Monday, July 10, 2017

Addiction/Recovery Safe Haven No More, New Bern, North Carolina Opioid Epidemic

Article by: Ashley Kaye Adams

Edited for Publication 9.11.2018

I'm writing this story so that I can make a difference in the world. I aim to carry a clear message about my personal experience with addiction and fortunately recovery. I am in global support of the ongoing efforts made by so many individuals that have not been recognized by mainstream media for their valiant commitments to healing addiction within and around the systems that house us, one soul at a time. By sharing this personal story, as a Citizen Journalist, I am consciously and on purpose attempting to reduce the stigma and criminalization that engulfs and permeates the world of addiction and the recovery road from active addiction.  I am also expecting a magnificent solution to present itself, (quite possibly through some awesome philanthropist out there that has money to toss about as they please towards fantastically good causes, this is THE BEST CAUSE EVER!), as a direct result of these efforts I’m putting forth.  I pray for complete restoration of the demolished Phoenix House that once held such sacred space in the sweet little town of New Bern, North Carolina.
I often find myself saying, "I was born in Kentucky, but I was raised in North Carolina, New Bern to be precise. And thank you God for this.
When I returned back home this time in January 2017, for a memorial service, my heart was affected like it never has been before. And not just due to the grievous passing of my dear friend in recovery, but everything about this trip was overwhelmingly and unescapably sad. It's more than worth mentioning that my friend passed clean. Not many of us are afforded that privilege. And not to imply by any stretch that his passing was an easy experience in any way because he passed clean, it was extremely painful for all that loved this soul. 
I had heard through the grapevine during the year of 2015, some time that the "The Phoenix House" had been approved for demolition. And not only was it scheduled to be demolished, but also that the community’s hope for recovery from active addiction in this area and abound would most certainly go down with its confirmed demolition.
I did some research during my visit and found some interesting facts that I could not remove from the thought field of my mind. They were so disturbing, and kept presenting themselves, that they must be explored. I wasted no time. Today, in my own recovery when my inner self becomes restless, something must be addressed or processed. And so this process began.
Not so ironically, those individuals that were personally chosen to represent the members of "the board" that would discuss the future of the old Phoenix House, all “voted” to demolish it and chose not to replace this sacred site. What was most shocking to me was the fact that a few of those chosen individuals were actually parents of children that are currently suffering in active addiction. And to top it off, they were also on the Board of Real Estate at that same time and very well known in the community for buying, selling and restoring properties that held memorable value to al New Bernians. One of them happened to be the County Commissioner when I got clean back in 2007, and this person still holds office today. I was told that the County Commissioner only has approval power for the county, and the decision made regarding the Phoenix House's demolition was determined at the city level. Nonetheless, the truth is simple. They, the 'powers that be', had the ways and monetary means, clearly access to real estate and actually could have chosen to contribute to rebuilding a new Phoenix House in that community, and they chose not to. Why? I believe that is a good question. I do not know, nor do the residents know that I personally have spoken with.
A local reporter in New Bern, actually posted the results of the meeting held, that included the actual numbers they crunched during that meeting. This meeting would determine the fate of the once cherished Phoenix House in New Bern. The New Bern Sun Journal in the same article quoted the allotment of $15,000.00 for the demolition alone. They concluded that it would have taken $30,000.00-$45,000.00 in order to repair the old Phoenix House. 
Seriously? Why not rebuild? The overdose rates and drug related crime rates in New Bern are staggering. They even measure up to some huge metropolitan cities on the map, I can promise you that. And even with this huge write up in the New Bern Sun Journal that quoted the members and their decisions out loud for the world to see, still no one did anything about it. "The Phoenix House was an eye sore for years.” Those were the last words spoken in remembrance of the Phoenix House to its community, via its local news source. I simply find these facts appalling quite frankly, but they clearly care not what I think.
For those of you that know my whole story if you will recall, when I first got released, I attended three meetings a day, two of which were at this Phoenix House for the first eighteen months of my recovery. Most of my recovery "schooling" went on at the Phoenix House. I ended up being chairperson for each meeting there for the next few years off and on. It became my new foundation for living productively as a recovering member of my community. There were other group meetings in town, in the “whiter areas,” like Fresh Start and Unity that I'd attend at seven o’clock on Fridays and Saturdays. This attendance would push my arrival about ten minutes late to the Phoenix House on these two days, so I gave up my chairing in those meetings to other new comers, but I didn’t care.  It was okay with me because I needed every ounce of recovery that I could get, and so did they. So it was my new program of clean routine to attend both meetings no matter what. And I shared my path with others there. A lot of us did this. It was our give back.
Upon my return to New Bern, I was attending a memorial service and honoring one of my best friends in recovery that I actually met at the Phoenix House. His name is Jason George.
This kid...I swear, he was one of the only people that I know on this planet that lived and breathed our program effortlessly. As you may have heard me say before, he was a ‘newcomer extraordinaire.’
I can promise that he is a man that will never be forgotten. He is a legend in New Bern, and he’s known in many other areas as well throughout the states. So many people loved Jason, and he personally touched so many hearts, both inside the rooms and out.
At his memorial service, I heard several stories that I’d never been privy to prior to the funeral and they were all beautiful. Tales were shared by his co-workers at Hatteras and by family members that were not from New Bern.  He made such a huge and positive impact in so many other people’s lives that his anonymous family wasn’t aware of yet. The service was a time where normies and the anonymous became one big happy family for Jason’s sake. It was quite moving for all.
Jason had worked at Hatteras Yachts for some double-digit years. And one of those co-workers chose to share one of those private moments of positive impact with all of us during the open time that had been scheduled for moments just like these. I was enlightened. He appeared to be in his 30's, nice looking and he was genuine in his speech and soft spoken. He stepped up to the podium and shared this story. 
An internal job posting had been announced and it had just become available within Hatteras. It was definitely a job that would have advanced Jason in his career and could have given him a raise that he most certainly would have gotten if he’d only applied himself. But he did not.
Jason suggested to this co-worker that he should apply and explained that since he’d recently turned his life around that he should take the opportunity. The guy knew that Jason was more than qualified for this position, but Jason chose to encourage his friend and he insisted this gentleman apply for the job. He was just adamant that he should apply, so the guy did. It would be a great promotion, better hours and better pay for this guy. He completely passed up this career movement opportunity to allow a friend to have more, and even assisted him with the application and wrote a reference letter for him as well. Jason told no one. Not even his sponsor.
This guy was offered the job, promoted and attained this position. And this guy’s life was changed forever for the better. He was so moved and touched by the simple, yet deeply compassionate gesture played out through our friend Jason that he was compelled to share with everyone at the memorial. What actually happened here? I became so emotionally charged and so thought provoked by this. I pondered a while and then I rewound the tape a bit to see if I could get some reflection around this whole situation. It was just too beautiful not to acknowledge.
The funeral was over and the visitation had come to a close. I could not help myself but to recall that there was a tangible thread of unconditional love that Jason had bestowed upon and woven into so many people’s lives during his life with us. Why did he have to leave so suddenly I wondered to myself? Is it just the truth, that the “good die young?” You know you’ve heard it too. Every single person that came to celebrate Jason’s life had nothing but positive and admirable things to say about this guy. My mind asked, "What is different about him?" "Why did he do this to people?” And mostly "how did he affect so many by being just one single person himself?"
I still find myself searching for the answers to those questions, and that's okay.
What I can tell you for certain is, that Jason was also raised in the old Phoenix House just like me. The Phoenix House was a physical location in the “hood,” where crime was high and so were the people on the streets. This past February, Jason would have celebrated 12 years clean. I myself, with God’s grace just celebrated ten years on June eighth, 2017 this year.
Our similarity? The old demolished Phoenix House, of New Bern, North Carolina.
Over the entire New Bern trip, my mind flooded with so many wonderful, loving, and precious kind moments that I had experienced in the Phoenix House with Jason and so many others. So, I got in my car and drove over to the spot where the Phoenix House once stood. It was a sad sight. I was overcome with grief. I was also In shock I believe.
Remember, that I had heard on a previous trip back home during the year of 2015, Thanksgiving holiday that it had closed down and been destroyed. That holiday week, my trip was so short, that I didn't get the time to actually drive over to see the missing site for myself. This time I made the time to visit.  I wanted to go and have some good memories of those times that I had with my friend Jason at the Phoenix House.
I had no idea how this would affect me physically, spiritually and emotionally. As I was driving to 506 Cypress Street, I had a flash of memory. I had recently stumbled upon some tragic overdose related death statistics on the Department of Health and Human Services website for Craven County while I was doing some research for my book that’s scheduled for publication September second, 2017. And I recalled the year that the statistics were polled in and they were extracted form the year 2015, the same year that the Phoenix House was demolished. As I pulled up to the cross streets and into the parking lot, where the Phoenix House once stood at 506 Cypress Street, New Bern, North Carolina and I was floored. I felt like the wind had knocked me in the stomach and everything felt like it was in slow motion. Like time stood still right then.
I stepped out of my rental car, walked to the center of the faded lines on the ground that were partially covered by grass and weeds that had sprouted up in between each section where the concrete and bricks used to sit. There was a faint outline of the structure that was barely visible to the naked eye. This used to be “the safe haven” for this neighborhood. It symbolized “Hope” in a war zone of drugs, prostitution and crime. It’s like once you were on the grounds of the Phoenix House property all bets were off, you felt safe, no matter what. It’s where homeless, hopeless drug addicts and repeat victims of the systems could come inside and be welcomed with open arms for animalistic survival mode that automatically kicks in once your deposited back out on the streets again to fend for yourself again. To the still sick and suffering addict, it was their only spot to get love that did not cost them their dignity in return for the service they so freely received. For the suffering and still addicted, what lie outside waiting for them somehow was buffered for brief moments during the times that the Phoenix House doors were unlocked, by the walls that enclosed them during the meetings. The Phoenix House had a door that swung both ways. I was told when I was a newcomer, that “the Phoenix House door swings both ways Ashley, once you’re inside you have a chance, but once you walk out that door it’s up to you weather or not you happen to make it back inside.” This saying made me feel empowered, as if I actually had freedom again to choose life.
I found myself crisscross applesauce on the cold concrete ground, looking around in dismay, and I cried. What else could I do? I was overcome with emotion. As I looked up, directly in front of me was the cemetery. This cemetery used to hold special meaning to the recovering addicts in the rooms. We were told that if we ever used again, that death was our destiny! The cemetery was once a recovery tool in my toolbox and a reminder that we do have a choice not to use today. It’s like now that the brick and mortar safe place is gone, that tool I had depended on in my toolbox all those years that once saved me from self destruction had somehow turned against me and my choice was ripped away. It feels like my choice to recover had been stripped from my spirit without my consent. I have a pretty strong program of personal recovery. It’s why I’m still alive today. I cannot imagine how it feels for the still suffering addict. The horrors of relapse and active addiction were waiting for us, “out there” if we wanted to leave the rooms. Simply, death lay in store for us if we ever picked up again.
Behind me was the quaint little evangelical church that always had uplifting messages to read on their ‘old school,’ manually lettered advertising board. Usually it was about Hope, Love and Joy. Prior to my arrival at the Phoenix House in December 2007, those were three things I had no clue about, or at least had forgotten about living homeless and in active addiction for five long years. I mean I knew the words, Love, Hope and Joy, but I knew nothing about applying them or feeling them in my own life anymore.  At the Phoenix House I, and countless others, had learned what those words feel like and really mean, how to experience them all, and mostly how to give and receive with others, thereby teaching them the same. It felt good to lead others in the direction of freedom from the shame shackles that bound my soul for so long. I was able to grow up in the rooms of the Phoenix House. It’s where I practiced and role-played my new skills for my newly created life in recovery.
I looked over to my right and here walks up a tall, weathered looking man that was going to pass me by with a friendly nod and grin. Not so fast I thought. I bet he’s from around here. I stood up and found myself blurting to him, "do you remember the old Phoenix House? It stood here for years! It saved my soul. I can't believe it's gone! Do you live around here? Did you witness the demolishing of this building? Have you seen the affects it’s had on this community?" “Were you personally affected?”
This gentlemen's name escapes me now, I was so consumed in despair for own my personal loss, that I just naturally found myself opening my arms and hugging him. He hugged me back warmly like a big bear hug. I introduced myself and gave a brief tale of my story and he listened to every word I had to say, without hesitation. And I did the same for him in return.  We reciprocated nicely with each other recognizing some names we threw around. We began to talk about people in the community and what name does this guy mention? Jason George. Of course he knew Jason. We sat down on the concrete right where the curbs used to sit for parking and we talked for about thirty minutes. People walked by, some said hello and some just waved. A few passers by gave a hat tilt and a nod and just kept on going.
The Preacher from the church behind us noticed me snapping photos, and talking to everyone and anyone that walked by at this point so he came over to chat with us. They both knew each other and it looked like this was their daily routine actually. He and this New Bern native both knew Jason. Of course they did. They knew that the Phoenix House was an addict’s last stop in New Bern, if they were lucky enough to make it through the doors. We closed up our conversation in agreement, that the Phoenix House was a sign of hope in New Bern, and it truly had changed a multitude of lives in too many ways to recount. We also agreed that the loss of its spot there right where we sat, had left a ravishing hole in the community. I snapped a few more photos and got in my car and drove myself to the airport. On the flights back home, my angels and my God were filling my head and heart with all sorts of questions, thoughts and ideas. I couldn’t remove myself from this mission.
I've been back to my current place of residence in Tucson, Arizona for about five months now, and the only thing on my mind is New Bern, North Carolina. I have spoken with many people in the Craven County community and the information I uncover is unreal. It seems, the weekend I was there for the memorial that there were twelve documented overdose deaths. The local media won’t bother covering it anymore I suspect it’s just too devastating and overwhelming for it’s citizens.
Since my return to Arizona, I have been extensively researching the appalling number of overdose deaths and crimes related to addiction statistics in Craven, Carteret and Pamlico County. The numbers are exceedingly tragic. I don't know what else I personally can do, except use this voice that the God of my understanding gave me, to speak up and be the voice for this deficit. With hopes of diminishing this epidemic of darkness, I ask you to share this story. I must start somewhere, and that somewhere is the New Bern, North Carolina Community. I pray out loud that I can somehow help the area that so freely helped me and that we can become an example for other small towns that need help like New Bern! I do know for certain, if I were released today in New Bern, like I was back in December of 2007, I, beyond a shadow of a doubt, would be dead. The resources for recovery do not exist as they once did. And the people today would have not heard my voice utilizing social media venues in order to carry this message.

Thanks in advance for reading, and saying a prayer for this tragedy.
Check out what the Phoenix House used to look like by
Clicking below -

Here below you can find the old website link for the old Phoenix House –

Thank you for including the picture of what it used to look like. I always wondered what that building was when I moved here. I thought it was some undercover biker bar or some shit back when I was using. I think it's awesome that you took the time to share this with anyone who would listen! That’s what it’s all about!
Love, Amber

Dear Ashley,
That was a story that needed to be heard and it was for you to tell. Most anyone I know in New Bern knows of the "Phoenix House".
The "Phoenix House" was my home when I got here to New Bern and I will never forget it or the people whom came thru the doors. Thank You Ashley for sharing and reminding me of my own joy.
God’s Love,

I only met Jason five months ago as I entered the rooms. He was always so nice to me, as I saw that he was to EVERYONE! His kindness was unreal, and it was so what I needed at that time. I just knew right then that there was something really special about him!
I wish so much that I could have had the chance to get to know him more. He was most definitely a choice spirit and touched the lives of more than anyone will ever know! I feel blessed to have met him, and so blessed to have a chance to hear some of his uplifting and encouraging thoughts. And btw, he made a mean batch of cookies!
By Kelli

OMG! Ashley!!!!
I too 'grew up' in the phoenix house. I was released to the halfway house after almost being sentenced to fifteen years in prison... My probation officer gave me one last chance... And the doorstep of the women's house was where I began my journey… I'm not where I need to be today, but it's not because I didn't receive the tools I needed from the phoenix house... It’s because the phoenix house was shut down! I don't have my family, my normality. I need that. Jason was my 'normal'. When I needed an NA 'fix' I could call him and he would tell me what I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear, and he would always end the call with "so I'll see you at a meeting"? Now I'm going to have to start going again. And if we could get the Phoenix House back again I know more souls will be saved... Ashley Kaye Adams…MY HIGHER POWER KNEW I NEEDED YOU! He placed you in my life and you've never left... Almost five years had gone by and I ran into you again in the most unimaginable place and time! That was my Higher Power acting in my life! So excited! I really pray this takes off!
Love, Crystal

 You have always held a big place in my heart! I truly love you! I don't think any of us are where we need to be, but having unconditional love and acceptance from those around us breeds hope to everyone and everything. Hope is all we need to keep on trucking! I'm so happy to still have you around and alive all these years later. And that we “happened to bump into each other?” That's most definitely a power greater than us coordinating all the important stops along the way! I would have never seen you if I didn’t have an allergic reaction to Frank and Colleen’s cats and had to get an overpriced hotel room for my last two days! And you just happened to take your lunch break to come get an application for a job at the front desk of the hotel that I JUST HAPPENED TO BE CHECKING INTO? Right! Thank you GOD! We are blessed. I too pray that all of these stories, sharing straight from the hearts of all these people will get the attention and monetary support this cause deserves. I want to be the change today.
Love, Ashley

You are welcome. I thought a lot of Jason. He always could make me laugh. I made it to the visitation, but wasn't able to make it to the funeral. I knew a lot of people who benefited from the Phoenix House. I myself had my associations with it years ago, and I still carry it with me to this day as well as the people who helped me.

That's so wonderful to hear! Thanks for taking the time out of your day to share with me, that's what we need! Exposure and sharing this story every way possible! I'm praying the right person will read this and be able to understand the need for places like the Phoenix House. And maybe, just maybe we can get the recovery vibe activated back at 506 Cedar Street, New Bern NC where the Phoenix house once stood.

The recovery community benefited greatly from Jason’s commitment and sincerity. There is a hole now, but soon his inspiration will help others contribute in ways only he could. The Phoenix House was like an old strong oak. She sowed the seeds of recovery far and wide. She is gone but she lives in each and every person that shared their story inside her walls ... the Phoenix House lives on... as does Jason George.
Craig O.

Thank you for sharing! And truly well said! Please try to keep the hope alive in your heart, as you may know, something beautiful always comes from tragedy. Both of us have been around long enough to know that. Right now, I am compelled by a power greater than myself to keep doing whatever it takes within my reach to be open to new ideas and keep searching and posting and publishing articles to news and media outlets, in order to find solutions that will help New Bern's people affected by addiction continue on with generational healing and recovery in that geographical area. We all know that addiction has had a huge impact on the lives of those in Carteret, Pamlico and Craven Counties. It's all over the New Bern Sun Journal for all to read. The Phoenix house was just that, a house. But it was scene as a "HOME" for those that reside and or stay in that neighborhood and or came to it often. It gave great comfort to addicts that had not chosen to stay in the rooms yet. And it comforted the children of addicts that were in those rooms! I remember taking two children with me to three meetings a week when I had the chance. They loved the positive vibes from everyone. They gave and they received so much love there. It was awesome for them to see and hear that recovery is possible and that we can and do recover. It instilled tons of hope in those two kids. They are teens now and they have benefited from the knowledge they learned in the rooms to apply to their own lives. Today those kids are a reflection of the values, and principles of love and faith. They believe in hope and miracles. And they are two of the most forgiving and loving children I know. All kids need to have this positive information on addicts can recover and by being shown how to not “judge the addict in active addiction.” Much later on in my recovery, I was able to take one of those kids to a convention. It was such a magnificent feeling for us both. I was doing something beautiful for a child that was not my own. I got to feel the love from a child that at that time had two active addicts as parents. It was life transforming for me. I do my best to stay in their lives, sometimes from great distances, but they’re in my hearts every day. I chose not to have children so I never knew what it was like to have the love of a child. Adults make mistakes, and a lot of them sometimes, but we simply cannot do better until we get the information in our brains that we need to recover. And without meeting space, we can’t get better. Period. At the Phoenix House, people were always outside the building on smoke breaks or in between meetings, and the active addicts out their still in the madness, saw us coming and going consistently and it was a sign of future hope for them I have been told. We had the kids with us on breaks out in the parking lot. They got to see and feel the compassion for suffering individuals that were not in the rooms yet. This taught these children compassion that they could not attain from any formal setting. It was a safe spot for so many and was a beautiful space for love and kindness to grow into the hearts of the not so fortunate. It was a place for the “not so fortunate to evolve into the fortunate,” like myself. Now that space is filled with an empty hole. And the community can’t help but reap the consequences of its removal. I have to believe that the moral of the community was affected in a positive way when we were actively utilizing this space for recovery. For one, the positive energy flowing vicariously through this seemingly small area encircled so many lives and comings and goings of those seeking recovery, It must have had to appear outwardly as an act of comfort to those still suffering on the outside. Like you say, it lives on in all of us that were blessed by the opportunity to participate in all that the Phoenix House had to offer. No matter what "group" was in progress, all were welcome. I remain hopeful.
Build it and they will come.

If you are not convinced by my story that the Phoenix House must be rebuilt and re-launched in New Bern, North Carolina, feel free to read these numerous and frightening true stories from the local newspaper in New Bern. All written and posted after the destruction of the Phoenix House –

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