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Hands of Hope Mentors First-Time Mothers in Addiction Recovery

Q&A with Brittany Hong, mentor

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, of the thousand babies born drug dependent in Tennessee in 2016, approximately 100 were from Knox County. Their condition, known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), can cause symptoms such as fever, seizures, blotchy skin, continuous crying, rapid breathing, respiratory problems, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Some babies’ symptoms are so severe that they require hospitalization, intensive care, and medications for several weeks to keep them comfortable and safe during the withdrawal process.

When mothers of these babies decide to pursue recovery programs for drug dependency and alcoholism, they need support. And that’s where Hands of Hope comes in.

The program was developed by Metro Drug Coalition, a nonprofit focused on improving the health of the greater Knoxville community by reducing the use of alcohol and drugs through policy, systems, and environment change. Funded by Trinity Health Foundation and Mount Rest Fund of the East Tennessee Foundation, Hands of Hope provides mentors for first-time mothers in addiction treatment and/or recovery.

These mentors—other recovering mothers—help their mentees navigate the challenges of maintaining sobriety while parenting a NAS baby.

The MDC’s goal at the end of the commitment period is for mentees to maintain sobriety, create a healthy home environment for their family, and be an engaging mother.

Hands of Hope is near and dear to the heart of Brittany Hong, regional outreach manager for Cornerstone of Recovery. She is heavily involved with the Metro Drug Coalition as a Hands of Hope mentor, as well as with non-MDC-affiliated Susannah’s House, an intensive outpatient alcohol and drug-treatment program for the same population.

Hands of Hope sounds like a helpful support system for new moms who are trying to live a drug- and alcohol-free life.

It definitely is! All new moms can benefit from a strong support system but it is especially important for moms who are new to recovery. The goal of the Hands of Hope program is to provide support and encouragement from one mom in recovery to another.

Do mentors receive training?

Mentors need to have a minimum of two years of sobriety, and they need to be stable in their own recovery program. We receive training from MDC staff, as well as various community partners that include Helen Ross McNabb, Renaissance Recovery Group, the Knox County Health Department, and Cherokee Health.

Why the emphasis on mothers?

Because there is such a need in our community. Traditionally there has been very little support for pregnant women with an alcohol or substance-abuse problem. We recognize that NAS births are increasing and the Hands of Hope program hopes to be able to support the mothers and the unique needs that arise with having a drug-exposed infant.

You’re a mother and you are in recovery. I understand that Hands of Hope holds special significance for you. Absolutely. Speaking from my own experience and from working with so many other women in recovery, I know that there is a lot of shame associated with being a mom and struggling with drugs and alcohol. Even within the recovering community it seems like people think that because you are pregnant, or because you have children, you should be able to magically stop using. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. If it were that easy, everyone who has a substance-abuse problem would just stop using, right? Most people need treatment and long-term support like counseling, 12-step meetings, and faith-based initiatives. Really, any and every tool possible. Hands of Hope is another way to help these mothers get the support that they need.

Why is a program like Hands of Hope so effective?

Because it connects one mom—someone who’s lived the same struggles and has made it through to the other side—to another. Another mom who can share her experience, strength, and hope; another mom to walk beside you. Recovery is not always an easy journey, but it is so worth it. Everything that I have today is because of my recovery.

The strongest, most powerful words we can say to a new mother early in recovery is “me too.” Hearing “me too”—that’s what really did it for me. It is truly an honor and privilege to get to share that with others.

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