Four Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center graduates described their personal paths to sobriety and recovery — and the struggles they faced along the way — during the Waldo County Recovery Committee's first community event March 5.

With a mission to raise awareness about addiction and reduce stigma associated with recovery, the WCRC task force has been meeting weekly over the last year, exploring ways to combat the opioid crisis in Waldo County.

The committee includes representatives of the Sheriff's Office, Restorative Justice Project of the Midcoast, Seaport Community Health Center, Greater Bay Area Ministerium, Volunteers of America of Northern New England and Maine Adult Community Corrections.

Members from the various committees were on hand, along with current Reentry Center residents and their families.

The conference room at the Waldo County Sheriff's was standing room only, as Volunteers of America of Northern New England Program Manager Robyn Goff took to the podium. She said the message of the day was all about hope and "supporting different pathways to recovery."

The room filled with applause as Goff introduced the four Reentry Center "alumni" speakers. She said three of the guests speaking today had gone through the Reentry Center program twice and that a couple were sent back to prison.

"That is the beauty of this recovery or a pathway to healing — it isn't necessarily a straight line," Goff said. "And it requires a lot of support."

It takes a community

Mike Tibbetts said he was incarcerated for 10 years, was sent back to prison five times and was twice "fortunate enough" to go through the Reentry Center.

He stumbled while recovering for the wrong reasons, he said, "trying to please other people" — parents or family who were disappointed with his decisions.

"I didn't have a strong head about what I wanted to do with my life … I was just trying to make somebody happy," Tibbetts said.

It wasn't until he found the "right mindset," and "wanted to do the right thing," that he was able to change his path.

He credits his recovery success to Alcoholics Anonymous' 12-step program with sponsorship and involvement with positive networks such as Healthy Acadia, a community health coalition with which he has been involved for the past year.

The Healthy Acadia program, Recovery Coach program, Restorative Justice program and the Reentry program all worked "intertwined," Tibbetts said, helping him get to the right state of mind, to be able to re-enter society.

When people get released from prison, the first 24 hours are crucial, Tibbetts said. "They have all the right intentions until they hit the street, and at that point it's — I'm a free man — maybe I can get away with it one more time. Nobody will know. I'm not hurting anybody….

"At some point you need to start planning your future and the Reentry Center taught me that," he said. That, and the structure it provided is what "really holds me true today, being able to define my next day.

"It takes a community to gather around that guy, and recenter him," Tibbetts said. "And that is why I am so grateful for what this county has really done."

All for the love of heroin

Sean Huntington, 37, from the Southern Maine and Massachusetts area, discovered that, once he got clean, he did not like who he was. He admitted that, 15 days ago, he got off probation for the first time.

"I was an a-hole," Huntington said. "I didn't care about anyone."

He even gave up his son. "I signed him away, all for the love of heroin."

Huntington's incarceration history includes 4 1/2 years in a youth center, 16 years in a Maine state prison and one year in a Florida state prison. He went through the Reentry Center program, but was sent back to prison for a cellphone infraction, he said.

After he was released, he stayed in the Rockland area, and did not go home because of the temptation to go back to old habits.

"First thing I would have done is hook up with all my old friends, I would have picked right back up," he said. "I would have started selling again. A revolving door."

Huntington credits having a plan and working within a structured environment helping him get to where he is today. While at the Reentry Center, he said he began working at a job, where he is still employed, now as shop manager, after 3 1/2 years.

With his job is a lot of responsibility, and there is a lot trust placed in him, he said.

Huntington's son, who was being brought up by his sister, is now back in his life. His son comes up on weekends and days off from school, and "We have a huge relationship now," Huntington said.

"Honestly, it started all because I came here," he said.

Huntington said he went through the Maine Behavioral Health program, a local facility that deals with mental health, developmental disorders, and substance use and addiction issues.

He also credits the community and "people reaching out and helping," with his success. What needs to change is people's way they look at people who go to prison, he said.

"Not everyone is bad; they've just made some bad choices. Everyone has made bad choices, and people can change."

Huntington said he plans on getting married in May, and starting a family, and he has one year left toward a degree in behavioral health.

"It all started here," he said. "Even though I was asked to leave it didn't matter. They still reach out. They see that people can change."

It took my soul

Paul Cote said he grew up in an abusive home where his mom was hooked on opiates and his dad was an alcoholic. He said he has been clean now for six months and plans on being clean for the rest of his life.

"We grew up around drugs and alcohol and that's what we saw and that is what we were used to," Cote said. "Pretty much we were screwed right out the gate."

His uncle committed suicide because "he owed the Mafia money." His cousin died because of drugs and his older brother overdosed three years ago.

Cote said that at 13, he received his first operating under the influence violation, and that was also the first time he went to jail. From that point he quickly moved up the drug chain to opiates and heroin. "It consumed my life," he said.

Within a year he lost his job and went from being 210 pounds to 140 pounds. "I looked like the walking dead," Cote said. "It took my soul."

He regrets the fact that drugs took him away from the only family he had — his younger brother Scott.

Cote has been incarcerated a total of 8 years. "You're not going to get sober until you are ready," he said. He attributes part of his success to Narcotics Anonymous and the use of Suboxone to wean himself off of heroin. "It keeps me away from the bad people," he said.

"I also go to church now," Cote said. "I don't hang out with anybody who is negative."

He encouraged people with addiction issues to seek help through the committee network. "Go to these people and ask for help," he said.

"I am happy now. I work out every day," Cote said, "and I have my little brother on my journey now and that is the best ever."

I have peace now

Scott Cote echoed his older brother's comments about being born into a bad situation with drugs and alcohol. His own addiction started with heroin at age 15.

He remembered being sent to jail and not being able to make bail.

"I remember waking up detoxing, sick, desperate," he said. "… I got sober through praying and through church."

After being released, he was put in touch with Arise Addiction Recovery, of Machias, a faith-based agency helping people with addiction. He said he has been at the facility for the past two years, "being a disciple."

After his first nine-month program ended, he relapsed for a month. Everything he had built up in the nine months prior, he lost in four weeks. His house, his fiancé and his daughter were lost to him, all within a month, he said, to "shooting drugs."

Arise let Cote come back to the program to "get my brain straight, and that was just this past year. I have just about a year sober right now," he said.

His priorities right now are "to follow the Lord," he said. "I have peace now."

Cote said he just completed certification to be a recovery coach, to put in his "toolbox of resources, so I can give back to the community."

He also said he just heard from the Department of Health and Human Services about the possibility of reuniting with his oldest son, who has been living with the child's mother.

"I would have never had these opportunities when I was using," he said. "Everyone has to fall down a few times to get it."