Breaking the Stereotypes

For 17 years, Carrie Cunningham has been working on and off as a hairdresser, “I graduated high school, went to beauty school, then went straight to work.  This job I have now is the only other job I’ve had other than doing hair.” Yet Carrie has a story that shows how much she has to offer to her family and community, thanks in part to Medicaid.

The job that Carrie has now is working as a peer recovery support specialist or “recovery coach.”  Medicaid has helped Carrie move forward to be healthy herself and work to help others overcome drug addiction.  Carrie knows first-hand what it is like to work while raising children, face divorce, time in prison, struggling with and then overcoming addiction, and now giving back to her community as a recovery coach.  Each step of the way, Carrie has had Medicaid to help her. 

While Carrie is a successful recovery coach today, she had challenges to meet and overcome to become a success story.  Even growing up as a child she remembers having a medical card so she could see the doctor for check-ups and health issues, including gallbladder and tonsils surgeries and a few tooth extractions. After her high school graduation and during her first marriage when she was 18 years old, Carrie went uninsured for a few years before she signed up for Medicaid in 2005 when she became pregnant. Signing up at the local DHHR (Department of Health and Human Resources), Carrie wanted her first daughter Presley to have a healthy start and have proper health care. Carrie had two more daughters during her marriage.

In early adulthood as Carrie herself was getting married, her parents divorced and Carrie says, “It just done something to me and I started drinking.” Carrie married young and ended up in her own difficult divorce. She faced the challenges of being a single mom of three children. Medicaid provided for Carrie during these difficult times.

Pictured Left to Right with Carrie (middle) - Her daughters Peyton, Paisley, Presley 

Carrie was best friends with her brother during their childhood and early adulthood, He ended up in prison serving a sentence for theft, and during that time she was caught up in her own drug abuse and even ended up selling drugs.  She understands today that each step she made her own choices until she found herself caught in drug addiction.

Looking back, Carrie sees today that she had to reach a critical turning point in her life.  To move past drug abuse - and refocus her life in a positive direction – Carrie knows now that she “needed some consequences as a wake-up call because I’ve never had any.” Well, the moment came when her best friend and brother had an ischemic stroke and eventual died, after his own sobriety journey of just one year.  In 2015, she realized “I didn’t want to die but I just wanted it to be all over with. You know, I would try to do better, wanted to be a good mom but I was on rock bottom.  No house, no job, no car, my beauty license expired, I just couldn’t get it together.”

Carrie did spend 15 months trying to get herself together, living with her grandmother and daughters, but the consequences of her bad choices started to snowball. Carrie was arrested for drug possession and was given probation.  She failed a drug test and ended up spending 13 days at the local regional jail before being sentenced, followed up by another 13 days before being transferred to the Tygart Valley DOC facility.  There Carrie served a 7-month sentence.

And then she receives “the good news” of her opportunity for a new life at Recovery Point.  Carrie had submitted an application early in her tenure at the Tygart Valley facility after a woman on her prison transport bus mentioned the program. 

When Carrie went back for a reconsideration to Judge Bloom, with the Recovery Point acceptance letter, he agreed she could take that opportunity at Recovery Point. Carrie is thankful to Judge Bloom, “He saved my life.”

Recovery Point gave Carrie the structure and support she needed to get off drugs and learn to work for what she wants for herself and her family.  “It is strict and pretty intense, but it works!  Girls when they first get there in the first few months, they don’t want to do the hard work, I was that girl. I thought it was going to be like Sandra Bullock’s 28 days movie [laughing], eating snacks and watching programs.  But the girls at the end of the program, girls are praising the program.  I can live a meaningful life today, it saved my family, and I can give back to the community.  You have to grow through that program.”

And Medicaid was there for Carrie again – when the Recovery Point staff enrolled her into the health insurance program, so she could “go to the doctor and get regular checkups.”  Medicaid was not only there for Carrie and other program participants, but it is also the single most important payer of substance use disorder treatment and recovery services in West Virginia.

With Medicaid to help, and people who gave her second chances, Carrie will soon fill the role as a guardian to a newborn and her sibling, “I’ve got to do it, nobody else will.”

Carrie has almost completed her probation period and continues to work and share her story along with devoting her career to helping other addicts recover.  West Virginians Together for Medicaid thanks Carrie for standing up for Medicaid by sharing her personal story. We are supportive of Carrie sharing her story and breaking the stereotypes which surround social safety net programs like Medicaid.  

If you are interested in sharing your Medicaid or CHIP story, reach out to us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/WVTFM/) or Twitter @WVTFMedicaid by sending us a message or give our Story Collection Coordinator, Lara Foster, a call 304-702-6708. Your story can help more West Virginians understand how important Medicaid is to our state’s families.

West Virginians Together for Medicaid