SIOUX FALLS, SD -
The numbers are staggering: Nearly 23 million Americans have a problem with drugs or alcohol. Seventeen thousand of them live right here in Sioux Falls.
It's a disease that isn't mentioned in public, often because the label "alcoholic" or "drug addict" carries a social stigma.
But a movement is about to get underway in Sioux Falls that could one day sweep the nation.
Kristi Metzger appears to have it all together - success, a loving family. But seven years ago her life was falling apart.
“It's a path that I'll never go down again because of where I was,” Metzger said.
Metzger was addicted to painkillers. Diagnosed with endometriosis as a teen, she became dependent on the narcotics to kill the pain.
“I was so shameful and felt terrible. I even had people tell me, ‘Kristi you're smarter than this. Why can't you just stop? I mean you're smarter than this.' And it's not that simple," Metzger said.
Her story isn't unique, even though she doesn't fit most people's picture of a recovering addict.
“They're doctors, they're lawyers, they're nurses, they're airplane pilots, school teachers, bus drivers. I literally know somebody from virtually every conceivable occupation who is in recovery from this disease,” recovering alcoholic and Face It Together Sioux Falls founder Kevin Kirby said.
It's a disease prominent Sioux Falls businessman Kirby is all too familiar with. He spearheaded an effort to establish several sober homes throughout the community.
“What I witnessed throughout that process was, my friends and neighbors in this community, good people, solid Sioux Falls, South Dakota people were absolutely scared to death,” Kirby said.
Scared of what, he says, many don't understand.
“Even though the scientific and medical debate is over - I mean there is no debate. It is a disease. Nobody signs up for this, nobody gets it voluntarily,” Kirby said.
That's why more than a year ago, he established a place where those who need help can go for guidance.
“The 17,000 people and the families suffering in this community deserve nothing less,” Kirby said.
It's called Face It Together Sioux Falls
Everyone who works here has been there. And can get the right kind of help to those who need it.
“We try to figure out the answer to perhaps the most horrific thing that's ever happened to our family by doing our own research,” Kirby said.
Computers are also available to help those in recovery get back in the workforce. - a workforce that's beginning to understand this disease.
“As a company I think it's our responsibility to let people know that. That we are certainly wanting them to get help, that we don't want there to be the stigma and shame and that we will be supportive,” Raven Industries VP of Administration Barb Ohme said.
Raven Industries is one of nearly 20 businesses in the community facing the stigma head on by hosting meetings, featuring education and testimony from those in recovery.
“As a result of that we've had over 11 of our employees come forward,” Ohme said.
Because Raven's most important asset is its employees, Ohme says the company's support of Face It is good business.
“Any employee who is in recovery cost 50% less than that same employee when they're using alcohol or drugs. And so companies need to know, in my opinion, it's just the right thing to do. But from a financial standpoint, there really is payback,” Ohme said.
It's that positive view of recovery, Kirby is hoping will increase with awareness.
“This is an honest to goodness movement involving the best and the brightest people we could find in the entire country. And I'm proud to sit here and tell you that we've been very successful," Kirby said.
Next week, you'll see these ads on TV and in print.
And as stories like Metzger's hit the airwaves, Kirby hopes Face It Together will do for addiction what the Susan G. Komen Foundation and Livestrong have done for cancer.
“I go to these other events where recovery is celebrated, where survival is celebrated and people all wear one color and the seas part and the survivors walk down the middle and my eyes get filled with tears because I know the day will come when we will have similar kinds of events, similar kinds of understanding, similar kinds of acceptance of people suffering from this disease,” Kirby said.
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