CLARK COUNTY — For the first time in 15 years, New Albany native Ginger Payne is beginning to truly be able to see herself, shining through the burden of addiction that has followed her for years.

Payne has become the first person to graduate from the newly implemented intensive outpatient treatment portion of Sunrise Recovery, a Clark County-based holistic approach to helping people in addiction gain their footing on life again.

“I always want people to know that there’s a chance for them to get better,” Payne said after her ceremony Wednesday at the Jeffersonville outpatient location. “Just because it didn’t work the first time doesn’t mean it’s not going to work. I know it didn’t work for me the first time.”

Payne’s struggles with addiction started when she was a teenager, exacerbated by her mother’s death when she was 17. A year later, her father was badly injured in an accident, and “that’s when things started to kind of unfold,” she said.

At first, it was prescription pain pills and some drinking, which at the time seemed to help push down the pain of losing her mother.

“I thought I had a hold on it, I really did,” Payne said. “I just didn’t. It slowly progressed and progressed.”

It wouldn’t take long for her to make the switch to heroin, and not long after that, to start injecting the drug.

“My addiction was getting so intense that the pills weren’t working any more,” Payne said. “There wasn’t a time I was scared to do it, I just kept going full-steam ahead.”

Eventually, Payne was living with her father at his nursing home. He was supportive and tried to help her through addiction — which he had previously experienced himself through alcohol — but others’ attempts weren’t enough. Payne had to get there on her own.

“He did everything he could to try to help me and I wasn’t responding to it the way I know he really wanted me to,” Payne said. “I loved him [but] no matter how much I loved anyone, [drugs] always came first. It’s all that mattered.”

She tried to get clean, but her first attempts didn’t stick; sometimes it was because she said she was trying to make others believe in her again, when she didn’t yet believe in herself.

After her father passed away, Payne was for the next year without a place to call home. During the day, she spent as much time as possible inside the public library on the computer just to have a place to be. She didn’t know where she was going to go each day when the library closed.

She recalled the contrast of the annual fall festival Harvest Homecoming bustling along the downtown streets nearby as she, with nowhere to go, hunkered down in an alley with all her belongings.

“Nobody wants me at their house because I’ve lied to everybody, I’ve betrayed everybody,” she said of that time period. “I don’t blame anybody for how they feel about addicts, I just ask for empathy in that no matter what someone does in their addiction, there is still a good side to them.”

She said that’s the kind of support she felt when she took the leap into seeking help again last fall at Sunrise.

The organization was started in late 2018 by Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, backed by a staff with experience to understand addiction — 75% to 80% of them have direct knowledge or are in recovery themselves.

The original location remains as a 36-bed inpatient program in Clarksville to help people in the early stages of detox and behavioral health while the outpatient addition, which began seeing patients in September, focuses on continued recovery support, helping those new in sobriety gain the tools they need to succeed.

When Payne first spoke with Melissa Goforth, certified peer recovery coach and manager of the newly opened outpatient center, Payne’s father had just passed away and she was homeless. She asked Goforth to pray for her. While she wasn’t able to be admitted right away until Sunrise, still new at the time, was credentialed to be able to network with her insurance, Goforth stuck with her, encouraging her to stay strong and safe during that time.

“I had never experienced any type of professional to just care that much,” Payne said. “There was so long where I felt like the world was doing this to me, that God was doing this to me, that it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t want to take any responsibility.

“I think Melissa was very loving and caring but there’s tough love mixed in with that.”

When it came time to start the initial steps of her recovery with the inpatient program, Payne was hesitant — in part because she wasn’t sure she was ready to face sober the issues that had been festering inside of her.

“I remember my counselor was like ‘are you ready? because all that grief is going to hit you in here, you’re going to feel it,’” Payne said. “But this is the safest place to be able to work through it.”

She completed the outpatient treatment in February and then opted to continue her treatment when the intensive outpatient program opened in fall.

Prior to opening the outpatient portion, Sunrise staff helped clients transition back into the community through other community partners and programs. Staff say they’re happy to be able to offer that within their own organization as well now, when it is something that is the right fit for a client. And not everyone goes through the inpatient part — for some, it may work best to start with the outpatient treatment.

“It’s been a nice link,” Goforth said.

“We are very committed to Southern Indiana and we want to continue what we started doing,’ Dr. Kapoor, the founder and CEO, said Wednesday. “We took up a mission and we want to do it right.”

Goforth said she’s witnessed Payne learn to “take control of her life and her destiny,” Goforth said. “I’m just so proud of her it makes me cry.”

She added that Payne is proof, inspiration for others who may think it can’t be done. Goforth said that can be especially true with people in the clutches of heroin, who may say ‘I just don’t think there’s anything for me, I don’t think my life can get any better,’” Goforth said. “But look what she’s done in nine months.”

Payne said she never intended to go down the path she did, but she certainly intends to see her way out. She now has a steady job and is planning to pursue her education. She wants others who are struggling to know there is hope.

“I know it’s possible,” she said. “I know there’s always light on the other side of things. I believe in God and I know that’s who carried me through all this. I have to believe in that because I have to believe that somewhere, my parents are seeing me do the right thing.”

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