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Erika's Story


Erika Shortway is a person in long term recovery that has turned her experience with her own struggles with addiction into hope to inspire others. She has dedicated her life to helping those affected by addiction. Erika has worked in the addiction/recovery field for 6 years and currently is the Manager of Recovery Services at CARES Recovery Center in Rockaway, NJ.



I don’t want to be anonymous I want to talk about this and I want to break the stigma and shatter the illusion that this needs to be shameful because it’s not. I think its very empowering to be able to tell your story and talk about getting through that darkness and coming into recovery.


I was watching the Super Bowl and there was a commercial about the heroin epidemic through the National Counsel for Addiction and Alcoholism.

I was so inspired and moved by it. I Googled it because I was just so amazed that a super bowl spot commercial which you know is a lot of money, raised awareness about this epidemic.

So I went on their website and it said look for things in your local community so I did that. Through there I found CARES - Center for Addiction Recovery Education & Success


Addiction is in my family, recovery is also in my family. So I know it’s not a conversation we can’t talk about, we’ve talked about many different times of someone struggling in our family but now I really like to shed light on the solution and people don’t have to die in vain when they die of an overdose, we can talk about it like okay that happened but that is more of a reason to fight as hard as we do for solutions to this serious serious problem in America.


There is so much focus on the person that is struggling and it needs to be about that but also for themselves too – telling them to get connected to a support group that is going to support and encourage their choices on how to handle this.

You have some people that have the approach of let me kick them out, let me cut all ties and that’s welcome but then you have other families that don’t went to kick them out that don’t want to cut all ties and they need to be supported too because there are certain support groups that would tell them that you are enabling and so we hate the word enabling here and not to say that’s not a topic that a family member can talk about and say that they felt that they have done in the past to extreme levels.


I want to be careful not to blame the family if they do choose to kick them out or if they do choose to do too much. It is so unique and diverse, what works for you might not work for you and what works for you might kill you. It’s hard. I wish it was one size fits all but that’s not it.


My older sister was my biggest support. She knew who I truly was and she knew where addiction took me and the person that I had become through it was not my true self and was not who I was. She believed in me in my darkest moments like looking visibly not like myself, she would look at me like I was still Erika and that meant so much to me. So just still believing in that person and making them feel like a human through it all because I was still in there, I was small, that voice was there though, my Erika voice was very subtle but in there and when my sister would look at me like a human and not like the rest of the world that made me feel hopeful like I could get this.

We could say she could have been under the category of enabling in the respect that she never ever ever wanted to give up on me. That’s where we even try to get rid of that word because to me she loved me and supported me through it all no matter what I had done until the very end when I had gotten so bad that she had to walk away.


In some fellowships families go to these support groups and they are told kick them out, don’t talk to them and NO I don’t think that works and it’s interesting that I say that because my family had to cut all ties from me, the only person that answered the phone for me at the end was my grandmother but nobody had the heart to tell her what was really really going on at that point for me.

So it’s interesting that I have this outlook where I say no you shouldn’t do that even though that is what worked for me but again that was back in 2011, this epidemic I mean it was big then but it is bigger now. I am not saying keep them in your house when they are stealing from you and causing you immense harm but there is a way to see how they are struggling, protect your house and protect your self. Let’s say there are little kids in the house you can’t have someone who is actively using but maybe trying to support them by getting into a homeless shelter if they are not ready to get into treatment or if they can’t get into treatment because that is a big barrier is getting someone when they are ready into treatment.

Maybe getting them, I mean we have scholarships sometimes where get people into hotel rooms in transition of that waiting list to get into treatment if they don’t have that platinum insurance so giving them food cards instead of cash. There are so many ways to not make them feel completely abandoned. Even though in some cases it gets to the point where you have to stop talking to them but have you exhausted all different solutions to support them, which is the biggest thing.

I want to be careful not to blame the family if they do choose to kick them out or if they do choose to do too much. It is so unique and diverse, what works for you might not work for you and what works for you might kill you. It’s hard. I wish it was one size fits all but that’s not it.


I think that connection, identification and support in all of those areas are these three pillars that really help someone come to their own truth because I think everyone inside has that wisdom and it’s just getting that guidance to get there. I think that is what peers are really good at is giving them that support to get to their own truth whatever that may be.


This is not what we were dealing with 20 years ago or 10 years ago. Even the mentality of let them hit rock bottom, people don’t have a chance to hit rock bottom right now, they are dying.

Fentanyl has changed the game so we really need to look at different approaches because what we have done is not working. The type of support families have gotten in the past may have worked then but we need to evolve to what is going on right now so we need to get more support avenues.


We (CARES) are non-clinical, we are peer driven so when they come in it is advice but it is not this strong suggestion, more or less let me hear what you are doing, what you have done, how it has worked so okay what you are saying is you have done a, b and c maybe try d, c and f. Or other parents have done or other husbands or wives or siblings have done this. In fact let me connect you to another sibling or another parent or another husband that has been through this so that you also have the identification.

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