If addiction has a face, you wouldn’t expect it to be that of Akelia Creggett. This Jefferson Regional employee, who is a wife, mother of three and an Army Reserve vet, is unfailingly positive and quick to share a laugh. But she is also quick to share the fact that drugs and alcohol nearly ended her life, and she is now driven to help others through a new program available at the hospital.
Speaking From Experience
“I started drinking at about 11 years old,” the Pine Bluff native recalls. “At 16, the doctor told me if I didn’t stop, I wouldn’t live to see my 21st birthday, because my liver and kidney levels were so elevated.” Today, Akelia is sober and serving as a Peer Recovery Specialist at Jefferson Regional, a position that allows her to mentor others who are facing the same challenges.
“I’ve been in recovery for a long time, but actually being sober, it’s been about four years now,” Akelia says. Childhood abuse led her to addiction until it got to the point where “it just started to control me. It ran my life. When I was about 18 or 19, I told my godfather about everything that had happened and what was going on. I was a good Christian kid on the outside, but I knew it would catch up with me eventually, and I was tired – I was ready to stop. He helped me get into recovery, and I started therapy. I went to 12-step meetings, which I still do, and that’s how my recovery started. And now I give back by being a peer.”
“I walk alongside of them the whole way.”
Akelia is certified as a drug and alcohol counselor in training, and she is currently working toward being licensed. At Jefferson Regional, she is based in the Emergency Department. “I help those who come in with intoxication or substance abuse disorder. Now they’ve merged with mental health, so if they come in with minor mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, I also help those individuals. We find their pathway of recovery, kind of what works for them, and I walk alongside of them the whole way there. So I’ve had people who came to the ED, and when they were discharged we got them into rehab. They completed rehab, we got them into transitional living and they’re doing good now. They’re working and I still see them at least once or twice a month. We might go eat or we’ll go to a meeting together or something like that.”
The Peer Recovery position at Jefferson Regional is paid for by a grant from the Arkansas Rural Health Partnership and is one of only a few in the state. “I think the drug and alcohol problem in South Arkansas is about the same as everywhere else,” Akelia says, “it’s just the recovery that’s different. Other places like Little Rock have way more resources than we do. For instance, if you don’t have insurance, the only residential treatment facility is in Warren, and if they’re booked you just have to wait. If you don’t have someone waiting there with you to say ‘hey, let’s go to some meetings, or let’s get together and talk about things’ you can just fall off the map and not go through recovery at all.”
Peer Recovery Specialists are also beginning to show up in many places. “We’re in hospitals, sheriff’s departments, re-entry programs, and any type of treatment facility. I love the advocacy part of it, because if they allow me to, I get to speak to families and try to help them understand the situation. I talk to parents and coach them through how to deal with their loved one because sometimes they don’t really know how, they say “why don’t they just stop?” and it doesn’t work like that.”
“There is still a great stigma in our community.”
An additional challenge for some people with addiction issues is the skepticism surrounding mental health treatment in African-American families. “There is still a great stigma in our community,” Akelia says. “At one point I was hospitalized on the psychiatric floor at UAMS because I wanted to commit suicide. I had so much going on … I wanted to stop but I couldn’t. When I went home, the first thing my grandmother said to me was, ‘I heard you went to the crazy floor.’ At first, I ignored it, but then people kept kind of chastising me, saying ‘are you really going to therapy? Your childhood wasn’t that bad.’ I mean, how bad does it have to get? I would tell them I’m trying to be honest. I’m trying to fix the generational curses that you created, that you didn’t want to get help for.”
Akelia is married to Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy Marquis Creggett, and the couple has three children, ages 4, 2, and 1 year old. They are very active in New Life Church and working with the church to bring a recovery program into Pine Bluff. “I had an opportunity to work here or in Little Rock, and I turned the Little Rock position down. I knew there were more resources there that could make the job a little easier but I’m from Pine Bluff. This is my community, these are my people, and I wanted to come back and help. Also, the job is very flexible. The biggest rule of a peer is to keep your own recovery first, so even if I’m at work, if I need to go to a meeting I can go to a meeting.”
As for the future, Akelia has high hopes. “I expect to raise up a generation of peers. Right now, it’s me and maybe one or two other peers in this area. But I’d like to get people in recovery and to the point where they want to give back, and we can build up that generation of peers to break this thing. When my kids get older, I don’t want to skirt around the issues and try to shield them, because they are going to be exposed to things in the world. And even at the appropriate time to share certain parts of my story so I can help them to not go down the same path.”