Trudy Salas lay in bed on a cold night two weeks ago, unable to fall asleep. She knew a bit of pot was stashed around somewhere and a voice told her it might help with getting some shut-eye. But Salas, a recovering addict, had already been sober for about a month.

"There's a part of your brain that fights that. But then the addiction is really strong and it will tell you things to justify using it," Salas told The Guam Daily Post. "That's a funny thing, because one of the things keeping me up was saying to myself, 'You cannot relapse this time, you've made it like a month.'"

In the end, the voice won.

Salas shared her experience on YouTube. She also read an open letter to the governor and other officials about her petition to open up rehabilitation centers and classes.

"I did this because apparently the health of addicts and recovering addicts are not essential. ... An addict dies every day, but these centers help addicts change their lives. They help the ones who want to change their lives," Salas said. "There's no cure for addiction – none. There's only the fellowship, the camaraderie, the people who have been there, who are there to teach us what they have learned. ... And without these classes, these treatment centers, these people, there are relapses. There are deaths."

While Guam is under lockdown restrictions under the current executive order due to the pandemic, treatment centers are holding group sessions remotely. This is the case for New Beginnings – the substance abuse treatment branch of the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center – and the Salvation Army Lighthouse Recovery Center.

Both opened in-person sessions under Pandemic Condition of Readiness 3, with limitations and precautions.

The Post did not hear back from the Oasis Empowerment Center, where Salas is a client, but she confirmed classes opened during the less restrictive PCOR status – also with precautions – and group sessions continue now as Zoom meetings.

However, the remote nature of these meetings makes it easy to get distracted and attendance isn't as robust as the in-person classes, she said. Salas said she needs the intimate connection and support that in-person classes provide.

With classes at Oasis, clients learn about a matrix, which helps explain their addiction, and are able to share their feelings and how they are dealing with those emotions. Zoom classes are essentially slide shows, "because that's all we can do," Salas said.

"I feel very disconnected with the Zoom classes and we don't really learn as much as we would in (an in-person) class. ... Hearing their voices really helps me, but it's still not the same."

In recovery

The 20-year-old Salas has been in recovery for about two years. Her drugs of choice, as they are called in recovery, are marijuana and alcohol.

Her alcohol use is more recent, beginning when she was 17 or 18 years old, when her sister left for Kansas. Salas said she felt abandoned.

"She left and I just felt like I needed something to fill that void because she was like a second mom to me," she said. "I would drink every day. As soon as I got up I would have alcohol and I'd sleep because I was really, really drunk."

To mask the smell of whiskey in the morning and hide it from her parents, Salas said she would pour it into her coffee.

"When I went to one of my therapy sessions ... I was drinking coffee and whiskey, and that's when my mom and my doctor sat me down. They were like, 'You need to go to treatment. ... That's how I found Oasis," Salas said.

She relapsed twice. Salas was sober for a year before the first relapse, during the prior shutdown. Classes then opened again and she had gone a month before using marijuana again recently.

Salas was able to sleep that night but said she entered the next day feeling ashamed and disappointed. Then she made the YouTube video.

'You tend to isolate yourself'

"That's the thing about addiction, it's very strong. The cravings are very strong. And if you don't stay connected with other recovering addicts, you tend to isolate yourself completely. And that's basically what I did," she said.

The first thing Salas does after waking up is have her coffee, smoke some cigarettes and watch TV. She tries to keep herself occupied, and her mind off the cravings.

It's been difficult but Salas said she and some fellow clients have taken up walking together on some weekdays to stay connected.

"I just want to make sure people who are not addicts and believe that people who are addicted should be locked up and that will fix the problem, (know) it will not," she said.


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