A Community in Pain: Mellody Arrieta interview

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The opioid epidemic affects all aspects of society. Our initiative “A Community in Pain” is looking for answers to those problems. Brad Byrd was joined by Mellody Arrieta and Vanderburgh Co. Prosecutor Nicholas Hermann last week.

Here’s a transcription of the interview:

Brad Byrd: Hi Shelley. I cannot hear you because the Celebrating Recovery group is celebrating right now. We’re in the middle of this meeting at Bethel Church. The group behind me has been here for about 30 minutes. Joining me now from the group is Mellody Arrieta. Mellody, you’re in the middle of your recovery and you have a lot to be thankful for. Where did this troubled journey begin?

Mellody Arrieta: Well, it began through a series of life events – divorces, being a single mom. I do believe it is a disease. I did start going out with friends to bars and I did not drink like a normal person. And I found that out very quickly and I needed more and more. That didn’t start til I was almost 30 so I didn’t know I had that gene. I’m on a journey to recovery now. Three years sober in December.

BB: And what was your addiction?

MA: My addiction was alcohol. But once I would partake in the alcohol, it opened doors to other things: pills, marijuana. My main addiction was alcohol.

BB: Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann, this sounds almost like a textbook example of what happens to people right here in our own community. It can start out with something as simple as alcohol and go from there. Is this the exception to the rule: someone recovering as she is or are too many people just giving up hope?

Prosecutor Nicholas Hermann: I think it’s an easy thing to give up hope on. You need help. You need counselors, you need teammates, you need family to push you forward and help move you toward recovery.

BB: Do you ever fear, Mellody, that you might slip back in?

MA: Of course, I think that’s something that can happen at anytime, any day, anywhere. My husband and I – we changed our lives.

BB: What was the trigger of that?

MA: We ended up in a divorce. And alcohol was the main issue. And through Celebrate Recovery, he came to Bethel Church and started coming to the group. And he said, let’s work this out. And I came with him and we’ve done this journey. I’m getting emotional.

BB: The people talking with you, they’re right in the same shoes you were in.

MA: Yeah, and um, I think we found a new family and we did the steps. A lot of it is changing your playground, changing your playmates. We did that. We moved to Evansville, found new friends, found new things to do, and that’s how we’ve come to the point of three years in recovery.

BB: Nick, often proponents of treatment say there aren’t enough resources. Well, this is a resource right here. Is it this type of treatment that you feel like could make a big difference.

NH: Everyone’s different and everyone responds to programs differently. But I think we certainly have a lot of great programs like this one in our community. It’s about getting people to try them and see what works for them.

BB: Do you think jail time would have been the answer for this woman?

NH: That’s a tough question. A lot of times when law enforcement comes into contact with somebody, it’s not their best day. So it’s a process and we want everyone to get on the road to recovery and to be clean and sober.

BB: Mellody, you are on the road to recovery. But was there a point in time where you thought you might end up in the criminal justice system?

MA: Oh, definitely. It was leading to that or the three institutions, death, or jail. I had been to an institution. I checked into one for help. I didn’t follow through with the things I should have. I was so violent with my alcoholism that I came very close to being arrested. My children, one of them followed suit and had a very bad opioid addiction. He was on life support last year and he’s now five months in recovery. Addiciton is generational and it’s learned. The day my husband came here and we were divorced, I had actually tried to take my life because of the pain and the hopelessness. 

BB: It takes a lot of heart and soul and guts to share a story like that with us. But thank you so much! Hopefully you’ll do some good for people facing the same pain you’ve faced. Mellody Arrieta and Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann, thank you very much.

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