Faces of recovery: 3 Steamboat Springs residents share stories of addiction, recovery
They come from different backgrounds and they were drawn to drugs and alcohol for different reasons. Henry Howard, Brent Reiter and Leilani Brooks are three Steamboat Springs residents who are sharing their stories with the hope of shining a light on the issue of addiction and recovery, offering hope to those still struggling to find sobriety.
Henry Howard — Falling back on foundation of faith, music
Henry Howard looks up at the ceiling as he contemplates the question, and then slowly, with carefully chosen words, he answers.
“I can be described by the relationships that I have,” Howard said when asked how he views himself. “I’m Julie’s husband, I’m Elijah’s dad and I’m a songwriter.”
He is also Dan and Sally’s son, Emily Barnhart’s brother, Cooper Howard’s brother and Rooney’s godfather. He said the relationships that surround him these days give him a clear vision of who he is and help keep him from slipping back into an old way of life.
“I’m loved. I’m really, really, loved,” Howard said during an interview inside St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where he serves as Service Corps director and youth coordinator.
He said there is not room in his day, or his heart, to go back to a lifestyle that consumed him for several years after he left the comfort of his hometown of Steamboat Springs for college in Fort Collins.
“I never really felt like I was an addict — I didn’t,” Howard said. “I was just another kid who was in college partying. It was culturally acceptable to just drink a lot, to drink too much.
“Today, if you see what kids are sharing on social media, in their Snapchat and Instagram, there are kids that are blackout drunk, and it looks fun, and that’s the expectation, that when you are 13 or 14 and think about a college that is what you do,” Howard said. “We look back on it as ‘The Glory Days,’ but I will tell you what wasn’t fun.”
Howard said he has lost friends — including ones that he was close to growing — to drugs and alcohol in a community that seemed to be immune to issues such as addiction.
Growing up in Steamboat, Howard played basketball, golf, football and lacrosse and was involved in a lot of different activities. He drank a few beers with friends every now and then, but was so busy, he said he didn’t have time to focus on the issues that were boiling up inside him.
In college at Colorado State University, many of those outlets he had found in Steamboat were no longer available. He quickly discovered alcohol and marijuana, which he said helped numb the feelings that were just coming to the surface.
By his junior year, when he really started to feel down, he realized the path he was following was not fun but destructive.
“There was something deep in my heart that said ‘this isn’t who I am.’ The things that I was doing were not me, and I knew deep inside of myself that this is not who I am — I’m different. I’m not that; I’m Henry,” Howard said. “I couldn’t go on living the way I had been living.”
Howard said he woke up one morning and knew it was time to change. It took time, and he said he suffered through bouts of depression before finally falling back on the two things that had always kept him grounded — faith and music.
By the time he was a senior in college, Howard had found a new purpose, and he returned to Steamboat with a desire to help young people.
He got involved with Come Let’s Dance and took several mission trips to Uganda. He started a music program at the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church that was designed to help young people find the connections they needed to make healthy, positive life choices. He also works as the development director at the Euzoa Baptist Church.
“I work alongside and consult with multiple community organizations, churches and nonprofits,” Howard said.
A few months ago he took over the position as program director of Music with Vision, a new program that uses music to help people make connections with young people who might be in danger of choosing a path that could lead to alcoholism or addiction. By making these connections early and by teaching these children about resiliency, Howard believes bad choices, like the ones he made, can be avoided, and children will be drawn down a more positive path.
“It was almost eight years ago when I bought a little computer and all this recording equipment and started inviting kids in here (the Episcopal church),” Howard said. “At first, it was just word of mouth, and it was a couple of kids with guitars, a couple of girls that wanted to sing and then we had this other girl that played the cello.
“We would come into this space, and we would give them a microphone, record songs together, and it became this really beautiful place for connections, for conversations and for what we call a safe place for kids to share their lives.”
Brent Reiter — Finding a new purpose in life
Brent Reiter knows how important change can be.
He sees the proof every morning when he looks in the mirror, and he sees a man that is living proof of what can happen when someone makes up their mind to change and is willing to leave the past where it belongs.
“My path has been to try to let go, a little bit, of expectations, and to let go of those kinds of regrets,” Reiter said. “It still bothers me on some days, but I am where I am now … I try to live every day and do my best … I need to be OK with where I am at right now and to know that the things that I am doing are the right things.”
Reiter has been clean and sober for 5 1/2 years, and today, he lives in Steamboat Springs with his wife, Sharon, and his dog Yuri. He goes to work every day at the Foundry Treatment Center and takes pride in helping people find the light of recovery that now shines in his life.
“I was nothing but a drain on my family and society,” Reiter said of the days when he was using drugs and alcohol. “When someone is able to find their way through that and into recovery — a sustainable life in recovery — they are not just saving themselves, they are saving their family, they are giving back to the community to any future employees, coworkers, employers and their church if they are involved in religious practice.”
Reiter had his first drink at 15.
“I knew right away that this was something that I enjoyed,” Reiter said. “I learned that I could take something and feel different — it felt good, it felt right and it felt like my purpose in life.”
A year later, Reiter was using marijuana and experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD.
“I fell in love with the excitement of it,” Reiter said. “I felt like I had found a family outside of my biological family.”
And this comes from a young man who enjoyed what he calls a stable and solid family life. His parents are still married today, and his dad was a career Air Force officer. He said his addiction was not the result of a broken home, or an abusive childhood.
“I wanted something different, and I thought this was it,” Reiter said. “I didn’t see it as a problem for a long time.”
Drugs and alcohol were all around Reiter as he grew up, and when one of his girlfriends got hooked on opioids, he didn’t see his problems with drinking and marijuana in the same light.
“I told myself, ‘at least I’m not an addict like that,’” he said. “All I do is smoke weed all day long and then go home and drink. I might occasionally take some pills, a hallucinogenic or something like that, but I don’t have that kind of problem.”
But as Reiter got older, something changed. Instead of partying with his friends, he found himself at home drinking alone.
“I would go out in the world and get what I needed to get done, done,” Reiter said. “Then I would go home alone and get high and play video games or watch television. I didn’t want to be around people much anymore, or at least not any more than was necessary.”
Reiter started experiencing alcohol withdrawal in between his drunken binges, and so he started seeing a counselor and working through a 12-step program.
Eventually, he would complete three different treatment programs, enjoying periods of sobriety, but always going back to drinking. Finally, on his fourth attempt, he entered a long-term program that required him to live in a residence for 12 months and then remain in the program for an additional six months while living outside the facility. It wasn’t easy, but at some point, Reiter said he bought into the program.
“It was a very special place for me — it saved my life,” Reiter said. “Eventually, I found that it was working. I realized that I felt better having done all the things that day the program was telling me to do. If they had left me alone to do what I really wanted, which was to read and be quiet and ignore everybody, I would not have felt that good. It felt good to live differently and that was the point that everything started to change for me. I started to believe that there was a real chance for me.”
Today, Reiter works at the Foundry Treatment Center in Steamboat as an addiction technician. He is studying to become a counselor, and hopefully, someday a therapist — goals the Foundry has supported. He said he loves his job, his coworkers and the people he is trying to help,
“It’s easy to get discouraged thinking about all the time I lost in my addiction,” Retier said.
But today, Reiter is thrilled to have found his purpose again.
Leilani Brooks — Following God and finding new life
It would be easy for Leilani Brooks to focus on what she could have lost.
Fourteen years of addiction cost Brooks relationships, friendships and time spent chasing an addiction to alcohol, cocaine and other drugs.
“Basically, I had to come to a point where I lost almost everything and all I had was God,” she said. “Then, I realized that he was all I needed.”
Brooks’ moment of awakening came a little more than two years ago, when she lost her freedom and nearly lost custody of her 3-year-old son, after she was found passed out in her car by the side of the road near her home in Arkansas.
The police put her in jail, and her son, who was in the back seat of the car, was taken into protective services. A few days later, a judge offered Brooks a choice — prison or treatment, and she chose to enter an intensive 12-month residential program where she eventually found God and discovered a new purpose in life.
Brooks now lives in Steamboat Springs where she is a real estate associate with Steamboat Sotheby’s International Realty, an active member of the Steamboat Christian Center and a Sk8 Church board member, where she helps others with recovery.
On this day, she used her own key to open the doors of Sk8 Church.
“I went from picking the locks to getting the keys. That is what (God) has done in my life,” Brooks said. “Name it, and I am the total opposite now. He has empowered me.”
Brooks road to addiction started early when she snuck out of her house at age 14 and ended up drinking with older kids. By 16, she had experimented with cocaine, and by 17, she was an addict.
She drifted in and out of treatment programs, was cited for driving under the influence more than once and was involved in several motor vehicle accidents while under the influence of drugs or alcohol or both.
But the tickets, court appearances and accidents didn’t phase her. She eventually became hooked on opioids while recovering from an accident, and in the final years of her addiction, she turned to methamphetamine.
“I was addicted to almost everything,” Brooks said.
It was a journey that Brooks had chosen, and as her life spiraled down, she admits she was living in denial until she was faced with the prospect of prison and the possibility of losing her son.
Ultimately, she was released from jail and entered a program called John 317, a faith-based recovery program that required her to follow a stringent set of rules, limited her access to the outside world and helped her form a new, meaningful relationship with God. During this time, Brooks only saw her son, who had gone to live with her parents, every three months.
For 12 months, Brooks immersed herself in the program where residents had no access to social media, could only listen to Christian music and got one 10-minute phone call and one visit each week.
“You had to learn to live on less and to just feed your spirit,” Brooks said. “Once you find your spirit, everything else falls into place.”
Today, Brooks goes to work every day, has been reunited with her now 5-year-old son and has rebuilt a relationship with her adoptive parents. She’s also hoping to start a new recovery program called Regenerations — a Christ-centered, 12-step recovery group — in Steamboat.
For her, the temptation to return to her former life is as distant as the day she snuck out of her house to drink beer for the first time.
“The desire has been lifted,” Brooks said. “That is a daily spiritual discipline. So just like I was living for the enemy, living for my addiction, and I had to chase it every day — now, I have to chase
God every day. I know as long as I am doing it every day, I’m not ever going to have to worry about being in addiction ever again.”
That vision has helped Brooks find a new life.
“I’m a child of God, clothed in righteousness, forgiven,” Brooks said. “I have new name, new desires, and a new heart. God has placed desires in my heart to help other women, men and women, but more so women, in addiction and being voice for them and seeing faith-based recovery in the valley.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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