A lot has happened since Stefani Capizzi joined the North Central Recovery Center seven years ago.
Now, the work for which she helped lay the foundation will continue without her. Capizzi’s last day is this Friday.
She has herself an RV and plans to take it cross-country, “just getting out and discovering, and seeing what I see.”
Capizzi stepped down as executive director earlier this year but stayed on as development director, focusing on “helping to create a solid plan for future sustainability” by applying for grants and “enhanced engagement in the community.”
She helped train her successor, Dan Franklin, and she praised his research, communication, advocacy and forward thinking.
“Daniel has proven to be a very talented, intelligent, determined, compassionate, innovative person with many skills,” Capizzi said. “It has been my honor to help mentor Daniel as he has acclimated to his role.”
Board chair Michelle Legere said Capizzi has guided the recovery agency “into a vibrant center that is a trusted resource for our community.”
“She is a living example of what is possible in recovery,” Legere said. “Stefani’s leadership, integrity and endurance through difficult times and decisions brought us here.”
Right place, right time
The Recovery Center was there for the Rolling Stone magazine cover that featured a flannel-clad Vermonter shooting up maple syrup; for the Vice Magazine story about how heroin was easier to score than pot in the Green Mountain State; and for then-Gov. Peter Shumlin’s 2014 State of the State address, in which he spent the entire speech addressing the opioid crisis.
When Jolinda LaClair, Gov. Phil Scott’s director of drug prevention policy — “such a rock star,” Capizzi said — made her first visit to a Vermont recovery center, it was the one in Morrisville.
She’s been with people who have been revived with Narcan, and helped make sure addicts have some extra kicking around. She’s known some people who came to the recovery seeking help and dropped off the face of the earth, dead from drugs or alcohol.
“Recovery is never a straight line,” she said. “It can be all different things for different people.”
Through it all, the heroin, the fentanyl, the Narcan, the use of restorative justice models to keep offenders out of jail, she’s been there. Now, she’s ready to hit the road.
Plain and simple, she’s gotten sick of Vermont winters, and the most recent one is about as perfect a reminder of how long and unpleasant they can be if you don’t like snow and cold. She plans on visiting friends and relatives, playing music “and just discovering.”
“It is time for me to step away and find my next adventure,” she said. “I plan to return in the summers because my children and grandchildren live here, and I love Vermont summers!”
As a recovering addict herself, particularly one who plays regular music gigs in bars where she might be the only one not drinking, Capizzi understands the value of being able to still go out and have fun without being tempted to partake.
“Addiction is really about isolation,” she said. “The opposite of addiction is connection.”
The Recovery Center takes a “whole person approach,” and has been doing so steadily all along. Which is why Capizzi is enthusiastic about adding new options all the time. When you step back and look at what programs the recovery center has added over the past decade, it’s been a “slow evolution.”
If yoga helps a few people stay on the road to recovery, why not add yoga classes? Acupuncture for detoxification? Reiki? For her, it was cognitive behavioral therapy, something the recovery center offers.
“The more we can offer, the more things people can try out,” she said. “At one time, the 12-step programs were the only game in town.”
She’d like to see the recovery center’s next several years bring in more money, whether from the state or private sector, appropriations or grants. Treatment still gets the majority of the funds, she said.
“It’s very challenging to collect data in the recovery arena,” she said.
Capizzi said, as a former nurse, she really wanted to work in recovery, and said it was an adjustment of expectations not using her clinical skillset — but ultimately, perhaps she was, when she takes a step back and looks at seven years gone.
“I’m fascinated about the human body but, even more now, the human mind,” Capizzi said. “Maybe part of it is our Western society, but there’s a pill for everything.”
The biggest hurdle with battling addiction is the stigma surrounding it, where medical experts continue to gain ground in persuading a recalcitrant world that addiction is a disease, and not just some choice, some character weakness.
“We don’t look at someone with diabetes and criticize them if they have sugar,” she said.
Take Narcan, for instance. The opioid-reversing drug is available for free from the recovery center, from pharmacies, and even schools are talking about having some on hand for overdoses. But just a few short years ago, that stuff was taboo.
“It was the same thing when we starting giving out free condoms,” she said.
Addicts can sometimes be inconsiderate, and some of them seeking help have already burned through a lot of familial and friendly bridges. Most of them do come there voluntarily, though, she said. Courts may order lawbreakers to undergo treatment or therapy, but that’s not what North Central Vermont Recovery Center is about.
“This is behavior that comes from your body being hijacked,” she said. “You do things you thought you’d never do.”
The center has remained remarkably clean, she said. There has been the rare occasion when drugs were found in the parking lot, and Capizzi said there are pockets of drug dealing in the greater neighborhood. But the center’s volunteers and visitors do an admirable job of self-policing without having to call the actual police too often.
Many people in recovery will have “reoccurrence of symptoms,” a term recovery folks prefer to “relapse.” And Capizzi said it’s always heartening to see them come back, as hard as it may be to admit defeat and start recovery anew.
“It won’t necessarily get easier,” she said. “But it will get better and better.”