Recovery Consists of Giving Back

East Falmouth — When Kevin Mikolazyk, 43, entered Gosnold on Cape Cod’s detox facility in 2004, he was addicted to alcohol, cocaine, opiates and “anything he could get his hands on,” he said.

Six months earlier, he was homeless on the streets of Fresno, California, living out of a truck, with two bags of clothes to his name…

…He moved to Fresno to follow his friend and basketball star Chris Herren, who’d been drafted by the Denver Nuggets. At that time, Herren, founder of the Herren Project, a national nonprofit group that works to steer addicts toward recovery, also struggled with addiction to painkillers. This “geographical cure,” Mikolazyk says, didn’t help — it only made things worse.

While in California, Mikolazyk became hooked on opioids, a habit he says is unlike addiction to alcohol and cocaine. His doctor wrote monthly prescriptions for the powerful painkillers with the same wonted oblivion that characterized the “first wave” of the opioid crisis, which began in the early 1990s when opioid-related deaths spiked in connection with the rise in prescriptions of the drugs — and their presence in combination medications — to treat pain.

To support his lifestyle, Mikolazyk turned to crime — forging fake prescriptions, stealing. He was arrested more than 10 times and convicted on several misdemeanor charges, he said

In 2004, Mikolazyk flew back to Massachusetts to seek treatment. His parents drove him from Fall River to Falmouth to begin the program at Gosnold. He scarcely remembers the ride.

“The only thing I remember is the sign out front,” Mikolazyk said. It said “Gosnold: A Bridge Back.”

Mikolazyk spent five days at Gosnold in the throes of withdrawal before he was transferred under state funding to Transitional Support Services, a program once tied to Gosnold that, according to the state’s website, provides housing for those between “acute treatment and residential rehabilitation.” He would spend 42 days there before moving into a sober house in Falmouth.

But the days and months were harrowing, Mikolazyk said. While not considered life-threatening, withdrawal from opioids is “like the worst flu you’ve ever had.”

“Your skin crawls. Your legs are flopping like fish,” he said.

Between chronic sleeplessness and grueling physical pain, Mikolazyk remembers the support he received from Gosnold staffers throughout detox — many of whom were in recovery themselves.

He credits them for carrying him through.

“It was the most painful thing I’ve ever been through,” he said. “I owe them everything.”

After he transferred to a sober house in North Falmouth, Mikolazyk said he was “fully networked with people in long-term recovery.” He’d made it through the worst, he said.

Mikolazyk, now executive director of the Herren Project, a nonprofit group that works to steer addicts toward recovery,celebrated 15 years of sobriety this month by spending time with a group of roughly 70 men at an addiction treatment center in South Carolina called Oaks Recovery.

The Herren Project, which works in collaboration with Gosnold, provided scholarships to more than two dozen of those men — all recovering addicts — to seek treatment.

Mikolazyk joined the board of directors immediately after its conception in 2011, which coincided with Herren’s ESPN documentary film “Unguarded,” detailing the former NBA star’s struggle with opioid addiction.

Having overcome their addiction separately, the childhood friends now devote their lives to helping those with substance use disorder.

The Herren Project now has 16 employees, and helps thousands of people every year through online support groups and virtual classrooms run by clinicians. The goal, Mikolazyk said, is to support individuals and families through their journey to recovery. Last year, the group helped more than 1,300 people find and fund treatment services.

Elizabeth Folcarelli, chief operating officer of Gosnold on Cape Cod, said the facility works closely with the Herren Project on an array of initiatives designed to help vulnerable Cape communities where addiction is most acute.

Every year, the Herren Project corrals a team to run in the Falmouth Road Race, Folcarelli said. The fundraising effort supports sober living scholarships for patients being discharged from Gosnold.

Folcarelli said Mikolazyk runs the race shoeless.

“He’s the only person I know who can run the Falmouth Road Race barefoot,” she said.

Chris Herren was a basketball legend when I was growing up. Everyone in Massachusetts who played knew about his skills. A decade later, his life’s struggles would be taught in health classes all over as an example of how addiction doesn’t discriminate.

Residents on Cape Cod know this all too well. This isn’t the Cape Cod I grew up on, but it’s the one I inhabit now, much like any small towns in this country.

I also have a lot of friends that have been affected by this disease. That's what addiction is, a disease. We all know people addicted to alcohol, cigarettes, gambling, coffee, etc. and sometimes people get addicted to things that have a stronger grasp.

That’s why we need to support places like Gosnold on Cape Cod. Until you’ve witnessed someone close to you call a hotline to check on the availability of “detox beds”, you don’t realize how many people there are that want help, but can’t get it.

Addiction has so many layers. I know too many people affected and have had too many private conversations not to bring the conversation here. Cape Cloth is so much more than clothing. It’s about the Cape Cod community and using clothing to bring about social consciousness.

I want to say congratulations to Kevin on his sobriety and thank you to Elizabeth Folcarelli, Gosnold, and the Herren Project for their work in the Cape Cod community.