Addiction educators target trouble youth
Drug and alcohol addiction typically ends in one of three ways, according to Sharon Skinkis: death, incarceration or insanity.
“There are solutions to this problem that exist, though – I’m living proof of that – and those solutions are what I’m trying to share with people,” she says as she traces the rim of her coffee cup with a long slender finger.
Both Skinkis, 52, and her husband Daniel, 56, know the rough road from addiction to recovery all too well.
“At age 11, I ran away from home after the abuse had become too much to handle,” she said. “By age 12, I had made my home the streets of Los Angeles and was already addicted to heroin.”
Daniel, on the other hand, was what Sharon describes as “your garden-variety alcoholic” who came from a family without a history of physical abuse.
“Even though he had a seemingly normal home life, he still crossed the lines of addiction,” she said. “Anyone can.”
Today, with more than 18 years of sobriety under their belts, the couple has dedicated their lives to helping others, particularly young adults, battle addiction.
They’ve spent the last two years traveling from coast to coast as guest speakers at various juvenile halls, shelters, prisons and recovery centers. Currently, the Skinkis’ are residing in Truckee and working in and around facilities in Northern Nevada.
“We wanted to travel and this was a great way to do that and be able to talk to all kinds of people about recovery,” she said. “We typically stay in an area for a few weeks or even months before moving on to the next location. On our last trip, we visited 57 facilities. Now that’s a lot of talking.”
Sharon and Daniel have been involved in similar efforts for decades. In 1982, the couple organized a music group comprised of young people recovering from addiction in efforts to use music as both a healing and educating tool.
Later, the couple established a facility for young people struggling with substance abuse. They also orchestrated a homeless outreach program through which they made regular trips to the desert where the homeless lived to hold recovery meetings and provide food and other supplies.
“Initially, I started doing these kinds of things because after I got clean and sober, I was absolutely on fire,” Sharon said. “I wanted to save the world. Of course, since then I’ve realized that you can’t save everyone. But if I can reach one kid so they don’t have the waste their childhood like I did, that’s something.”
Sharon said she’s already received numerous indications that she and her husband have been making a difference.
“We’ve gotten thank you letters and phone calls from those we’ve spoken to and helped,” she said. “Sometimes kids will approach after we’ve given a talk, hugging us and telling us that we’ve inspired them to work towards recovery. Other times, we hear from family and friends that someone we’ve spoken to has finally turned the corner.”
Sharon describes her approach to recovery as three-pronged: physical, mental and spiritual.
“And this isn’t just jailhouse religion that we’re talking about – it really works,” she said. “We usually begin our talks by asking how many people in the room have used drugs or alcohol to the point of blacking out or addiction. At the beginning, only a few kids raise their hands, but when we ask the question at the end of our talk, about 80 to 85 percent of audience members raise their hands, and these are people ages 11 to 17. When the numbers are that high all across the country, you see that our youth are really in trouble, which makes what we are trying to do all the more important.”
Aside from sharing their own stories and struggles, Sharon and her husband stress to listeners that the “clock is always ticking.”
“The main problem is that youth don’t think they’re ever going to get old or that their substance abuse is ever going to catch up with them,” she said. “Denial is the major problem that we’re trying to get people to break free from.
She also tries to stress that it’s not how you drink or use, but why that truly leads to addiction.
For now, the couple plans to remain in Truckee until September when they hit the road again. Since the Skinkis’ provide their services free of charge, they rely on Daniel’s construction and carpentry skills to stay afloat.
“What I’d really like to do is find a way to really tell my story by having someone turn it into a book,” she said. “We’re not trying to throw flowers over people’s shoulders about recovery, we’re just trying to tell people the truth about how this thing ends,” she said.
If you’re interested in contacting Sharon and Daniel, call (702) 523-3121.
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