Hi, my name is Sarah Keel. I am a wife, mom, a child of God and someone who has deeply struggled with substance use and addiction. As someone who understands the grief, shame, anger and guilt that comes along with the path of substance abuse, I want to stand and say: those who affected by addiction and substance use, you are not “too far gone”. You have a future available to you that you never thought could be possible. Hope is alive and active. Just because we don’t feel it or see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

I urge all individuals who have someone in their life who is struggling with this to never look at individuals who are actively using and think, “that is just who they are” because addiction is not an identity. I am here to tell you that when people are actively using, they are not themselves. I was stealing, lying, manipulating, hiding, giving myself away, indulging and violent. I would look in the mirror and think, “who am I?” I often think back to some of the ways I treated others and the decisions that I made and become heart-broken, but I know I have been made new. Being on the other side of that life style, I realize that I will always be living in the tension of where I once was and where I am now. This is Recovery.

During that time of my life, I was so far in that I didn’t care anymore. I believed that this was “who I was” and that was all that was available to me. I was in utter survival mode. My life got to the point of losing friends, respect, trust and I ended up getting incarcerated several times. I remember the thought that went through my head one night that I got arrested, “Thank God someone stopped me.” At that time, I couldn’t stop myself. During my time being incarcerated, a group of kind ladies from the local church that I didn’t even know came and ministered to me. They had a program and came to the jail often.  I remember a sense of relief that I felt from being cared for and spoken to with love and compassion, which ignited a new longing to have something more in my life.  For once, I felt like there was something beautiful to life and for the first time I considered that I was possibly not a throw away or burden; but that I had worth beyond my comprehension and was loved by God. I got a taste of freedom although I was locked up.

Recovery has been a long process and it has been essential to have people walk along side of me to encourage, hold me accountable, love on me and extend grace and mercy. Along this path, I have received many wonderful opportunities to serve those who have been on the same journey in jails, detox, crisis stabilization and other programs as a High Risk Educator.  I have also had the privilege of becoming a certified Transformational Leadership Trainer. After getting my degree in Applied Behavioral Science, I worked for the Department of Children’s Services and realized the best part of my job was working with the parents who would carry the same amount of shame and guilt that I was all too familiar with.

I stand for freedom in the East Region. I want to see people free. I will accomplish this by working with churches and ministries to equip them to be able to leave a lasting impact on those who are suffering with addiction and substance use and will open the conversation to others who are also struggling. How awful for those who believe they are alone or believe their identity and value has been made permanent in addiction. We must interrupt that internal dialogue with love and hope. There is almost a church on every corner in East Tennessee. Let’s open those doors a little wider and invite the hurt, broken and struggling inside. Let’s provide resources to get them help and know what resources are available in the community.

I have come on board with Metro Drug Coalition as the Grand East Region’s Faith-Based Community Coordinator. My vision is to get the church and ministry communities on the same page through education and training, program implementation and helping congregations become Recovery Certified Congregations. There is a huge epidemic of people who are stuck in the cycle of addiction and cannot get themselves out of it. I believe that the faith community can come together to help bridge the gap between those who are feeling hopeless and finding hope.