VICTOR | Peer Recovery Coach Manager
“In peer recovery, everyone is a person first.”
My journey to becoming a peer recovery coach started while I was still in jail. I was enrolled in a few programs, and one of those introduced the peer support program. I knew I wanted to change my circumstances, so I applied to be a peer recovery coach while I was still in jail. The organization I applied to told me to get in touch when I was released. It took a while, but eventually, there were some free training sessions available, and that’s how I got my start. It gave me a chance to make a career for myself in a situation where it can be hard to find opportunity.
Peer recovery coaching was introduced in Colorado around 2015, so when I started it was in its infancy, and that was tough because we didn’t always have the support or recognition we needed. The good news is, I was able to shape the program because it was so new. I had the chance to go from a peer recovery coach to overseeing other coaches and directing grant funding for peers.
There’s so much stigma around substance use disorder and recovery, so our language is critical. In peer recovery, everyone is a person first. Labeling someone by their diagnosis is one of the most dehumanizing things you can do. They’re not an “addict,” or defined by their addiction.
We talk a lot about being an advocate – with a little “a” and big “A.” The little “a” is what you do for your clients: speaking to those struggling, getting them in the door, and helping them advocate for themselves. The big “A” is about advocating for changing the system. That part is about improving the structures in place to help those struggling with substance use disorder and, in my case, advocating for more tools, training, and resources for my fellow peer recovery coaches.
As a peer recovery coach, you have to be a good role model. Your actions have a ripple effect. When you’re a peer recovery coach, you aren’t just helping one person at a time; you’re positively impacting everyone in that person’s life. When the community sees your success and effort to help others, they want to invest, so being a good role model has this snowball effect.
The evidence is out there that peer counseling works, which can have this multiplying effect. Supporting this line of work is one of the best tools we have to help people with substance use disorders.