Addiction recovery advocates tell their stories

Photos by Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
Addiction and recovery speaker Jennifer Gimenez talks about her struggle with addiction during the National Overdose Speaker Event in the Jasper High School Gymnasium on Wednesday. 


JASPER — Tim Ryan and Jennifer Gimenez pulled no punches in their talk on addiction and recovery Wednesday night.

The two are nationally known addiction recovery advocates, and addicts in recovery themselves. Gimenez is sober and clean 13 years; Ryan for just shy of seven years.

Several Dubois County agencies — Dubois County Cares, Dubois County Community Corrections, the Dubois County Community Foundation, the Dubois County Probation Department and the Dubois County Substance Abuse Council — worked together to bring Ryan and Gimenez to the county to share their stories and perspective on what the area needs to better serve recovering addicts.

On Wednesday, the two spoke to Jasper High School students and the community; today they speak to Southridge High School, Northeast Dubois High School and Forest Park Junior-Senior High School students. The Northeast Dubois and Forest Park presentations are open to the public. They will be at Northeast Dubois at 10 a.m. and Forest Park at 2 p.m.

Ryan’s and Gimenez’s stories are raw. Ryan was a successful businessman with a nice house, a wife and kids he loved more than anything in the world. He was also addicted to heroin, cocaine and alcohol, among other substances. Ryan found himself wearing a lot of masks. He led Cub Scout packs, had a nice house and what looked like a successful life, all while getting high. He had Narcan — the emergency opiate overdose reversal treatment — used on him five times. At one point, he even got high on heroin daily with one of his sons.

Addiction and recovery speaker Tim Ryan talks about his struggle with addiction during the National Overdose Speaker Event in the Jasper High School Gymnasium on Wednesday. "I don't blame them," Ryan said. "I blame the disease of addiction. We don't treat this like a disease. This is the only disease that we want to lock people up and put them away in prison for twenty years. This is the only disease where people in your community can't get help because there's no resources here."

“That’s where this takes you,” Ryan said of addiction. “I loved my kids more than anything, but my wife always said I loved [the drugs] more.”

One night, his son overdosed. Ryan and his now ex-wife called the police, and Ryan took all his son’s drugs. When his son regained consciousness, Ryan told him the police found the drugs and the son had 24 hours to check into a treatment center. In reality, Ryan took the drugs and used them himself. Telling the story now, Ryan says he wanted to help his son, but he couldn’t see that his own addiction was what led to his son’s addiction to begin with. Eventually, his son died from an overdose.

Finally, Ryan found himself in prison, and that’s where he finally got clean and sober.

At age 13, Gimenez was discovered by photographer Bruce Weber, and became a highly sought after model across the globe for top designers, and appeared in music videos. She also acted, appearing in movies such as “Blow,” “Vanilla Sky” and “Charlie’s Angels.”

But behind the glamour, Gimenez’s life was a mess. Her father was an addict, and her mom struggled with mental health and attempted to commit suicide multiple times. That left Gimenez raising her younger brother alone. She took her first drink when she was 12, and it spiraled from there. She kept coming back because the drugs and alcohol told her everything that she wanted to hear, which no one would tell her — she was beautiful, she was smart, she had a best friend.

Gimenez appeared on VH1’s show “Sober House,” “Celebrity Rehab” and “Rehab With Dr. Drew.”

The turning point came for her after she tried to hang herself in a treatment center.

“When I came to, I was so angry,” Gimenez recalled. “I couldn’t die properly, and I couldn’t live properly.”

In recovery, both Ryan and Gimenez became advocates for addiction recovery and comprehensive treatment options. After his son’s overdose death, Ryan founded A Man in Recovery, a nonprofit that helps addicts find treatment. He wrote the bestselling book “From Dope to Hope,” and was in A&E’s documentary “Dope Man.”

Gimenez appeared on VH1’s show “Sober House,” “Celebrity Rehab” and “Rehab With Dr. Drew.”

About a year ago, Gimenez and Ryan teamed up, and now travel the country sharing their stories and advocating for addiction recovery. Part of their work involves helping communities set up robust treatment options. They had several ideas for Dubois County, all focused on long-term treatment and recovery support.

“The problem is people here go [to treatment] for two to three weeks,” Ryan said. “It takes somebody one to two weeks just to detox.”

Both Ryan and Gimenez said a treatment program needs to be at least 90 days to a year to be successful, and there has to be support once the recovering addicts return home.

They pointed out the area already has a network of programs, including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, that offer a foundation for expanded treatment. Now, the community needs to add in-patient treatment centers, sober living facilities and peer-to-peer programs where addicts in recovery help those trying to get and stay clean.

Local leaders said conversations about expanding local treatment options have already begun.

“I think we’re getting more progressive,” said Jenny Lampert, Dubois County’s chief probation officer. “It think we’re switching from blaming people and their will power to blaming the disease. I think that shift needs to continue.”

Community Corrections Director Megan Durlauf agreed.

“I see the right people rallying around this cause,” she said, adding that the county is already looking at how to improve the criminal justice system, and that expanding treatment options has come up.

The next steps, Lampert and Durlauf said, are having conversations throughout the community about how to build on what we have and putting together a plan for that expansion.

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