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Alter Eagle podcast’s first season highlights addiction recovery

Butler Eagle’s new podcast launch features recovery experts, guest speaker Rep. Mike Kelly
 Laura Crago, Joseph Mahoney, Dr. C. Thomas Brophy and Alyssa Vorel
From left to right, Laura Crago, Joseph Mahoney, Dr. C. Thomas Brophy and Alyssa Vorel engage in a conversation during a live preview of The Alter Eagle at Vintage Coffee House in downtown Butler on Thursday, Jan. 25. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle

To his son, who suffers from substance use disorder and is incarcerated, U.S. Rep Mike Kelly, R-16th, said his comments can sometimes sound like a “half-time speech.”

“You have to know that Mom and I are going to be there ... come hell or high water, and you always have a home to come home to,” he shared, repeating the words he told his son. “Don’t ever think that you could become somebody we don’t love.”

The ravages of addiction — the guilt, shame, stigma and feelings of worthlessness — and, conversely, the power of familial support and human connection, took center stage at Vintage Coffeehouse on Main Street on Thursday, Jan. 25, as the Alter Eagle offered a live preview into its first episode and invited community members to a conversation with guest speaker Kelly and later a panel of recovery experts.

Kelly likened addiction, which rewires the brain’s neural pathways, to a chronic illness — like cancer — that no one would wish upon themselves, and one that, along with community support, requires treatment and patience.

“We have to realize that these are people that are really seeking help, and there’s nobody that feels worse about them than them,” he said. “That’s the part that people don’t really understand. That’s the stuff that keeps you up at night, that’s the stuff that when you wake up in the morning, you say, ‘There’s no sense in me getting out of bed today.’”

Dr. C. Thomas Brophy, medical director of the Ellen O’Brien Gaiser Center; executive director Joe Mahoney; and clinical supervisor Alyssa Vorel discussed the neuroscience behind addiction, and the intersection between mental health, trauma and substance use. The group was later joined by Rachel Shuster, who took Vorel’s place with podcast host Laura Crago and spoke about stigma and harm reduction.

Mahoney noted that 70% of adolescents in addiction treatment have a history of trauma, which Brophy shared could vary from individual to individual, from food scarcity, neglect, sexual abuse, to witnessing domestic violence or divorce. Trauma — like substance use — shapes the brain, the panel discussed.

In their conversation spanning addiction, trauma, mental health and community resources, human connection remained a recurring theme.

“Why doesn’t jailing somebody (in active addiction), incarcerating somebody for a year and a half, two years, why doesn’t that work?” Dr. Brophy said. “Its because nothing had been done to realign those neural pathways ...”

“That takes work, that takes time and that takes support and that takes community,” he said. “Addiction doesn’t happen in a silo. And addiction impacts everybody in the community. And so, you know, really the entire community has to be a part of that healing.”

Treating addiction holistically, Mahoney said, means looking at the mind, body and spirit.

“We have physical health, we have behavioral health, mental health, emotional health, spiritual health and social health,” Vorel said. “All those assets are most likely wrecked during addiction ... we treat every one of those facets in recovery in so many different ways.”

Treating addiction holistically includes bringing family along on the conversation.

“We’re all a product of our family,” Mahoney said. “We have to mobilize that family unit, and that’s going to look different for different people. Because we all know that not everybody has the kind of, you know, traditional nuclear family unit that we’re talking about. So, for some people, mobilizing the family unit is a friend in the community that we can pull in for support.”

One’s family and home environment also shapes the way people express stigma, Mahoney said.

“Stigma comes from learned behaviors from the generations that have come before us of what’s appropriate to talk about, what’s not,” he said.

Stigma seeps into our language, Shuster noted, influencing the way substance use and recovery from addiction is discussed, and can even have ramifications for how people in addiction are treated by clinicians and nurses.

When describing someone with addiction, she noted, the term addict should be avoided.

“It’s a label, and it’s placing someone’s entire identity in that word,” she said before the event. “We all wear so many hats. You know, I’m not just a mom, I’m not just a sister, I’m not just a registered nurse. I wear so many different hats and that label doesn’t describe me as a total human.”

Instead, Shuster opts for ‘person-first’ language and using terms like ‘person with a substance use disorder,’ or ‘a person who uses drugs.’

“It takes a lot of shame away from this diagnosis,” she said. “And shame is what keeps us sick.”

“When I think of stigma, a lot of times, I think it’s historical,” Mahoney said. “These are topics that, you know, 50 years ago, 40 years ago, 20 years ago — this never would have happened. People wouldn’t have gathered to hear a talk on addiction.”

Tune in

Season 1 one of the Alter Eagle’s podcast features Rep. Kelly, Dr. Brophy, Mahoney, Vorel, Shuster, elected officials and people in recovery. The first episode features Brophy and Mahoney and will drop Feb. 5 on all streaming platforms.

Tammy Schuey, general manager of the Butler Eagle and board member of the Ellen O’Brien Gaiser Center, said the podcast’s first season will help educate the public on substance use and highlight voices important to the conversation.

As the number of overdose deaths climbed in Butler County at the height of the opioid epidemic, making countless headlines, Schuey said she “could not stand by and do nothing.”

“Addiction knows no boundaries,” Schuey said. “It’s affected so many people in our community and nobody wants to be suffering from addiction.”

Laura Crago, Joseph Mahoney, Dr. C. Thomas Brophy, Alyssa Vorel and Rachel Shuster
From left, Laura Crago, Joseph Mahoney, Dr. C. Thomas Brophy, Alyssa Vorel and Rachel Shuster following the live preview of The Alter Eagle at Vintage Coffee House in downtown Butler. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle
Alter Eagle Podcast sign
The Alter Eagle Podcast sign sits on a table before a live preview at Vintage Coffee House in downtown Butler on Thursday, Jan. 25. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle
Laura Crago
Laura Crago, Eagle podcast producer, cracks a smile as she is being introduced during a live preview of The Alter Eagle at Vintage Coffee House in downtown Butler in Thursday, Jan. 25. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle
Laura Crago
Laura Crago, Eagle podcast producer, talks with her hands during a live preview of The Alter Eagle at Vintage Coffee House in downtown Butler on Thursday, Jan. 25. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle
Laura Crago
Laura Crago, Eagle podcast producer, listens closely to U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th, during a live preview of The Alter Eagle at Vintage Coffee House in downtown Butler on Thursday, Jan. 25. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle
U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16, chats with Butler Eagle general manager Tammy Schuey and Laura Crago
From left, U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th, chats with Butler Eagle general manager Tammy Schuey and Laura Crago, Eagle podcast producer, following a live segment of The Alter Eagle at Vintage Coffee House in downtown Butler on Thursday, Jan. 25. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle
Laura Crago
Laura Crago, Eagle podcast producer, leads a conversation during a live preview of The Alter Eagle at Vintage Coffee House on Thursday, Jan. 25. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle
Rachel Shuster
Rachel Shuster talks during a live preview of The Alter Eagle at Vintage Coffee House in downtown Butler on Thursday, Jan. 25. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle
Laura Crago
Laura Crago, Eagle podcast producer, ponders her thoughts before the second segment of a live preview of The Alter Eagle at Vintage Coffee House in downtown Butler on Thursday, Jan. 25. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle
Joseph Mahoney
Joseph Mahoney talks about stigma during a live preview of The Alter Eagle at Vintage Coffee House on Thursday, Jan. 25. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle
U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16
U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th, talks during a live preview of The Alter Eagle at Vintage Coffee House in downtown Butler on Thursday, Jan. 25. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle
Rachel Shuster
Rachel Shuster listen attentively from the crowd during a live preview of The Alter Eagle at Vintage Coffee House in downtown Butler on Thursday, Jan. 25. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle
The empty seat of the host before the live preview of The Alter Eagle at Vintage Coffee House in downtown Butler on Thursday, Jan. 25. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle

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