Jenna Bertino - Will the real Miss America please stand up!

My name is Jenna and I am a person in long term recovery and for me that means I haven’t used drugs or alcohol since I was 24.  Recovery has helped me gain an awareness that I never had before.  I am able to appreciate my surroundings.  The little things, like watching the way the sun light illuminates the leaves on the trees or feeling a warm breeze on my face, I appreciate everything life has to offer and am able to live in the moment.  I am able to be an active participant in my own life and I am no longer just existing.  


It wasn’t always like that.  There was a time when all I wanted to do was run away from life, not be a part of it.  When I was 13, 2 days after Christmas, there was a knock on my door.  The police were standing there and they told me there had been an accident and to call my mom.  What I soon found out was that my dad had committed suicide.  At that very moment the world as I knew it changed.  I didn’t want to feel the pain of that event so I started doing anything I could to escape from reality.  That escape came in the form of drugs and alcohol.

It started with drinking beer and smoking marijuana but it didn’t stop there.  Over the years I tried many different substances to help me deal with life.  The progression led me to Percocet which I thought were the answer to all of my problems.  I took one little pill and magically everything seemed ok.  

It got to the point that I was lying and stealing to be able to support my tremendous habit.  What started as just one little pill, became a 2-300$ a day Percocet habit.  I became a monster.  My mom used to sleep with her purse under her pillow so I couldn’t come in and steal money from her in the middle of the night.  

One day the task of scamming and robbing to get what I needed felt so monumental.  The person I was with said that we could get 1 bag of heroin, just this once and be ok all day.  At first I was appalled by the idea.  I thought,  “I’m not a heroin addict”; “I’m not a junkie like these other people.”  But I was so sick I was willing to do anything to feel better.  So I did.  Before long I had become an IV heroin user, hanging out in neighborhoods I didn’t belong in, getting arrested, and hurting everyone that came in my path.

Fortunately, someone was looking out for me.  My mom drug me to court one day because she had posted bail and wanted to make sure she got it back.  The judge said 3 words that changed my life yet again.  “Incarceration without bail.”  Just like the day my dad died, my world stopped.  Everything got quiet. All I could think of was running.  This time I couldn’t run.  I had to face the person I had become.  It was the best thing that could’ve happened to me.


Today I am so grateful to that judge.  He saved my life.  He helped me to see that I was worth it.  From my jail cell I started to see hope.  I had a moment of clarity and in that moment I didn’t want to die a using addict with a needle in my arm.  From jail I was given the opportunity to enter a program called drug court and they sent me to a 90 day inpatient rehabilitation program.  In those 90 days I learned so much about myself and how to face life head on and walk through it without having to put a drink or a drug in my body.

In 2010 I graduated from the Drug Court program.  After Drug Court I realized I could do anything I put my mind to.  So I returned to college and in May 2012 I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree.  I decided to continue with my education and this fall will be my first semester as a graduate student.  Since coming into this process I realized that I have a purpose.  I have been given the opportunity to give back to the community and use the experiences I have had to help others.  

I started to build healthy relationships in recovery.  Today all of the people who used to run the other way when they saw me coming, want me to be a part of their lives.  I’ve been a bridesmaid in their weddings, attended graduations and baby showers.  I am able to show up for them.  

I’ve developed healthy hobbies too.  In recovery I started running.  Right now I am training for my first full marathon in November.  It’s amazing to be a part of something so much bigger than myself.  Now I’m not running away from something, I’m running towards a finish line.  

I know that anything is possible.  By doing the next right thing and putting one foot in front of the other, I will cross that finish line.  I’ve had people ask me if I regret the past.  But I don’t.  The experiences I have had have made me the person I am today.  I am so proud of the person I have become.  Today I am proud to say that I am a person in long term recovery.    

Jenna spoke at the National Press conference that kicked off this years Recovery Month at the National Press Club in DC with a fellow YPR member Daniel LaPointe.  Their lives in recovery, like many more just like them, are helping make America Recovery Ready.  By increasing access to effective treatment, education, employment services and secure housing we are helping make the decision to live a life of wellness that much easier to make. Jenna is pictured here with the former Miss America Tara O’Connor (herself a woman in recovery).  

Will your medical record regarding your most recent visit to drug rehab be secure from your future employers? Does that matter to you? Why our providers should be begging for the “consumer’s” experience in more than just outcome measurement and the importance of privacy.

Addiction Recovery and Privacy:


YPR was given the opportunity this week to sit in a room filled with some representatives from the leading providers of services for the substance abuse and mental health treatment community from across the United States.  My role was to provide the peer perspective in this two-day discussion regarding electronic health records and patient privacy.   The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s Health Information Technology contract with the White House Office of Consumer Affairs played the “conveners” for this meeting.

It is important to note that over the course of the first day it became increasingly apparent to me that all individuals in the room, and the organizations they represent, have been attempting to juggle many different initiatives that will drastically impact the behavioral health experience for the every day consumer of behavioral health services.  Patient privacy in regards to an electronic health record system and the services provided to patients is just one of the many initiatives that has begun to fall under the growing list of additional job descriptions of some of the high level executives sitting in this behavioral health arena.  I applaud those providers that are gracefully handling this massive shift in our systems of care and empathize with those that are struggling to keep everything afloat. 


To grasp the importance of the affordable care act for the overall health and wellbeing of people in recovery and society as a whole, while prioritizing a provider’s responsibilities to those they service is no small feat, but I see no other way to provide the most amount of people with the opportunity to make the best decision of their life.  The affordable care act is giving the behavioral health “world” more than enough time to incorporate into their overarching framework and business plan a commitment to consistently empower the voice of the consumer and the voice of those people that are indirectly connected to the services being rendered.  Fully incorporating the responsibility providers have for the community at large and their individual patients should have happened yesterday and will dramatically increase the trust the peer community has in treatment providers.  This will then make it easier for the patient voice to be involved in the discussion surrounding electronic health records, privacy and a plethora of other points.  Empowering this community will improve health outcomes, period.

For far too long there has not been the empowering voice of a patient or peer built within our system of care other than the well-intentioned administrator who attempts to put themselves in the shoes of the “average” consumer of services.  This wonderful attempt at empathy is sometimes coupled with the massive responsibility of ensuring the provider’s business succeeds is a valiant effort, but falls short from effectively empowering and engaging the voice of the patient as a partner in any provider’s business.   The voice of the peer/consumer/person-in-recovery is consistently touted as being heard when in actuality the only voice being heard is the same voice with the power and influence to make decisions.  This conflict of interest can only be resolved by the most skilled of individuals.

If providers are expected from all levels of their organization to fully incorporate the importance of empowering the voices of those they serve and the larger community they belong to then there would be less confusion surrounding why patients distrust their overarching providing system.  Developing that trust would be part of the organizational culture and not a weaker “add-on.” Spending the extra time and care in developing a rapport with the patients being provided treatment while ensuring them that their privacy matters when it comes to electronic health records would not be detracting from your ability to “make a living” or even keep your business open.  This manner of operating a business would be what sets a provider apart from the systemic norm of forcing the decision making administration to wear two conflicting hats; one of the provider and one of the patient.  


Now is the time to catch up.  Now is the time providers of substance abuse treatment must look towards long lasting solutions for problems rather than putting a quick fix in place.  There would be less need to worry about consents for treatment being a barrier to providing quality care if that same attention to quality were placed on the expectation that a patient’s experience with a provider was integral to them becoming active and contributing members of society.  From the moment a peer/patient/consumer/person-in-recovery finds a provider on a Google search to when they write a check to support a provider’s contributions to their community the expectation is that personal information is safeguarded from misuse and the most important risk being minimized is directly related to a patient’s life rather than a provider’s business.

As the exciting 2 days ended it was vocalized by the providers represented that provider by-in to consistently keep the peer’s perspective prioritized side-by-side with the need to reduce risk and liability requires an incentive.

 From an advocacy stand-point it is concerning:

  • that the provider’s of substance abuse treatment that are even willing to engage in this meaningful conversation about including the peer perspective from the top down are few and far between. 
  • that the larger medical community does not include the importance of behavioral health into their own managed care systems being designed for our nation in many health care exchanges is an even larger advocacy issue that systemically perpetuates the stigma associated with both the substance abuse and mental health community.
  • that we consistently, as a community, are forced to deal with this dated mentality when we know that providing recovery support that increases the chances of a person making the positive decision to remain in a process of wellness is being weighed by a system that routes for us, but must be forced to make decisions based upon the need to keep their doors open.  This is appalling and unacceptable in other areas of medicine.
  • that the conversation regarding privacy and recovery could be made easier to swallow if we systemically spent the effort to empower the voices of people in recovery, their family and friends rather than expect them to fight through shame, guilt and stigma without a leg up through this emotional “muck” and technical jargon that surrounds our personal health information and its relation to electronic health records.

Join YPR in our efforts to build a “Recovery Ready America” where we organize our family, friends, supporters and the recovering community to hold key influencers responsible for increasing access to:

  • treatment
  • education
  • employment
  • secure housing

Contact our recruitment coordinator AJ Senerchia - aj.senerchia@youngpeopleinrecovery - if you are interested in starting a YPR chapter that helps make your state and local community Recovery Ready.



Rob Delaney: After Cory Monteith was found dead in his hotel room I tweeted: "Love...

NSFW, but dead ass true.


After Cory Monteith was found dead in his hotel room I tweeted: “Love to Cory Monteith. If drugs/alcohol are killing you, there is help available. I got sober 11 yrs ago at 25. It can be done.”

I got three types of responses. The first were variations of “Thanks for saying that.” The second…

Deputy Director of @ONDCP providing policy implications of acknowledging the importance of properly utilizing addiction medication (specifically for Opiate Use Disorders) within the USA. Medically Assisted Treatment and Recovery are not mutually exclusive! #recoveryworks! (at The National Press Club)

Deputy Director of @ONDCP providing policy implications of acknowledging the importance of properly utilizing addiction medication (specifically for Opiate Use Disorders) within the USA. Medically Assisted Treatment and Recovery are not mutually exclusive! #recoveryworks! (at The National Press Club) High-res

Showing that #recoveryworks with the American Society of Addiction Medicine! Anyone have thoughts on what ASAM should know? Remember! YPR is not the #recovery police ;-) We believe that our common denominator is that we are all moving forward and actively addressing our chronic condition of addiction! (at The National Press Club)

Showing that #recoveryworks with the American Society of Addiction Medicine! Anyone have thoughts on what ASAM should know? Remember! YPR is not the #recovery police ;-) We believe that our common denominator is that we are all moving forward and actively addressing our chronic condition of addiction! (at The National Press Club) High-res