Board declares September “Recovery Month” in an emotional proclamation

September 14, 2018

Almost two years ago, Amee McFee woke from a medically-induced coma to the worst news of her life: she had lost custody of her fourth child.

She had already lost everything else after years of incarceration, homelessness and severe alcohol and drug use. Now the inner lining of McFee’s own heart was infected, she had blood clots, and she was suffering from an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection.

This was her rock bottom. She was in the fight of her life. 

Amee McFee testifies about her experience with substance use disorder during annual "Recovery Month" proclamation.

While she lay in her hospital bed, a mentor from Oregon Health & Science University came into the room. She began telling McFee about her own recovery after years of substance use disorder and incarceration. She pledged to listen to McFee, to stick with her and support her through her recovery.

“I realized I wanted to be just like her,” McFee told the Board of County Commissioners during public testimony on Thursday, Sept. 13. “I want to live.” 

McFee entered into treatment. But it was a long road. She was kicked out of multiple facilities. She nearly died by suicide because she wanted her addiction to be over. Eventually, she got connected to a third treatment facility: a culturally-responsive program that actually worked for her. She graduated treatment in November 2017.

Today McFee is 20 months sober. She lives in her own house instead of the tent she’d been surviving in outside. She’s reunited with all of her children, whom she had previously lost custody of.  And now she’s an employee for the Diane Wade House: a new transitional housing program for women involved in the criminal justice system in Multnomah County.

“Without the help of all of these services, I know I would not be here,” McFee said. “Now’s my turn to give back. I’m proud to say my clean date. My clean date is 1/10/17 and my name is Amee McFee and I’m a grateful recovering addict.”

“It’s overwhelming to me even to think about what you have been able to overcome in your life,” Commissioner Sharon Meieran told McFee. “You are just such a powerful voice and speak such truth and provide such an important story that we can hear that can move others into action, move others into recovery.”

McFee was just one of many people who shared inspiring stories of hope and recovery at Thursday’s proclamation declaring September 2018 “Recovery Month” in Multnomah County. The proclamation honors those in recovery from substance use disorder and raises awareness about the County’s network of treatment programs. 

The Board of County Commissioners pose alongside County staff and invited guests.

The proclamation included testimony from Ebony Clarke, the interim Mental Health and Addiction Services Division director, and Deandre Kenyanjui from the Office of Consumer Engagement.

They spoke alongside invited guests, including McFee, Race Hebrard, and Ronald Ross. Each told deeply personal stories of addiction and recovery. Dozens from the recovery community came to support them and offer testimony of their own.

Multnomah County’s Mental Health and Addiction Services Division supports agencies that offer detoxification and supportive housing, inpatient and outpatient treatment, culturally- and linguistically-appropriate programming, and programs for youth and those struggling with an addiction to gambling.  

The Health Department also operates a harm reduction program to support people who may not yet be ready to get clean and sober. The syringe exchange team is often an individual's introduction to recovery options. As staff provide clean syringes in exchange for used ones to reduce the rate of disease transmission among people who share intravenous drugs, they use those interactions to offer addiction care coordination.

“We can never give up on people, because you never know when that change is going to happen,” Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said. “People are too valuable. Everyone here is too valuable to give up.”

For Commissioner Lori Stegmann, the proclamation was deeply personal. At one point in her life, she said, her partner experienced addiction. She remembers coming home to discover their utilities had been shut off.

“I think we’ve all been touched by addiction,” Stegmann told the speakers. “I want to thank you for your courage and your bravery for sharing some of your darkest moments. And in that role, you’ve become leaders.”

Inspired by everyone’s stories, Chair Deborah Kafoury reaffirmed that recovery is possible for all.  

“We need to talk more about recovery,” Chair Deborah Kafoury said. “These are faces of love, and faces of support, and faces of strength.”

Learn more

Addiction Services works with treatment providers and community agencies to help individuals and families in Multnomah County achieve and maintain recovery.

Providers on this list work with low-income, underinsured, uninsured and undocumented people.

Call 24/7 to find out where you can find help or to visit the urgent care walk-in clinic.

Alcoholics Anonymous lists hundreds of meetings across the Tri-County area for anyone who has a desire to stop drinking

Narcotics Anonymous lists meetings across the region for anyone who has a desire to stop using drugs.

The Alano Club of Portland hosts dozens of meetings for people in recovery in a statement mansion in the Alphabet District.