Overcoming substance abuse and feeling a need to change careers, Marlinton native Scott McGee found his calling in 2018 when he joined Seneca Health Services as a peer recovery support specialist and peer support coach.
“I’d been doing construction work and living my life, and was looking to do something more fulfilling, I guess,” McGee said. “I wanted to do something different. I was burnt out on my construction job.”
Then McGee saw an ad in The Pocahontas Times for a peer support coach.
“Honest truth,” he said, “I saw this job posting in The Pocahontas Times.
“I’m a person living long-term recovery; for the last six and a half years, I’ve been drug and alcohol free.”
Looking at the listing, McGee realized he qualified for the job and went for an interview, getting the job a few days later. He began training right away, and by December, he had received his state certification.
“Part of our grant funding is to run peer-led recovery support groups and to work with overdose survivors,” McGee said.
“I lead a peer recovery group at the Day Report Center on Thursdays, and I’ve helped start a couple other little groups in the county.”
McGee is one of five peer support specialists in the four counties in which Seneca operates. He works mainly in Pocahontas County, but services are offered in Greenbrier, Nicholas and Webster counties, as well.
While peer-led recovery groups and coaches are a new concept, McGee said he has noticed an increase in the number of individuals, like himself, who want to help others get through their struggles.
“I went to a training conference in Flatwoods back in March or April, and it was the first peer recovery support services training conference,” he said. “There were probably three hundred people there.”
Working with those who have substance abuse issues is difficult, but McGee tries to keep a positive attitude and just be the support they need.
“It’s frustrating and fulfilling all in the same minute some days,” he said. “It really is. You put a lot of effort into trying to help people, and they don’t follow up with it sometimes, but that’s the reality of it. That’s just the reality of addiction. I have people come in and they talk to me, and they’re interested in treatment. Then, if that doesn’t happen that minute, they’re gone, and I don’t see them again.
“I like trying to help people. I like trying to give back what I got.”
It doesn’t hurt that McGee is a people person and is known to quickly strike up conversations with strangers.
“That’s how I deal with my anxiety,” he said. “It’s a positive way to deal with it. Instead of being weirded out, I just start talking to people. I find that people are usually nice.
“That’s true in what I do,” he continued. “Just listening to people and letting them know that somebody cares about them. A lot of times I get people that, maybe they burned a lot of bridges in their life, and they think that they don’t matter or that people don’t care about them, and that’s not true. We all feel that way sometimes. If you can just talk to somebody or just listen, and let them know that somebody cares about them, it will help them realize who that person is in their life.”
It took someone listening to McGee, and more importantly, him listening to himself, for him to realize he wanted to change his life and address his substance abuse issues.
“I think for some people there is this real moment, like a black and white moment,” he said. “I don’t know. Mine was more of an accumulation of stuff. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I hear that, and that was true for me. I got arrested in 2013 for DUI and ended up in jail. I realized that was part of it, but there was other stuff before that, too. I think that was the biggest one. I realized that if I wanted things to be different, I was going to have to be the one to change.
“I was in the back of a State Police car,” he continued, “and stuff started coming out of my mouth. I’m like, ‘I’ve really got a problem. I’ve got a drinking and drug problem. I’ve had it for a long time.’ I didn’t even know where this was coming from. It’s not like I thought about it and planned it. It just started coming out of my mouth, and I’m telling this state trooper that’s taking me to jail that I’ve got some serious problems.”
Although McGee had that “aha” moment during his ride to jail, it took a little longer for him to actually start recovery.
“I totally went out and got all messed up as soon as they let me out of jail,” he said. “They let me out of jail on Saturday, and they put me on a PR bond, and they were like, ‘you can’t be drinking and doing drugs,’ and they told me to make sure to come to my hearing and everything.
“I went straight to the liquor store as soon as I got a ride,” he continued. “I woke up on Sunday morning, and I can remember them trying to get me to eat breakfast and I was out on the porch drinking [beer]. I was four beers into breakfast and didn’t want anything to eat. I was like, ‘man, you’ve got to stop this stuff. You’re doing it again. You know the consequences. You just went through some of the pretty bad ones and here you are again at nine o’clock on Sunday morning, you’re on your fourth beer. You can’t be like this.’”
McGee took advantage of the services offered by Seneca and entered the program, therapy session and the 12-step recovery program.
“That’s what made a big difference for me,” he said. “It made me look at my life and realize how unmanageable it had become.”
McGee is candid about his past and thinks it does help him with his job, but he also knows that each person is different, and they should never compare their struggles to anyone else’s.
“It’s not really about, ‘I’m not as bad as them,’ or ‘they were never as bad as me,’” he said. “It’s more about everybody’s personal experience. People bottom out. People go through stuff in their life, especially people struggling with substance abuse disorder. People get to a place where they accept that their life is unmanageable at different points. Some people get there sooner than others.
“People are really hurting on the inside,” he continued. “I know I was. Everybody thinks I was this fun loving party guy, and I was for awhile in my life. And then I wasn’t. But, I still had that front. People that saw me at a party on Saturday night thought I was wild and fun. They didn’t see me on Tuesday morning when I was drinking before I went to work or skipping work. You don’t let people see that part.”
McGee is now nearly seven years sober and is happy with the life he has made for himself.
“My life is great now,” he said. “I’m on a big gratitude kick in life. I have a lot of things to be grateful for. And all of that has been possible because of my sobriety and my recovery.
“Your life can be great, and it can be what you want it to be. You can do what makes you happy, and you can find happiness and fulfillment in stuff that you used to think you’d never like. It’s surprising the things that really bring joy in your life that you were missing out on.”
Whether he is working with a group or with individuals, McGee let’s them decide how they want to proceed because each person’s recovery is different.
“You’ve got to figure out how to live your life,” he said. “You can’t live your life in isolation. You’ve got to change your persons and your places and your things, and you’ve got to avoid that [bad] stuff in your life for a little while.
“Eventually, you’ve got to live your life on life’s terms. You’ve got to be able to deal with life and your own reality.
“This year and a half has been the biggest period of personal growth for me in my life,” he continued. “It’s been an amazing opportunity. I get to help people make better choices and better decisions in their life.”