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Duluth organization helps reduce stigma of recovery

Since it started in 2019, Recovery Alliance Duluth has helped hundreds of people through recovery via peer support and other services.

People in purple shirts celebrate recovery in outdoor park
People fill the Lakewalk during the Recovery Alliance Duluth walk on Saturday at Leif Erickson Park in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — For Beth Elstad, recovery from addiction is personal. The co-founder of Recovery Alliance Duluth, Elstad is also in long-term recovery, which she said motivates her work to train and connect people to peer support specialists.

People in purple shirts celebrate recovery in outdoor park
Co-founder and executive director Beth Elestad, of Hermantown, visits with Benjamin Crawford, of Pike Lake, during the Recovery Alliance Duluth walk Saturday.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

"In my case, there was some environmental stuff, where there was a culture in my community that made it OK — that's just what we did," Elstad said. "But then as I got older, it became a way for me to cope and that's when it grew really hard to recover. And I got help from mutual aid groups and was fortunate enough to have family, friends and support networks to help. Not everyone has that, so we really have to think about them and help recreate a culture where folks are free to recover."

September is National Recovery Month, a time when many celebrate their journey and work to reduce the stigma often attached to being in recovery. The annual Walk for Recovery was held Saturday in Leif Erikson Park. Elstad said she appreciates the awareness the month brings, but hopes that it's an awareness people will carry throughout the year.

People in purple shirts celebrate recovery in outdoor park
Teddy Mosqueda Beaudoin, of Duluth, worships while listening to music during the Recovery Alliance Duluth walk Saturday.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

"We love to celebrate recovery this month, but we also want to continue to have these conversations every other month of the year," Elstad said. "We just want recovery to be part of our everyday conversations, to normalize it."

Recovery Alliance Duluth , based at the Damiano Center, is a community-based volunteer organization that connects people seeking help with their recovery to trained peer support specialists. Elstad and Gary Olson formed the organization in 2019 after recognizing the need for peer support in Northeastern Minnesota. Since it formed, the organization has trained hundreds of peer support specialists and helped hundreds on their recovery paths.

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"And we really try and meet people where they're at," Elstad said. "In other settings, people tend to say, 'Well, this worked for me. Try this.' That's not how peer support operates. We listen and ask, 'What do you want your recovery to look like?' and we go from there."

People in purple shirts celebrate recovery in outdoor park
Julie Vena, of Duluth, hugs Bill Stafford, of Duluth, during the Recovery Alliance Duluth walk Saturday at Leif Erickson Park.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

From there, a client might decide that they want to go in for treatment, or they may decide to continue just to meet with the peer support specialist. Elstad said what makes peer recovery appealing is the shared experience within recovery that people can share.

People in purple shirts celebrate recovery in outdoor park
Julie Vena, of Solon Springs, performs with the Revive City Church of Duluth Monday Night Celebrate Recovery band during the Recovery Alliance Duluth walk Saturday.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

"It's somebody who has been where they are, and not only that but there's a whole network that they can reach out to," Elstad said. "That way you're not only confined to relying on one person. We have get-togethers and outings where people can meet everyone in our network and have the chance to support each other."

Another goal of the organization is to work on destigmatizing recovery. Elstad said an easy way that people can help with this is by being more mindful of the words they use to talk about recovery.

People in purple shirts celebrate recovery in outdoor park
People fill the Lakewalk during the Recovery Alliance Duluth walk Saturday at Leif Erickson Park.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

"Language matters, like referring to people as just 'addicts,' Elstad said. "Even if people are experiencing a substance abuse issue, we're still people."

Workplace discrimination against people in recovery is another thing the Elstad said she hoped to see reduced. Elstad compared being in recovery to have a chronic condition such as diabetes.

People in purple shirts celebrate recovery in outdoor park
Teddy Mosqueda Beaudoin and Michael Wells, both of Duluth, hug each other during the Recovery Alliance Duluth walk Saturday.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

"If I have diabetes, that's not something that everyone always needs to know about me, it's something I can choose to share," Elstad said. "And if I do talk about it, it doesn't change people's opinions of me. But if I talk about being in recovery, that kind of grabs attention. Because we're still challenging the idea that addiction is a moral failing. We should look at it as a chronic health issue to try and get past that."

For more information about Recovery Alliance Duluth, visit recoveryallianceduluth.org .

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People in purple shirts celebrate recovery in outdoor park
A soap bubble floats in the air during the Recovery Alliance Duluth walk Saturday.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
People in purple shirts celebrate recovery in outdoor park
Devyn Leshovsky, of Duluth, listens to music during the Recovery Alliance Duluth walk Saturday.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
People in purple shirts celebrate recovery in outdoor park
Hundreds of people fill the amphitheater during the Recovery Alliance Duluth walk Saturday.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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