ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — David Potterf felt sick. He'd stopped drinking alcohol and his body ached. He'd been living on the streets for weeks. Five times, he says, he overdosed. He says his relationships with his longtime partner and his children were ruined.
"I got on my hands and knees in the middle of a Walmart parking lot, and I was crying. I was sick, because I tried to quit drinking, and I got on my knees and I said 'God if you're really there I want you to take this all the way for me,'" Potterf said. "Within one month, I was in this program."
The program is a faith-based recovery group called Anchorage Rescue Mission.
"Our purpose is to show God's love through example and in a practical manner by providing for the needs of the homeless, poor and needy in our community. We are a safety net for those who find themselves without food, shelter, clothing or hope," says Anchorage Rescue Mission's website.
Today, four years after successfully completing treatment at the Mission, Potterf has climbed his way to the role of head custodian.
"I'm happy right where I'm at," Potterf said. "I'm very, very...I don't know. I don't want to use the word content. I'm blessed."
Substance misuse and mental illness are all too common in Alaska.
According to a 2017 report by the McDowell Group, the economic impact of drug and alcohol abuse in Alaska exceeds $3 billion a year. The Anchorage Rescue Mission say it houses about 100 people a night and the numbers are even higher at places like Bean's Cafe or the Brother Francis Shelter.
People searching for recovery options often talk about a lack of treatment facilities.
Potterf says he tried to find help, but it wasn't until he hit rock bottom that he found Anchorage Rescue Mission.
It's the same story for Terri Ensign who is now also in recovery after having completed the program.
These days, the former client leads art therapy classes.
On a recent weekday, she held a black and white design called Zentangle — a drawing technique based on repeated circles and flowing lines.
"When I was in my addiction, I didn't think I could do anything creative without a recreational drug helping me be creative," Ensign said. "So being able to learn how to overcome addiction, and still be able to be creative without a substance being involved, was really huge. Like really huge."
Ensign also manages the Mission's clothing room where she gives out free clothes, boots and gloves, which are always in demand.
"When we're in addiction we take so much from people," Ensign said. "Our loved ones, our friends, acquaintances, we just take and take and take. So for me, to be able to give back to the community and to give back to people that I don't even know, and to help them, helps me."
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