo participated in is a five phase intervention program for adults who have pled guilty to one or more non-violent drug offenses and who are having difficulty staying sober. The five phases are:

  • Phase 1: Stabilization and Early Recovery
  • Phase 2: Understanding Recovery Principles and Skills
  • Phase 3: Putting Recovery Principles and Skills into Practice
  • Phase 4: Maintenance and Developing a Recovery Network
  • Phase 5: Continuing Care

All together the program takes a minimum of 19 to 24 months to complete, but full rehabilitation can often take longer.

“The drug court is very difficult,” said Gregg. Participants are in different programs throughout the day, five days a week. They get multiple drug tests weekly, both random and scheduled.

“They have to go through life skills training, addictive disease training, peer training, all the things you need to do to reintegrate into the community without drugs and alcohol,” said Gregg.

Bo agreed the program is intense.

“They stayed on us. You never know when they’re going to hit you with a drug test. You could get two or three in a day’s time.”

There had been earlier interventions to get Bo off drugs. “Throughout the years I actually have tried other rehabs,” he said. “And they just didn’t work. The help wasn’t there. But with drug court, they stay on you. They know every move you make, whether you know it or not.”

If a participant fails out of the drug court program, either by being unable to complete the program requirements or by repeatedly failing drug tests, they’re sent to prison to serve the full duration of their sentence with no credit for the time they spent in the program. 

“So Bo was sentenced to 10 years,” said Gregg, ”and even if he’d done two years of drug court [then failed,] he wouldn’t get that credit. He’d have to do 10 years in prison. But when participants graduate, they actually get that record expunged.”

“It’s a hard program, but it definitely works,” said Bo. “What helped me the most is I had to learn to rethink how I looked at things in life.” In many ways, the program forced him to rewire his thoughts – to look at the world completely differently.

“We had to do roleplays in class, to put ourselves in different situations,” he says, “and we’d learn how to get out of that situation without violence or drugs.”

Paying It Forward

Even though Bo finished with drug court, as a resident at Woodland Valley he continues to reach out to others who are working through the program so that other people can get the same support he received.

“When you’re on drugs you really don’t care what somebody else is going through,” said Bo. “But once you graduate drug court, it makes such a difference. They helped me, so I want to take that knowledge and help somebody else. I know what it’s like to be strung out on drugs for 30 years. There’s people in there who may have only been on drugs for 2 or 3 years. I don’t want them to have to go through the things I went through. Whether I know them or not, I’m going to be there to help.”

“If I can get through to one person, hey, I’m happy.”

Last year at VOA Southeast, we reached over 47,000 people. Through affordable housing and an array of related support services, we help people struggling with their mental health stabilize their lives and re-enter the community so they can return to health, happiness, and productive work.

But we can’t do it without your help. Your donations make these programs possible. Please consider giving today.

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