Greensboro, News

Recovery, Hope Centered in GFL Event

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GREENSBORO – Louie Gaudette, 57, talks about his struggles with alcoholism matter-of-factly. “I would look at myself in the mirror, and I would say, I am in love with alcohol. And I meant it. It was my constant companion. I couldn’t, wouldn’t break it.”

Before him on June 25, sat a small audience of strangers who had come to hear personal stories of mental illness and recovery. Behind him, the last of the afternoon sunlight streamed through a window of the second floor of the Greensboro Free Library (GFL).

“Not in my entire life, not having two children, not seeing the most miraculous things on the planet that you could see by traveling, nothing would slow me down from alcohol.”

The event was part of a program of presentations put on by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Across the country, people such as Gaudette share their stories in a series called “In Our Own Voice” where volunteers who have worked with NAMI recount their stories of managing mental illness.

Next to him sat Patricia Oleson, 63. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 38 and recounted her first manic episode which ended with her being hospitalized in Massachusetts.

“I can’t describe that feeling of mania,” she said, “I found myself trying to get focused on something, and I just couldn’t get focused on it. And I tried and tried and tried, it was overwhelming.”

Both Gaudette and Oleson said that turning points in their lives came when they reached out for help. They both participated in support groups hosted by NAMI, which has led them to becoming presenters for the organization.

For Gaudette, it started with his girlfriend. He had first met her when her mother took him in when he was homeless as a teen. He said that he fell in love with her then but, “she hated me, who wouldn’t, you know? I was just a violent drunk kid.”

“The catalyst was Julie, she gave me an ultimatum, either alcohol or me.”

After that, Gaudette checked himself into Valley Vista rehab center, with the conviction of better understanding himself and the root of his addiction.

“It was a matter of digging, digging, digging, digging inside and finding some real, clear truths about myself. It wasn’t until then” he said, “From that point on, this journey has been spectacular.”

Gaudette had an undeniable sense of optimism when he spoke about his recovery. He said that he’s been able to create a lifestyle that has helped keep him clean.

“I came from street homelessness in New York City. I’ve gotten a driver’s license since I’ve been back. I’m a co-owner of our house. I became a certified life coach and an ordained minister, all this in just, what, seven years?”

When asked if they find it helpful to tell their stories, Gaudette said he believes it is.

“It cleanses again and again and again, telling our story,” said Gaudette, “kind of like a purge, but that’s probably not a good word, because there’s really nothing in there to purge that’s bad.”

At the same time, Gaudette and Oleson both said that they believe these presentations serve a higher purpose than themselves. Though they each received $50 dollars and reimbursement for gas to get there, their roles as presenters were largely voluntary.

“I think that when you tell your story, the hope is that you can help other people,” Oleson said, “maybe then they can realize that they’re not the only one out there that has struggles with mental health issues.”

For more information about NAMI and their programs visit: https://namivt.org/

Lucia McCallum interns as the Hardwick Gazette's community resilience reporter with support from the Leahy Institute for Rural Partnerships. She works with editors at Community News Service, a University of Vermont journalism program.

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