RecoVet gives veterans path to substance use recovery

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Published: Jul. 10, 2023 at 3:04 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- Steven Bell was riding in a Humvee on the outskirts of a town in Afghanistan when an IED exploded under the vehicle traveling right in front of him. Suddenly, he was right in the middle of combat.

He wasn’t supposed to go overseas as a petty officer second class in the Navy. That changed when the U.S. needed soldiers to bring tanks home from Afghanistan in late 2019 as the war was drawing close to an end.

About three and a half weeks in, Bell and others were loading up a convoy to haul tanks, the sun beating down on them. He was always aware that something could go wrong at a moment’s notice.

“I remember the first Humvee passed over, our Deuce and a Half passed over and all of a sudden, just boom,” he said as he recalled the explosion. “I just watched the semi pretty much do a domino effect and land on either Humvee, front or back. All I remember after that really was two little soldiers coming back to get me out of this Humvee.”

Bell was left badly injured, getting two fake hips and a fake knee after the incident. Physical trauma, however, wasn’t the only thing he had to face leaving the military. He had PTSD and a drug addiction that was preventing him from getting his life back.

That’s why he ended up at the RecoVet house in south St. Louis in early March. A month prior, he was sitting in a jail cell after getting arrested for meth possession. A judge offered him a furlough if he found a place for treatment and recovery.

RecoVet is a nonprofit aimed at helping veterans get their lives back through housing, behavioral health services, and job opportunities. The house is specifically for veterans and family members of veterans.

Executive Director Andy Robinson’s father was wounded fighting the war in Vietnam.

“Watching his passion and drive for guys that he served with kinda just drove me to do this,” Robinson said. “And I’m really glad I did, it’s really rewarding.”

The in-house counselor at the jail Bell was at put him in touch with RecoVet. There, others can relate to what Bell’s been through. Terry Noud showed up at RecoVet after bouts of alcoholism that threatened his livelihood. A former mortician in the Army, he, too, has PTSD.

Noud went into the Army in 1992 to help pay for college. He served until 1999 but was never deployed. All his work was on uncircumstantial deaths at a morgue in Washington, D.C.

“People floating in rivers, burn victims, people hit in drunk driving accidents, murders, suicides,” he said.

Noud didn’t like talking about his military service. And the first thing people asked about his Army career was what his job was, something he didn’t want to talk about, let alone know how to.

“I didn’t think people would understand,” he said. “My job in the military, there were like 15 of us in the entire military, so like, who am I gonna talk to?”

Noud went 15 years without drinking alcohol. He thought he might have a problem in the mid-90s while he was in college and had just gotten married, so he quit drinking. It wasn’t until he was back at college, dropping his son off for school all those years later, that he decided to have a drink again.

“I had pizza with one of the other dads there and he ordered a pitcher of beer, and I hadn’t drank for 15 years. Just didn’t drink,” he said. “We drank beer for a couple hours down there, and it was like somebody flipped a light switch. I’ve been in and out of treatment.”

He was going through a divorce at the time. He had his share of childhood trauma, and the trauma that was still bottled up from his military service. Not to mention the shoulder problems he had that led to 13 surgeries in eight years.

Noud felt like there was no off button after he started drinking that day. Sure, the first was a choice. But at a certain point, he lost the ability to choose. His body became dependent on alcohol just to function and not be sick.

“The only thing you can think about is getting the shakes to go away,” he said. “You’re shaking because you haven’t had any alcohol for the day. When that happens, I know I’m in trouble.”

Bell used meth for the first time when he was 17. Sitting inside RecoVet 10 years later, his hat tilted slightly to the side and his country accent coming out with every word, he had more than one addiction to deal with. He also used black tar heroin and fentanyl in recent years.

Describing why he used, the first word Bell said was “pain.”

“After the military, it was the only way I would get up and move,” he said. “I had to relearn how to walk, how to function day to day. And using the drugs just seemed to help me move.”

The IED left him with physical pain. He also had emotional pain from his childhood. Going to RecoVet was Bell’s chance to face that pain head-on.

Noud’s battle with alcohol use disorder has been a constant one for the last eight years. There were times when he wanted so badly to stay sober. He didn’t want to go through detox or treatment again.

But the addiction that rewired his brain often overcame him, as it did earlier this year.

“I was in the hospital detoxing,” he said. “It was miserable. Through addiction, I’ve lost relationships, I’ve hurt people that I love by my actions.”

It’s hard for Noud to pinpoint one thing that made him drink. His drinking was a means to cope with all his past traumas, to numb the feelings he hadn’t worked through. He kept his military career largely to himself for nearly 20 years.

He was going through treatment a few years ago when he decided to tell a therapist all he had seen as a mortician. This time, he didn’t leave anything out.

“I felt, for the first time, understood that maybe I’m not crazy,” he said. “It was the first time I didn’t filter myself.”

It was liberating to share his story, and a huge step toward getting his life back.

Bell would have been sitting in jail awaiting trial on meth possession charges if it weren’t for places like RecoVet.

“It’s a family that I’ve built here inside RecoVet,” Bell said. “I’ve got a couple good buddies of mine, they’re like brothers.”

Part of the benefit of RecoVet, Bell said, is having others by his side in recovery.

“It’s 100 times better to be with people in recovery that can help you with the same situations that they’ve gone through,” Bell said.

After being in and out of treatment for years, Noud pointed out a major difference in being around others like him.

“There’s no judgment,” Noud said. “That is one of the beautiful things. And I’m sure that there are other people here that have talked about things in this environment that they’ve never shared outside of here.”

Noud gets a shot of Vivitrol, which contains the drug naltrexone, about once a month to stave off alcohol cravings that used to cause him to sweat, vomit, and get the shakes. Noud is hopeful that the Vivitrol shot, in combination with trauma therapy, can help him get his PTSD and alcohol use under control.

Bell is on disability for his hips and knee. He plans to stay at RecoVet for a while and eventually get into mechanics as a career path. He loves motorcycles, and with consistent physical therapy, he hopes to be able to ride his 2001 Yamaha V-Star again.

He is planning for a future without meth, heroin and fentanyl. He has children in New Mexico that he wants to reunite with.

“At one point I thought I needed (drugs) for the rest of my life,” Bell said. “And now I wouldn’t ask for anything else but recovery.”

Noud’s biggest motivation for sharing his story is to spread awareness about the reality of addiction after going through it himself.

“My intentions weren’t to burn my life to the ground at 50 years old,” Noud said. “But all of us that are in this program have burned our lives to the ground. We’re trying to rebuild. We’re trying to get back to the other side and help other people and stay sober.”

Fore more stories, resources, and education on the overdose crisis, visit