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WVPB's continuing coverage of the opioid crisis affecting West Virginia.

Huntington Woman in Recovery Remains Grateful

Larry Dowling

To most folks overnight shift work would be exhausting, and the stress of paying bills at times overwhelming. But to talk to Kelly Strickler of Huntington, WV, who clocks in at a local bakery at 11pm and clocks out at 7am, you’d think she won the lottery.

“I look forward to those days! I look forward to getting up and going to work,” Kelly said recently. “You know, I get to go to work today, I get to pay bills!”

Kelly lives with substance use disorder and will mark a 4th year in recovery next month. She says she smoked weed and drank alcohol as a teenager, but it was pain pills for a tooth ache she got from a friend when she couldn’t afford to go to the dentist that hooked her right away.

Eventually that led to shooting up heroin, because it was cheaper, and a much bigger high.

Her 16-year addiction led to a life of crime on the streets, with multiple near-death experiences.

“I had overdosed numerous times and when they brought me back I would be mad, because I wanted to die,” she said.

“And then the last time I had gone to jail we had started a bible study group, and I remember sitting in my cell one night and I was praying and I got on my knees and I was saying, ‘God, I can’t do this no more!’ And I was repentant, and I asked Jesus Christ into my life, and that night I knew something was different.”

That was Sept 16, 2014 – the day Kelly’s attorney agreed to fight for her one last time.

“They were getting ready to send me to prison, and she said ‘Kelly, I’m going to try to get you in drug court,’” she continued. “She then said ‘if you mess it up this time I’m going to kick your butt myself.’ And she meant it. So I was released that day and was accepted into drug court, and that’s where my journey started on my path to recovery.”

Drug court ordered Kelly to attend education classes, and Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Drug court also included regular random drug screenings, daily therapy and community service. 

She says the rehab treatment she received from several community programs and agencies helped her deal with mental health issues, teaching her the coping skills to live a sober life in recovery.

“The resentments, the hurt, the abandonment issues, all those things that I wouldn’t normally open up to anybody about,” she explained. “One of the reasons why I was getting high was to hide all those feelings. I didn’t want to share that with anybody because I had been hurt so many times. I couldn’t trust anyone.”

Since graduating the 18-month drug court program, Kelly has been a sponsor and a peer counselor, committed to helping others as they enter recovery.

“I know when I first came into recovery, when I was looking for a job I went to numerous interviews and I was honest with them because I wasn’t going to lie about my charges,” she said. “No call back or anything, so yeah, that stigma is definitely there.”

So Kelly went back to school, and graduated college with honors. She says she remains grateful to drug court and all the community agencies and their staff who have helped her along the way.

“I love them, I’m grateful for them, and most of them are still in my life,” she said.

“You know one thing I’ve learned is people come and go in your life, but you learn a lesson from each and every one of them. I’m very grateful for them. They’ve helped mold me into the lady I’m becoming.”

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