Cory William Berlekamp
“We want to eliminate barriers between people and recovery, whatever that looks like for them,” Ellyn Schmiesing says, the Executive Director at FOCUS: Recovery and Wellness Community. Her desk is also towering with files and papers all which she has a system for depending on their prioritized status that day.
On the outside, FOCUS is a modest brick building on Trenton Avenue with a plastic banner as a sign but on the inside is what looks like a recreation hall at a college dormitory. Past the reception desk are pool tables and a ping pong table while different musical instruments are available for anyone to play in the corner. In the back is a craft room with a kitchen where someone is unloading groceries while someone else is drawing at one of the tables. Some of the people are talking amongst themselves while others run around, doing what seems to be daily upkeep and chores. This environment was built with FOCUS’ main goal in mind according to Schmiesing.
“It’s to help support people to develop natural supports in a pro-social environment,” Schmiesing says. “We serve an entire continuum here; you do not have to have a diagnosis and we don’t ask you what your diagnosis is.”
Along with giving people a place to go, FOCUS works on teaching them both life skills and coping skills. To Schmiesing, recovery is a map filled with many roads. Something that might not work for someone else might be exactly what the person next to them needs to get and stay sober. This includes all forms from medically assisted treatment, 12-step programs, learning coping and life skills, and even incarceration.
“We are a facility that believes in multiple pathways to recovery including incarceration because for some folks, that’s the first time where they had 30 days without a substance and their brain can start to heal again,” Schmiesing said with conviction. “We are very fortunate in our Hancock County Jail that there is programming available within the jail itself.”
This includes meetings and cognitive behavioral therapy which Schmiesing describes as taking back over your brain.
“How you think influences how you feel and what you do,” said Schmiesing.
“So if you change the thought process then you can change the outcome, you can change your behavior.”
One of those people that was helped by FOCUS is Ben Hippensteel, now the Program and Volunteer Coordinator at FOCUS.
Hippensteel had struggled with alcohol after moving back to Findlay from Dayton. He found recovery from going through one of two of the live-in treatment houses FOCUS provides for addiction. After six months in the house, he became the house coordinator and then after leaving the house after a year and half came to work at FOCUS. But Hippensteel noticed something while at staying at the recovery house.
“I was one of two who was strictly self-identified as an alcoholic, everyone else was (addicted to) opiates of some kind,” said Hippensteel.
During his recovery, Hippensteel has learned that it was not just one thing that helped keep him from drinking again. Like many alcoholics, he had tried the 12-step program popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous.
“It has always been 12 steps, it has always been forced upon me,” Hippensteel said. “Even when I went to rehab up a Glenbeigh (Treatment Center), it was always ‘gotta do step one, step two’.”
Though Hippensteel appreciated AA’s program and text, The Big Book, he said that there are elements within the book that did not fit his life, the biggest is that Hippensteel is gay.
A sponsor is someone who already has time sober that helps their sponsee, someone who is new to the program. But according to Hippensteel, the rules were written in the 1930’s and that relationship had to be with the same sex to keep the sexual tension to a minimum.
“That sponsor/sponsee relationship has to be super trustful and non-judgmental,” Hippensteel said. “For me as a very out and proud gay man, to really dig through my head, that part of the 12-step program didn’t work.”
That is when Hippensteel started looking for another way to stay sober and found FOCUS.