Recovery Spotlight

Bernie Kushnir

Julie Sanchez-Chavez

Julie Sanchez-Chavez

Length of Recovery: 13 years 7 months and 13 days

Place of Residence: Cheyenne Wyoming

Recovery Pathway:  My recovery was all spiritual… I just believe and asked God for help. I could not get into recovery on my own.  I knew there was a better way of living.

Julie's Recovery Journey

Growing up I drank alcohol, but my drinking did not become a problem until I moved to Maui, Hawaii. I struggled with alcohol for four years after that. On May 6, 2010, I woke up about 7:00 AM and for some reason I just said, "what am I doing with my life? What the heck is going on with me?" I knew that God had a better plan for my life. We lived on the 3rd floor of an apartment building, and I looked out the window and saw cars going by. I could hear the shower from the apartment below me turn on and I just thought, what was going on. How did I get to this point? I want my life back! I felt like these people are getting ready for work and here I am looking for another shot, or anything to take the shakes away.... I felt so sad, so hopeless, so tired. I just cried out to God, and I got on my knees and screamed and cried and asked God to please help me. I asked, "Dear Lord Jesus If you help me and meet me ½ way, I will do my part and together we can beat this. I need your help to protect me. I pushed through 9 days of hell. Those 9 days of hell were the start to my recovery. Prior to my recovery, I thought for sure this is my life. I will never get better and I'm sure others felt the same way. By the grace of God, the family and friend support and my willingness to getting better, here I am with 13 strong years. I have been so blessed and thankful every day for my recovery and that is the one thing that no-one can take from me. That's all mine! I earned it! This has been my greatest accomplishment. The best thing I have ever done for myself. Seven years into my recovery I got married (2017) and my husband and I bought a house together. I am so blessed to have my husband, family, friends and my health. Not to mention so many good people around me. I love my life and I am blessed because I am in recovery. I get to have my little nephews with me; we go camping, fishing, 4-wheeling, and the best feeling is that I am now trusted. Coming from being so broken, I am trusted, loved, responsible and just a better human. I love my life after recovery... We do and can get well. I always say "my crazy life landed me the best job ever. I have been employed with Recover Wyoming as a Certified Peer Specialist since 2022. It's a true blessing to give back to people who are trying or are in recovery. I could not have written a better story for my life than the one I am living in recovery. All the Glory to God!

Bernie Kushnir

Bernie Kushnir

Bernie Kushnir

Length of Recovery: 21 years

Recovery Pathway: Treatment (28 days) at Wyoming Recovery in Casper, Attend AA regularly (3/4 times per week)

Place of Residence: Cheyenne, WY; Laramie County

Place of Employment/Volunteer: Retired WYDOT, CFD Volunteer, Recover Wyoming Volunteer (and former board member), Bethel Ministries Volunteer

Bernie's Recovery Journey

When I reflect on my pathway to sobriety/recovery, I was never a "normal" drinker. Early on, I began having blackouts and losing control. I considered myself a maintenance drinker as I always had a good job and provided for my family. The bad habit became an addiction and took over my life. Relationships ruined, job lost, and health declining- I was at my bottom. Friends of friends from AA contacted me and I agreed to go to treatment (reluctantly). At treatment, we attended AA meetings regularly and I began hearing my story all over again. I was not unique and there was hope. That was the beginning of a long period of reconstruction leading to long-term recovery. Thank God, thank AA- my family too!

Rhonda Brown

Rhonda Brown

Rhonda Brown

Length of Recovery: 23 years, 6 months

Recovery Pathway: Incarceration & giving back and working in recovery programs

Place of Residence: Rock Springs, WY; Sweetwater County

Place of Employment/Volunteer: Southwest Counseling Services

Rhonda's Recovery Journey

My name is Rhonda Brown, and I am a woman in long term recovery and for me that means, that I have not used methamphetamine since December 1999. My recovery has given me the courage to speak up and share my story with others and instill hope that recovery is possible. It has given me the ability and willingness to take risks and not stay quiet about addiction, reducing the stigma surrounding addiction. Today I am a dependable and loyal wife, mother, daughter, nana, friend, and employee.
I have been employed at Southwest Counseling Service for 20 years and have been blessed with many opportunities to work in the recovery field as a program operations supervisor, a peer specialist with a mastery and forensic endorsements, a peer specialist supervisor, a member of a team that created the training materials for Wyoming peer specialists, a co-facilitator for new peer specialists in Wyoming, and most recently a part of the Crisis Intervention Team in Sweetwater County.
Throughout this journey I have gained some of the most fulfilling friendships with others in recovery and have pride in myself and all the choices I have made, both good and bad, that brought me into recovery. I will never be quiet about where I come from and will continue to encourage others to use their experiences to help others and be the example of hope and recovery.

Gunner Malm

Gunner Malm

Gunner Malm

Length of Recovery: 7.61 years, 91.46 months, 2784 days (as of April 27th)

Recovery Pathway: Treatment and then 12 Step Program

Place of Residence: Cheyenne, WY; Laramie County

Place of Employment/Volunteer: Managing Broker- Coldwell Banker The Property Exchange; Laramie County Commissioner

Gunnar's Recovery Journey

Being in long-term recovery from alcoholism is a life-changing experience that has allowed me to transform myself into a better version of who I used to be. Before I became sober, my life was in shambles. I was lost, hopeless, and had lost touch with myself and those around me. I was consumed by my addiction and didn't know how to break free from it. It was only when I hit rock bottom that I realized I needed to make a change and embark on a journey to recovery.
Through my journey to recovery, I have learned that it's essential to recover out loud. Sharing my story with others has been one of the most powerful tools in my recovery. It's allowed me to break down the walls of shame and stigma surrounding addiction and be a voice for those who may not have the courage to speak up about their struggles.
Recovering out loud has also been a way for me to hold myself accountable. When I share my story with others, I am reminded of the progress I have made and the work I still need to do. It also helps me stay motivated and committed to my sobriety. Recovery is not a one-time event but a continuous process that requires constant effort and dedication. Recovering out loud has helped me stay on track and continue to work towards my goals.
Being in long-term recovery has allowed me to earn my bonus life. I say this because I feel like I have been given a second chance at life. Before I got sober, my life was a constant cycle of addiction, self-destruction, and pain. Now, I have a life filled with hope, happiness, and purpose. Sobriety has allowed me to rebuild relationships that I had lost, pursue my passions, and live a life that I am proud of.
In conclusion, being in long-term recovery from alcoholism has been a transformative experience for me. Recovering out loud has allowed me to break down the walls of shame and stigma surrounding addiction, hold myself accountable, and be a voice for those who may not have the courage to speak up about their struggles. Sobriety has given me a second chance at life, and I am grateful for every day that I get to live it.

Shawn Humberson

Shawn Humberson

Shawn Humberson

Length of Recovery: 16 years, 1 month, 3 weeks, 3 days

Recovery Pathway: 12-step and Faith

Place of Residence: Newcastle, WY; Weston County

Place of Employment/Volunteer: Volunteers of America Northern Rockies

Shawn's Recovery Journey

I started my recovery in the closet. I met with a sponsor and worked the steps, but I refused to walk in the doors of a meeting. I lived in a small town and didn't want anyone to know I was an addict. My faith played an enormous role in my recovery, and still does. After 12 years of recovery, I discovered there is such a thing as a Peer Support Specialist while I was in therapy. I signed up for the next training and became a Certified Peer Specialist. I also met my husband during that training! I got a job as a Behavioral Health Tech in Cheyenne and worked with men in recovery; including taking them to NA meetings. After more than a year, I moved to Newcastle to take a position as a Peer Specialist. I started an NA group in Newcastle then helped my husband start a Celebrate Recovery group. I have been so blessed in my life of recovery, regaining relationships which were broken; gaining relationships which are positive and healthy; and continuing to share my story with the hope of inspiring others to live a life of recovery.

Taylor Jarnagin

Taylor Jarnagin

Taylor Jarnagin

Length of Recovery: 3 years, 1 month, 12 day

Recovery Pathway: A mix of Drug Court and 12 step

Place of Residence: Laramie, WY; Albany County

Place of Employment/Volunteer: Forensic Peer Specialist for the Albany County
Court Supervised Treatment Program (AKA: Drug Court)

Taylor's Recovery Journey

My name is Taylor, and I am a person in long term recovery. I was addicted to everything, but my drugs of choice were alcohol and methamphetamine. I used for many years (17 to be exact) and nothing made sense to me until I was about to be sentenced to prison for 5-7 years. I had attempted 12-step programs since I was 18 off and on, tried rehab on my own twice, and once court ordered from which I absconded from. NOTHING MADE SENSE. I was graciously given another chance and was sentenced into the very drug court program I now work for. The chance at being taught real world things, like staying sober while job hunting and being rejected, staying sober while working 7 days a week and barely getting by, staying sober while walking around the very town I used in, these were all things no prison or rehab could have taught me. The drug court team acted as training wheels to life. I became very involved with 12-step programs where I learned how to accept things, work on things, grieve and handle shame. I learned that for me, my drug and alcohol use were moral dilemmas. To use would mean I would be a burden on those that I love and care about, and that wasn't okay with me anymore. I now have a skosh over three years clean and sober. I dedicate a good chunk of my time to working with addicts in various stages of the recovery process, and hope that I can help people recover by showing that it is possible.

Christopher Hicks

Christopher Hicks

Christopher Hicks

Length of Recovery: 17 Years, one month, and 21 days

Recovery Pathway: My recovery has taken place inside of incarceration since I am still incarcerated and living a life of recovery and providing peer support to youthful offenders that participate in the YOTP treatment program.

Place of Residence: Rawlins, WY; Carbon County

Place of Employment/Volunteer: I currently work as a Certified Peer Specialist in the Youthful Offender Transition Program while incarcerated at the Wyoming State Penitentiary.

Christopher's Recovery Journey

Hi, my name is Christopher Hicks, and I am an incarcerated person in the Wyoming State Penitentiary who currently works as a Certified Peer Specialist in the Youthful Offender Transition Program (VOTP) and this is my recovery story:
My recovery story starts out like most everyone else's who need recovery and hope in their life. I was lost in my struggles with mental illness, verbal and physical abuse, trauma, and addiction. As a youth, I struggled with severe depression, anxiety, anger and many traumatic experiences with violence that left me with post-traumatic stress.

As an adolescent I turned to self-medicating with drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with my trauma and mental illness. I used drugs and alcohol to numb the emotional pain and negative feelings I experienced. This of course was only temporary and never actually helped. In fact, it only ended up making things worse. I certainly never thought I could become an addict until I was one. My life was immensely difficult and filled with constant struggles, lots of pain and hardships that lead to suicide attempts.

As a teenager I was so lost in my struggles with addiction and mental illness that I did not see that I had fallen in with the wrong crowd until it was too late. One wrong decision is all it took to change my life forever. One night after heavily drinking, I was sitting in the back seat of a car when my best friend went into a home and shot and killed another person. That night would change many people's lives forever and that was one of the worst nights of my life. There is not one day that goes by that I do not wish I could go back in to time and change everything that happened. I am deeply remorseful and sorry for what happened. No person deserves to be a victim of a violent crime. Under the State of Wyoming's accessory laws, anyone who has a minor participation in a crime can be charged and sentenced in the same way as the person who committed the act. I was arrested and sentenced to a Life without Parole for this.

After becoming incarcerated, my struggles didn't go away. They got placed inside of a pressure cooker that helped to forge me into the man I am today. I still had all the same problems with depression and post-traumatic stress. I still had intense negative feelings and emotions. I still had irrational thought patterns and unrealistic beliefs that caused me to perceive reality inaccurately. I still had no coping mechanisms or skills to deal with my problems until the day I found my own personal recovery.

I had a reality check inside of incarceration and a deep desire to turn my life around, feel better, think healthier, and atone for the mistakes I made as a teenager. Finding recovery was the best thing to ever happen to me and was how I changed my life. Recovery showed me change is possible and it can help you too. Recovery gave me the tools I needed to process those negative feelings I was having without distorting them or putting negative interpretations on them that cause suffering. Recovery taught me how to challenge and change my irrational thinking and helped me to develop healthy coping skills and mental clarity.

Recovery empowered me to take responsibility for my life and change my attitude and outlooks. I began to reprioritize my values and beliefs and begin to make better and healthier choices one day at a time. Ultimately those days brought me closer to the person whom I wanted to be, and I changed.
While incarcerated in Wyoming Department of Corrections for the past eighteen years, I have taken every available opportunity to better myself through criminal thinking classes and Cognitive Behavioral mental health classes offered from WDOC. I participated in mental health counseling and with the help from family, I was able to purchase my own higher education correspondence classes. I currently have a Paralegal Certification; Personal Trainer Certification and I have become a Certified Peer Specialist who currently works in Wyoming's Youthful Offender Transition Program (YOTP) in the Wyoming State Penitentiary. I teach Health and Wellness classes, assist with AA/NA meetings, teach clients how to write legal letters, and I have received Question, Persuade, & Refer (QPR) suicide prevention training. I lead and perform the nightly physical fitness training in the YOTP treatment program, and it is my greatest honor and joy to work with others and provide peer support and rehabilitation to youthful offender inmates every day.

Being a Certified Peer Specialist gives my life that has a depth of value and quality that I cannot put into words. I am a completely different person today because of my recovery and the work I do with others to assist them on their journey towards recovery. Today I am a rehabilitated person living a life of recovery and sobriety that models good behavior and teaches recovery skills while I am incarcerated at the Wyoming State Penitentiary.

Jaqueline Fales

Jaqueline Fales

Jaqueline Fales

Length of Recovery: 6 years, 1 month, 22 days

Recovery Pathway: Inpatient Treatment, Drug Court, Medicated Assisted Treatment (MAT), incarceration, probation, volunteering

Place of Residence: Cody, WY; Park County

Place of Employment/Volunteer: Park County Court Supervised Treatment Program/ Open Space Counseling Services

Jackie's Recovery Journey

My name is Jackie and I'm a person in long-term recovery and for me that means I have not used heroin or methamphetamines or had any thoughts of suicide since December 19th, 2016. Recovery has given me and my children a life that I never could have dreamt. The best part of my journey has been the last six years I've had the amazing opportunity to work on my disease and change my life. I went back to the Residential and Treatment Court programs I completed and served as a volunteer until I was hired to work at both places as a Peer Support Specialist. I wake up every day excited to help people who have the same disease that I do and show everyone that recovery is possible! And this is one of the many reasons why I (Heart) Recovery!

James Underwood

James Underwood

James Underwood

Length of Recovery: 7 years (10/4/15)

Recovery Pathway: Faith based program in prison

Place of Residence: Newcastle, WY; Weston County

Place of Employment/Volunteer: Recover Wyoming (TRS), Celebrate Recovery, Undefeated

James' Recovery Journey

My journey started when I was in the faith-based program. I spent two and half years in that program. I was a chaplain's boy. I was in Toastmasters to learn how to speak in public.

After five years of clean time, I moved to Cheyenne. There I found a second home at Recover Wyoming. Two years ago, I became a Peer Support Specialist. I volunteered to participate in the Telephone Recovery Support (TRS) program.

A year ago, I moved to Newcastle. Since moving to Newcastle, I've become involved in my community through my church. I am an adult leader of our youth group and have started Celebrate Recovery in our community. I'm speaking to at- risk youth and sharing my story every chance I get. I continue to work with TRS clients. I love the life recovery has given me!

Jasmine Neuroth

Jasmine Neuroth

Jasmine Neuroth

Length of Recovery: 121 days

Recovery Pathway: Peer Support, AA, IOP at Openings, Pathways to Recovery at Recover Wyoming

Place of Residence: Cheyenne, WY; Laramie County

Place of Employment/Volunteer: Lowes RDC 965

Jasmine's Recovery Journey

Over the last few years, I had tried to quit drinking many, many times. It just never seemed to stick or last very long. This time I decided I really truly had to, and wanted to quit drinking. My next step was going into Recover Wyoming. Julie helped me so much. I was able to detox under supervision. I started attending the Bridges to Recovery meetings at Recover Wyoming and visiting with Julie multiple times a week. I also started going to AA meetings, mostly at the 300 club, but multiple others in Cheyenne as well. I also decided to participate in an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) at Openings, which has been a huge help. The recovery community in Cheyenne has been absolutely amazing. With their and my amazing family's support, I am now at 4 months sober! I am so grateful of all the amazing people I've met and where I am today.

Laura Griffith

Laura Griffith

Laura Griffith

Length of Recovery: 19 Years (September 13, 2003)

Recovery Pathway: Long-term treatment and 12 Step Program

Place of Residence: Cheyenne, WY; Laramie County

Place of Employment/Volunteer: Retired Founder and Executive Director of Recover Wyoming

Laura's Recovery Journey

I loved alcohol, the magic elixir which made me "someone", and which made good times better. The more alcohol the happier I was, I loved it. -- I don't have an off switch when it comes to alcohol.

My journey to recovery started nearly 30 years ago when I was first introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous in Laramie, Wyoming. I loved the people, but could not consistently stay sober - perhaps believing that my life was "not that bad". Over those years the "bad" arrived by way of 4 DUI's, several stints in residential treatment, loss of good jobs, and a family sad and frightened by my use. I always was completely sincere in my wanting to remain sober, but once back at home - I would start drinking again. One of the DUI's brought me to Cheyenne where I live now. The miracle happened when I made the commitment to be in long-term residential treatment and stayed for 6 months. That new beginning has made all the difference. I finally surrendered to this disease, which was killing me, and to a power greater than myself.

I began building a professional life at the Wyoming Department of Health, Behavioral Health Division where I could be open about my recovery and celebrated for it. I am forever grateful for the chance WDH gave me. I stayed there for 8 years, working in several capacities. Finally, being Treatment Manager - overseeing the very funds which paid for that last and successful treatment program.

In 2010, I made the decision to leave state government and create Recover Wyoming, I wanted my state to join in the national recovery movement and I wanted to work directly with people seeking recovery. That leap of faith has been the greatest work experience of my life. I was Executive Director for 10 years and worked alongside many wonderful staff, volunteers, and board members to build this vital organization. I retired from RW in 2020 and remain involved in volunteer opportunities and training.

I continue to be involved in AA and committed to sobriety each day. Somedays it's harder than others - but with nearly 20 years of practice - I know what to do to put my recovery first.

Lynn Carlson

Lynn Carlson

Lynn Carlson

Length of Recovery: I am a family member of a person in long-term recovery. My sister will have 20 years of sobriety next September.

Recovery Pathway: When my sister was in active addiction to alcohol, I sought guidance from Al-Anon and a therapist. I also read a lot of books on addiction. In my volunteer involvement with RW I have met many people who have further educated me on addiction.

Place of Residence: Cheyenne, WY; Laramie County

Place of Employment/Volunteer: Writer at www.lynngcarlsonwrites.com
Family member recovery coach for Recover Wyoming - I meet with family members of people who are struggling if they want someone to talk with- someone who has had similar experiences. Referrals from RW staff.

Lynn's Recovery Journey

My sister struggled with alcohol abuse for about a decade, and during that time I tried everything I could think of to get her to stop. Pleading, threats, distraction, etc. Nothing worked. She went to treatment six times and each time I thought she was "cured."

I had to learn (with a lot of help) that I couldn't "fix" my sister. I needed to stop fussing and focus on my own life and health. It wasn't easy and I didn't do it perfectly, but eventually I quit being so obsessed with her, and started focusing on me.

My sister eventually found her way out of her addiction and works on her sobriety every day.

I often use an analogy when I'm talking with family members about my journey- a sports analogy. It's like your loved one is on the football field. They're battling for their life. You want to get out there and play with them-take the ball and run with it. But you can't.

At best, you're cheering for them on the sidelines. Because it's not YOUR game, it's theirs. The cool thing is that they can be part of a team (made up of people in recovery) if they choose. They don't have to do it alone. But as family members, we have to let them play the game with people who know the game and know how to win it. We don't.

But we should always remember that everybody needs somebody to cheer them on, so we're important too. We just have a different role.

Terri Smith

Terri Smith

Terri Smith

Length of Recovery: 3 years, 6 months, 10 days (Feb 12 will be 3, 6, 14 days)

Recovery Pathway: Inpatient treatment and MAT

Place of Residence: Riverton, WY; Fremont County

Place of Employment/Volunteer: Volunteers of America- Center of Hope (Clinical Assistant)

Terri's Recovery Journey

I started using opiates in 2007 after my best friend/boyfriend passed away and I had no idea what healthy coping skills were. I only ever saw people numb their pain from loss with alcohol or drugs, so I mimicked what I saw. Opiates helped me numb the devastating pain I felt from losing the first person I truly loved and gave my all to. I did not realize what I was doing to my mind and body by taking that first pill and by the end my hidden addiction had gotten so bad that I could not go a day or night without it. I did not look like your "typical addict." I had a degree, job, vehicle and family. But I was living a lie, a double life. I remember waking up every day for the last 2 years of my active use and thinking to myself, "is this going to be my life for the rest of my life?" I was sick and miserable, but I was too afraid to ask for help. I knew I had a problem, but the stigma that comes with addiction made me too ashamed to reach out for help.

Unfortunately, or fortunately as I can now see it, I was held accountable for my bad choices and actions while in active addiction. I was indicted on federal drug charges (since I was domiciled on the reservation) in 2019 and entered inpatient treatment on July 29, 2019. Entering treatment with my 3-month-old son was the most difficult and best decision I've ever made. It was also the toughest and most grueling experience I have encountered in my life so far.

However, it has been the most rewarding experience as well. I learned so much about myself; how and why my addiction started and how it got so bad. I also learned the skills necessary to help me lead a life of integrity where I felt my feelings instead of masking or numbing them. Recovery is a whole lifestyle change. I had to cut out all the toxic and unhealthy people, places, and things from my life even if that meant family and friends.

I lost a lot from my addiction including my law license, my job, and the respect of many people who I hold dear and never wanted to disappoint. However, I have gained so much in my recovery. I have a sense of gratitude and joy in my everyday life that I never even knew existed. I no longer live in chaos and I have order, clarity and peace in my life that I can teach my children and share with others. I have found a renewed purpose in being the best mom and partner I can be. I recently became certified as a Peer Specialist so I can help others struggling with addiction who want to find their own recovery. I love my job where I facilitate groups with clients, drive them to treatment and just connect with them on a personal level. I have purpose in what I am doing, and I am on a continuous journey of self-healing that has allowed me to work on my past traumas and gain the tools I need to deal with what life will inevitably throw at me as it does with all humans, but I have HOPE for myself, for the future and for my community.