CLINTON TOWNSHIP — During the height of his addictions, Bob Hensley couldn’t have cared less about things he usually enjoyed, like music.
When his 24th birthday rolled around in 1979, it happened to coincide with a Friday pay day. Having gone through rehabilitation already — he began using alcohol and drugs in his teens as a means of fitting in — his first inclination was to celebrate the occasion sober. But then another, more forceful persuasion, almost like that of a bully, told him that he was going to use his drug of choice: heroin.
Now 57, Hensley hasn’t touched alcohol or illegal drugs in nearly 34 years.
“We’re not bad people trying to get good. We’re sick people trying to get well,” he said.
This year, the Clinton Township resident is one of 12 people from southeastern Michigan to be featured on a 2013 calendar produced through a partnership between Henry Ford Macomb Hospital, CARE of Southeastern Michigan and Greater Macomb Project Vox. This year, more calendars than ever — about 7,500 — are being distributed around the area with the goal of showing that recovery from substance abuse is possible by sharing real-life examples.
CARE is a Fraser-based agency that serves as an access point for substance-abuse treatment programs. Project Vox is a grassroots advocacy group that educates people about alcoholism and drug addictions, according to its website.
Each month in the calendar features the photo and name of a different person in recovery, each offering an inspirational message and quote.
“The idea is to show that this could be anybody. This can be your neighbor, a business owner — it could be anybody,” said Henry Ford Macomb communications specialist Sally Girard.
The ages of those in the calendar vary, as do the length of time they’ve been in recovery, she said. Some have been in recovery for few years, while others, like Hensley — the face of February — long ago gave up substance abuse.
After Hensley’s 24th birthday, he relapsed, eventually lost his job and, not for the first time in his life, hit rock bottom.
“The best part of me wanted to stay clean, and yet I went back out anyhow,” he said recently. “At that point, I think I was dealing with something that was more powerful than myself. I think I needed more than my own will and my own intelligence. Wanting to quit wasn’t going to be enough.”
Living in Detroit at the time, he enrolled for the second time in an inpatient treatment program at Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Center, and four months later moved into a halfway house, where he lived for more than a year-and-a-half.
He believes recovery is possible for every addict, though it’s more difficult for some than others, he said.
“What I try to compare it to is, if somebody had diabetes, you wouldn’t tell them, ‘Go ahead and eat sugar and don’t take your insulin; just use your willpower and you’ll be fine,’” Hensley said. “It is an illness, in my opinion. Not just a lack of moral fiber.”
But even today, Hensley doesn’t take his recovery for granted. He still attends support-group meetings regularly because the “collective recovery process” is critical to his own sobriety, he added.
Hensley said a common danger to addicts in recovery is the use of certain prescription drugs, like painkillers and tranquilizers. “One of my most challenging times to maintaining my sobriety was when I was prescribed prescription painkillers, and if it wasn’t for my program, I might have used heroin and alcohol again,” he added.
Nowadays, he serves as a beacon of hope for those who are freshly recovering, not only by being in the calendar or through his support group, but also through his day job working in the substance abuse and mental health field. Once sober, he went back to school, earned an master’s degree in social work from Wayne State University and graduated in 1985.
As a therapist, he used his degree and personal experiences to help treat people with substance abuse problems. For the last 16 years, he has worked for Community Network Services, a private nonprofit human services agency that provides mental-health services in Oakland County.
The main thing, he added, is not letting the stigma attached to addiction and recovery keep addicts from, firstly, admitting they have a problem, and, secondly, from seeking help. He said both professional help and self-help, like the kind he receives in support-group meetings, were critical to his recovery.
Monique Stanton, president and CEO of CARE, said the goal of the “Faces of Recovery” calendar is not only to address this stigma attached to addiction, but also to offer hope to people struggling with substance-abuse disorders by highlighting people who are both in recovery and actively participating in their communities.
“That’s the beauty of recovery,” Hensley said. “It allows you to participate fully in life again — to become part of the community again.”
Copies of the calendar can be picked up for free at CARE.
Also, Henry Ford will be delivering them to all of its Behavioral Health patients. The hospital’s Behavioral Health Services offers mental health and substance-abuse treatment services.
“It’s important to show support for people who are in recovery because it’s a continuing process,” Girard added.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance-abuse problem, CARE can be called at (586) 541-2273.