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'I didn't want to die in my sins': Y-Haven program serves as fifth lifeline for Cleveland native spiraling in drug addiction

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Posted at 7:05 AM, Mar 07, 2022

CLEVELAND — Like her red cactus, Lezette Dumass is blooming.

“I love this little thing,” she said admiring its new buds. “There’s a young lady that lives up here, she came a couple weeks after me, and one day she knocked on the door and she said here I got a plant, I’m giving you a plant. We’re going to keep these a year.”

And like the cactus, Dumass’ chance at survival is rooted in her sobriety at Y-Haven, a re-entry and recovery facility under the YMCA. The Air Force vet, ordained minister, mother and Cleveland native reached a final breaking point after a recent six-month span of addiction.

“I’m here to get re-centered,” Dumass explained. “I relapsed last August, and I came here in February. So, I had six months of active addiction…I had reached a point in my life spiritually that I was beyond bankrupt…I didn’t want to die in my sins like that.”

Dumass’ drug addiction sprouted around the age of 40.

“I was jacked up before I even put something in me,” she said.

The now 70-year-old says crack cocaine, marijuana and alcohol helped numb the trauma as a 7-year-old sexual abuse victim and the sense of worthlessness she felt without comfort from her mother, who was also a victim.

“When I told her what happened she kind of went somewhere and I realized since I’ve been here that it gave me a sense of worthlessness because I needed her to hug me and she didn’t know how,” Dumass shared. “From there that desire for acceptance turned me into a perfectionist, a people pleaser and a rescuer. Once I put some substance in me wow, well I felt cool, funny, sufficient.”

The one-time fix turned to addiction, then necessity for survival, even after four attempts at recovery.

“We want to help everybody. However, some people are just not ready to make the changes necessary to maintain sobriety because it is a lot of work,” said Jennifer McKnight, Y-Haven Case Counselor.

Rising Hope: Addict to Counselor

Jennifer McKnight, who the women she helps call “Boss Lady,” is one of Dumass’ Y-Haven Rising Hope counselors. She’s one of about 50 team members helping those in recovery, mostly from opioids.

As the program’s clinical director, Phil Buck explained, “a lot of what we try to do in recovery is try to help people who’ve been ashamed of themselves and in addiction and isolated and alienated from family, friends, employers and others, come back out of self and begin to trust other people again and build relationships.”

Drug addiction and overdoses remain an uphill battle across our state. According to CDC data released in November, drug overdoses increased by 26% in Ohio in 2021. In Cleveland, officials say the journey to recovery has worsened as the pandemic continues to force many in need further into isolation.

“Especially with the opioid crisis it’s really impacted more Ohioans than ever before. There’s a lot of people in Cleveland that struggle with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders,” Phil Buck, Y-haven and Rising Hope Clinical Director.

McKnight, who has 17 years of social work experience, knows firsthand the challenges the women she helps are coping with.

“I’m a recovering addict.”

McKnight compares her journey to recovery to butterflies and the cut-out stickers of them decorating the tan walls of her office.

“If you see a butterfly coming out of a chrysalis and you help it too much it will die because it needs to struggle all of the wetness of its wings in order to fly,” she explained. “I had to go through the struggle to get to be the beautiful butterfly…my theory is there is strength in struggle.”

Rising Hope: Impact

There are three prongs to Y-Haven; a re-entry program called Open Door, a homeless shelter under Old Y-Haven and Rising, which was created in 2017 to aid in the opioid crisis. The facility is expected to undergo an overhaul of renovations made possible by a portion of funding awarded to the county in an opioid settlement.

Buck tells News 5 there are 250 Y-Haven beds available and about 180 are currently in use.

But not for long.

While the facility sees seven to 10 new clients each week, many leave within an average of 90 days or in some cases after two weeks.

“We want people to stick around long enough so they can begin to enjoy some of the benefits of recovery. It takes the first three months just to kind of get stabilized,” said Buck.

We’re told those who can get past their post-acute withdrawal and allow themselves to embrace and be embraced by the Y-Haven community stay longer.

“It’s important that we wait for the client to become open enough to address it that’s important because if you push then they will clam up,” McKnight said.

Rising Hope: Survivor

At Y-Haven, the sweet spot and first step to full recovery last a year. It’s the same amount of time Dumass has to nurture her cactus.

"When I got him he was probably about this big,” Dumass said while illustrating with her hands how small her plant was a few months ago. “See how fat and big he is. I had to re-pot him.”

The growth seen with her cactus from the time she moved in and sought out help is her living proof that deserves another chance to live.

“I wake up with a sense of gratitude every morning,” she said. “I’m told a grateful addict will never use and I’m finding that to be true.”

Dumass says she’s choosing to live with purpose and pass it forward to other men and women.

“I just want to be at peace with the world around me and peace with myself,” she said. “I don’t preach at people. I just live my life and let that be an example.”