4 years. 48 months. 208 weeks. 1461 days.
As of Aug. 19, 2020, that’s how long Catherine Tootle has been sober.
A native of Uvalda, Georgia, Tootle, 37, came to Statesboro in the grips of addiction. The move here was court-mandated so that she could get help with her 15-year addiction to opiates, benzodiazepines, and methamphetamines.
“I had accepted that I would die in addiction. My life was super unmanageable. I had not held a job for 10 years before coming to Statesboro,” she said.
Tootle is now the vice executive director at Freedom Through Recovery, the Susan Ford Recovery Community Organization and manages the operation and outreach for Freedom Through Recovery. She is married to Clint, 35, and has one daughter, Marley Coursey Tootle, who is 4 years old.
All parents feel lucky to have their children, but Tootle is exceptionally lucky considering that she had Marley while addicted and had to regain custody of her.
“At 32 years old, I had my first and only child, Marley, at home. I was so intoxicated I didn’t realize I was going into labor. It took only five months for me to lose custody of her due to my addiction, which I now know was God doing for me what I could not do for myself,” she said.
With a possession of methamphetamine charge and a Department of Family and Child Services case against her, Tootle was mandated to receive care. A cousin stepped up to care for Marley while Tootle got help.
“My cousin provided a safe place to my daughter to be loved. My biggest triumph in recovery is regaining custody of Marley! Knowing that I can live a fulfilling life without using drugs and alcohol to change the way I feel is a huge triumph too,” she said.
When custody was taken away, Tootle became very depressed. She continued to abuse drugs and alcohol. A visit from her mother was a vital push in the right direction. Having watched her own mother struggle with substance use disorder, Tootle was aware of the consequences she could be facing if she didn’t work towards recovery.
“God used my mother’s experience to help me have the courage to say yes to treatment,” she said. “After saying yes, my sister and mother called different treatment centers until they found me a bed. All I could do was sleep on my parent’s couch. My dad’s prayers helped push me to strive for a better life.”
Her mother and sister found the long-term residential treatment program at Pineland’s Women’s Place. While in the program, her family’s encouragement and the desire to get her daughter back played a huge role in her recovery. Letters and drawings from her mom and dad, brother, sister-in-law and nephew encouraged her and “carried” her through treatment. It was one of those letters from her father that gave her another push towards sobriety.
“…he told me that Marley would find her way by me! That was a HUGE perspective change. That took some of my self-centeredness out of the way, because I am good at worrying about how everything is affecting me. That one sentence he wrote gave me more of a meaningful purpose,” Tootle said.
She also credits Pineland as a large part of recovery. Being state funded, Tootle didn’t have to pay to go there for treatment. After the program completion, Pineland was there to support her appeals case for her criminal background through a letter written by the director, Kacey Gammon.
“I had absolutely no money. I completed every program that Pineland had to offer, which was women’s residential, transitional housing, women’s intensive outpatient, and outpatient,” she said. “It is important for me to tell everyone that when my DFCS case was closed out, I still continued to do all that Pineland had to offer. I had more learning to do about this new life that I didn’t want to give up. The women in recovery loved me until I was capable of loving myself.”
In the midst of her recovery, Tootle realized that she wanted to help others find their way to sobriety. At the time, she didn’t know that recovery coaching existed. She was approached about working at Freedom Through Recovering because “they knew I lived my recovery out loud.” She was turned down because of her extensive background.
“I continued working at Arby’s drive-thru window and was starting to begin training as a shift manager. I was approached again learning that the state of Georgia had an appeal process to show I was recovering, so I appealed and won! I then started at Freedom Through Recovery, the Susan Ford Recovery Community Organization and learned of recovery coaching. I knew I had found a calling,” she said.
Not only did Tootle find sobriety and her job through Pineland, but also love.
“Clint and I met in recovery. We attend the same 12-step fellowship. Treatment had strict rules about not dating, so I followed those rules,” she said. “After graduating treatment, I started going with my 12-step home group to take meetings into John’s Place. This is where Clint and I started chatting and laughing after the meetings.”
Tootle says it was a relief to meet someone who could joke around about their pasts. Clint wasn’t trying to take her home or asking for her number. She said “he was safe.”
Clint also loves helping others with their recovery. He has been working for three years as the Assistant Technical Director at the Averitt Center for the Arts as a lighting designer.
“Our life consists of this (recovery) on a daily basis. He already understood the concept of ‘we give what has been so freely given to us.’ We already understood the importance of putting our recovery and God first long before we started actually dating. In turn, our relationship flows nicely. We have been married since Nov. 16, 2019,” she said.
Tootle has attended the Atlanta-based CARES Academy with the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse. The CARES (Certified Addiction Recovery Empowerment Specialist) Academy required a high school diploma (or GED) and two years of recovery from a substance use disorder. Tootle sent in a written submission to show that she was a leader in the community, along with two reference letters, however, she was denied. She didn’t give up, and reapplied during the next CARES cohort and was accepted into the next round.
“The next round was an in-person group interview, which was intimidating. GCSA called me the very next day and told me I was accepted into CARES 35,” she said. “I am required to attend trainings every year to keep my certification. As a CARES, I advocate for my peer’s self-directed care using my lived experience. I enjoy recovery coaching because it is peer to peer. I get to help others daily. Addiction does not discriminate.”
When Tootle was asked what her biggest piece of advice was for someone struggling with addiction, she identified connection as the opposite of addiction, saying that addiction isolated her and made her feel unworthy of help. Reaching out to someone that will listen is a huge step in the right direction.
“Recovery has given me the ability to love others more than I love myself. I get to be the child, sister, aunt, mother, wife, and friend that God has always intended for me to be. Recovery gave me a relationship back with God,” she said.
Tootle’s nomination as an Everyday Hero was a shock to her, but after hearing her story and how she helps others through sharing her own journey through recovery, it’s no surprise to us that she was nominated!
“As a recovery coach, I get the opportunity to listen to what others want out of their recovery and get to help make it happen. If I can’t, I can definitely point them in the direction of someone who can,” she said.
Offering the services of the Freedom Through Recovery Program, Tootle said that if you don’t have anyone to talk to, call 912-764-8283 or message the program through Facebook.
She acknowledges that taking the first steps into recovery are difficult, but hopefully, seeing what is on the other side of it is encouragement to get help. Having a support system, whether it be family, friends or a CARES is important.
Tootle said that there was no way she would have gone through recovery on her own.
“It was too big of a job for my energy on a daily basis. As long as there is breath in our bodies, there is hope! Remember, courage is taking action in spite of the fear,” she said.
Do you know someone who is an Everyday Hero? E-mail our editor at email@example.com and tell us all about him or her…we’d love to feature your hero in an upcoming issue!