Ramon CruzI am a person in recovery from mental health and substance use disorders. For many years, I carried a good deal of anger and resentment so, instead of addressing my issues, I turned to using drugs.

Unlike many others, my addiction began in prison. It happened at one of the lowest times in my life, when I lost my father. Here I was, incarcerated and drugs were available, so I turned to the one thing that I always tried to avoid. In trying to mask my pain there were times I didn’t want to live. Depression was evident, but I camouflaged it with drugs. I was overdosing and only through the grace of God was revived every time by someone in my community. Naloxone was constantly used to save my life. I was arrested so many times that I started to begin to believe that incarceration was going to be my life. It was my reality, a cycle of incarceration and release, only to sell drugs again to support my addiction.

My light came on when I was sitting in a jail cell and decided that I no longer wanted to use drugs. I started to realize that I needed help to address my mental state. During my therapy sessions, I was told that I was holding on to a good deal of anger and resentment. In addressing my mental state, I could comprehend that I was masking my pain with addiction. I dealt with many sleepless nights but because of my therapy sessions I could release my pain. For the first time, I was able to cry. I discovered so much about my mental health struggles.

After my last incarceration, I followed up with therapy but was mindful to also work on my substance use disorder. I did this by building a support team that helped guide me through the steps. It was while living in a recovery house that my purpose revealed itself. But, keep in mind the process was slow – you must be able to accept the process in order to move forward.

I become a certified peer specialist in 2016, which gave me the opportunity to work at Community Behavioral Health in Philadelphia. It was there that I learned about Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) Mental Health First Aid Unit that hosted classes for both youth and adult populations. This training helped me understand that mental health issues affect all of society in some way, shape or form. I believe that knowledge and skills serve us well in navigating an emergency through early intervention.

Stigma plays a big role in society. Historically, it is also known to be a cultural problem. As a person of Puerto Rican descent, I was not allowed to talk about depression and other issues that would cause me to act out of character. It was due to this cultural stigma that shame played a major role in becoming a barrier for me to seek any treatment and find recovery for my substance abuse. It was through this training that I learned that no matter how long I had experienced mental health symptoms, people do recover.

Today, I am continually being blessed. I currently hold a position with DBHIDS. I have been able to use my story to help people who suffer from co-occurring issues by giving them a sense of hope and healing. Sharing my experience, knowledge and skills has been an important aspect of my recovery. My recovery has empowered me to reach certain goals in my life and establish a presence at DBHIDS. I am a facilitator for the opioid reversal training and I also was asked to be a part of a sub-committee for the Mayor’s Opioid Task Force. Today, I can be a father to my children, a son to my mother and a brother to my siblings.

Ramon Cruz

Help Yourself, Help Others

Peer Specialists support others in their recovery process. This relationship between peers is characterized by mutual trust and respect, sharing of experiences, learning about the recovery process, supporting the peer in multiple settings, achieving goals and moving toward a more meaningful life in the community. The next time period for CPS application acceptance will be announced in 2019.

Mental Health First Aid is a public education program that teaches the skills needed to identify, understand, and respond to signs of behavioral health challenges or crises. First Aid is given until appropriate supports are received.

Storytelling Training is a free resilience and recovery-oriented training recognizing that the stories of individuals, their recovery processes and the experiences of their family members are critical tools in moving system transformation forward. It is a gateway for those who want to become active stakeholders and change agents throughout the behavioral health system and in their communities at large.

DBHIDS offers monthly lifesaving Naloxone Overdose Prevention & Rescue Training in an effort to increase awareness and enhance overall knowledge of the opioid epidemic’s impact on our region. These sessions teach how to recognize harm-reduction approaches to high-risk behaviors, including substance misuse; the immediate protocols for effectively administering Naloxone, the life-saving medication developed to help prevent fatal opioid overdoses; the importance of the Good Samaritan Act 139 and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Standing Order for Naloxone.

The Mayor’s Task Force is charged with developing a comprehensive and coordinated plan to reduce opioid abuse, dependence and overdose in Philadelphia and draft a report of findings and recommendations for action to the Mayor. The 23-member Task Force, co-chaired by Dr. Evans and Dr. Farley, met semi-monthly for two-hour meetings between January 11 and March 22, to produce a final report. The report was released May 19, 2017. Read the report.