PORTLAND — Julia Whyel recalled her first holiday gathering with her family after she became sober in 2011.
“My family is in Seattle,” Whyel, 33, said Nov. 19 over coffee at Hilltop Coffee on Munjoy Hill. “For me, it was just such a relief that I could be who I wanted to be for my family at a time that is really special for us.”
Whyel is the director of special events for The Family Restored, a city-based nonprofit since 2014, established in 2012 as a support group called Addict in the Family. The Family Restored now fights addiction and fosters recovery through support groups and scholarships to regional treatment centers.
Whyel was joined by the agency’s president, John Buro, 32, and board member Linda Drukman, 49. All three have lived through addiction and recovery, and devote their time now to telling families and individuals that recovery is possible with commitment, and tough choices.
Buro, who has been sober since 2007, recalled visits where his family wondered if he was going to steal money from them. He said it is as important to recognize that families of addicts need help, too.
“The family can heal even if the alcoholic or drug addict is not doing well,” he said. “It is hard for them to grasp that concept until they see other families doing that.”
During counseling sessions, Drukman, Whyel and Buro relate their own experiences, and impart the message that families need to set limits and make rules to avoid enabling addictive behaviors.
“You have to do the opposite of what you feel,” Buro said.
Families are welcomed and encouraged to continue in support groups, even if an addicted family member has relapsed.
“The commitment of those families who continue on no matter if their child is sober or isn’t sober is pretty inspirational,” said Drukman, who has been in recovery for 11 years.
Although The Family Restored was established as a support group, Buro said it was quickly evident that treatment opportunities were lacking for those without insurance or the means to pay what can cost thousands of dollars per month.
That problem is not new; it has been noted by Mayor Michael Brennan, Police Chief Michael Sauschuck and members of the recovery community, as the city grapples with increased heroin use and overdoses.
While there are privately run sober houses and treatment programs in the city, Milestone Foundation at 65 India St. offers the only detox facility, with 16 beds. Detox may be the most immediate need in the recovery process, Buro said.
Initially, their goal was $20,000 to place 10 people in treatment. In about 21 months, with fundraisers including 5K runs in Portland and a silent auction in Massachusetts, The Family Restored has raised about $150,000 and placed 40 people in treatment programs, Buro said.
“I was fortunate I could go into treatment the day I was ready,” Whyel said. “I just want to provide the same option to everyone else.”
The Family Restored website has a list of regional treatment facilities, sober houses and shelters, as well as an online application for people seeking treatment. Buro said demand is high and the requirements can be rigorous.
“We wanted to make sure the money went to someone who really wanted to take the steps and did not have the resources,” he said. “For every five that come in, maybe one will really follow through. (But) the stuff we are asking is not all that difficult.”
At a minimum, applicants are asked if they are ready to enter a 12-step program and possibly move for six months to enter a treatment program.
“We might not even ask people to relocate, but we need to see where the commitment is,” Buro said.
Drukman and Whyel were also able to set up a three-month, 12-step program for women at the Cumberland County Jail, and then place some released prisoners in outside treatment programs. They expect to start another women’s program in January, and establish one for men.
“I feel the most basic thing is, nobody chooses addiction,” Whyel said. “It is not a self- appointed disease and everybody has the right to care.”
Donations to The Family Restored can be sent to The Family Restored, P.O. Box 10116, Portland, ME 04101.
Julia Whyel, left, Linda Drukman and John Buro of The Family Restored, a Portland nonprofit providing support for people in recovery and families of addicts.