Former Addict Now Hooked On Helping Others

Dec 13, 2018

On this edition of Making a Difference; Normalizing Mental Health Conversations, we meet Kendall Swanson, a Springfield Glendale High School graduate, who at 16, was prescribed opiates after a trip to the dentist.  By age 18, she was addicted to the drugs.

The Community Foundation of the Ozarks, along with the Springfield Greene County Health Department, and Burrell Behavioral Health, are partnering with others in the community to conduct a study of mental health and substance abuse services.  The purpose is to analyze the current state of mental health services available, assess the needs of the community, and address the gap between the two.  As part of this effort, this season’s Making a Difference presents, Let’s Talk About It! Normalizing Mental Health Conversations.  

“I very clearly remember when I took that first opiate pill” says Kendall Swanson.  “I felt this sense of ease and comfort I’ve been looking for all my life. That was what set in motion the chain of events that would become a dark and miserable place of my life for years to come.”

Kendall Swanson kicked the habit of alcohol, opiates, and heroin, and is now working to help others fight addiction.
Credit Brent Swanson

Today, 26 year old Kendall Swanson has been clean and sober for over 5 and-a- half years.  She’s eager to share her story of addiction and recovery and is speaking to us from the BRC Recovery Center in Austin Texas.  It’s the same center where Kendall was successfully treated for alcohol, opioid, and heroin addiction, and where she’s been employed the last 4 years using her personal experience, knowledge and training as a recovery manager with patients and families of patients. 

“Kendall is a shining example of what can happen if you get the proper treatment, if you have the support you need, that you can really turn this around”, says Kendall’s dad, Brent. 

For Brent Swanson, his wife, their younger daughter and eventually Kendall herself, theirs was a hard fought battle back from the brink.  

Brent Swanson, recalling one of the many incoming phone calls concerning his daughter says, “My wife called and told me Kendall was home and rummaging around downstairs. I ran home and blocked her car in the driveway.”

“I was in active withdrawal from heroin and I went there to steal money”, says Kendall.  “I really tried to avoid my dad”, she added.

“It was constantly trying to get her in a facility, and thought this was an opportunity” Swanson said, adding: “I ran home, blocked her car in, and ran in.” 

“I remember he walked in”, said Kendall.  “I was in withdrawal and so I’m irritable, angry, uncomfortable and sick.  I remember him asking me; what is it I can do to help you?”

Brent Swanson tells KSMU he and Kendall’s mother talked to “maybe 50 different treatment facilities, and had beds on standby all the time just waiting for an opportunity to get her in.  I remember pleading with her to go; that we had a place.”  Swanson says he was surprised at what happened next. “She walked right past me, and …it was stunning…that wasn’t my daughter.”

Brent Swanson fought hard to bring his daughter back from the brink.
Credit Aaron Scott / Community Foundation of the Ozarks

Kendall picks the story up from there:  “He started to cry, and my dad was the first man I’ve ever loved, and I remember in that moment, my mind went to, What’s Wrong With Me?  I remember him sobbing in front of me” she says, “and me brushing past his shoulder, and I wanted so badly in that moment to connect with the pain I was inflicting on him.”

The family was going through several challenges, according to Brent Swanson, “It was day to day” he said, “You hear all the stories about when the phone rings and you really can’t appreciate that till you experience it firsthand. You don’t know till you talk to them then next morning if they are going to be alive.”

“I’ve had 5 revivals and multiple overdoses” says Kendall.  “There was a robbery that took place that was harmful to my own personal life”  She said, “ Even after an overdose where I had to have CPR performed on me, my first thought when I woke up was where the heroin? I need it now.”

Well into her second year of heroin addiction, Kendall Swanson looked into a mirror, took stock of herself and her family, and decided she wanted to live.  “I knew I needed help, or I would continue to harm the people I loved the most, and ultimately lose my life in a battle I was never going to win.”

After some short term stays at five or so facilities in Missouri, and a 28 day stay in a Minnesota treatment center, Brent Swanson drove his daughter to Texas, where she would begin 4 months of in house care at BRC Recovery Center, followed by a 6 month stay in an Austin Halfway House.

Kendall Swanson is grateful for the help she received at BRC, and is dedicated to providing her clients, the same guidance; professionalism and kindness afforded her, while in treatment. “When I arrived here,” she says, “The woman who mentored me said I will love you and be strong for you, until you are able to do those 2 things yourself.”  Kendall continued, “There’s a quote my dad uses, which is:  When you can’t see the light, I will sit with you in the dark  I thin k that is absolutely how I want to always live my life”, she says.

“Just like a lot of the women I work with, at one point I sat in that chair and saying, This Won’t Work for Me, and This isn’t possible For Me” says Kendall.  “And so I want to be this beacon of light that says it absolutely is possible” Swanson says, “Anytime someone needs help I always say yes, and I want them to know they’re not alone, and there is a way out.”

“Whether that looks like a lot of misery ahead, or you’re going to get well tomorrow”, says Kendall, “Please know the option is always readily available, and I know numerous people like myself who always have a hand reaching out, ready for you to take it.”

For information on the community wide Mental Health Assessment, currently underway:

The Springfield Greene County Health Department www.springfieldmo.gov/2853/Health   

A listing of support services can be found at:  www.springfieldmo.gov/3683/mental-health-resources

Burrell Behavioral Health:  www.burrellcenter.com

Community Foundation of the Ozarks:  www.cfozarks.org