Knox county voices of recovery is a series written by Jamie Lovley and created by Knox County Community Health Coalition in partnership with the community. The goal of the series is to teach the community about recovery, dispel misunderstanding about substance use disorder in the state of Maine, and record stories of how long-term recovery does work. All names have been used with permission.

Kasie Kirkhan is a Rockland native, an independent human-trafficking survivor leader, on the board for the Salvation Army’s CROWNS program and a student at UMA. She celebrates six years of recovery and works full time at the women’s recovery house at 63 Washington in Camden. In the past she also worked on the first ever NAMI program, providing peer support to prisoners in the state of Maine. The program requires staff to be formerly incarcerated.

Years ago, Kasie served an eight-month sentence that changed her life. “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was emotionally abused and violated and torn down. I had enough, I had to try.”

Before her incarceration in 2016 Kasie was living in Florida, a 16-year survivor of human trafficking; she was addicted to crack and heroin and had lost her relationships with her children.

“I was walking down the street and I had nothing, no money, no makeup, no cigarettes, nothing. I turn this corner and I run into this guy. He introduces himself as Casey, and my name is Kasie, so I thought that was weird.” Little did she know, this kind stranger would end up being a part in the journey to faith that would be pivotal in her recovery. “This guy asks what I’m doing. I was honest and told him I was about to go sell myself to buy drugs. And he said I will give you all the money in my wallet if you go sit with me at church. And I did.”

While serving her sentence, reading the book “The Shack” and studying the Bible gave Kasie hope, and made her feel worthy of a better life. During this time, she met other people of faith who guided her to the Bangor recovery program, where she spent nine months after her release. The change in her was so drastic, that DHS wanted to return her children to her as soon as the opportunity arose. “I gained back my soul, my dignity, my integrity, my life, my joy.”

It wasn’t always easy however, and Kasie struggled to navigate the recovery world as a Christian who had been taught prosperity gospel. “I kept myself in this prison of ‘‘I’m fine, Jesus will heal me,’ not understanding why He wouldn’t. It was at the moment that I truly admitted I wasn’t okay and needed help that suddenly things started getting easier.”

Part of acknowledging the help she needed was getting diagnosed with severe PTSD and borderline personality disorder and working to address years of trauma. Addressing this trauma better equips her today to help other survivors and people in recovery. Over the next six years Kasie credited her faith to saving her life during two returns to usage.

Like many in the recovery community, Kasie advocates for resources like Narcan or naloxone access, needle exchange, and other safe use programs. “I believe in safe use. If people aren’t at that point yet, help them be safe. The reality of it is, that’s how you reach people. Every time they need help, you have that conversation with them. If you keep telling people their life is worth something, they will grab onto that hope.”

After seeing others in recovery continually be discriminated against, refused resources like housing or just told to have more faith, Kasie hopes that through the work she and others do, the community and the state of Maine will become more educated about mental health and substance use disorders.

When Kasie isn’t advocating for the recovery community, studying mental health and human services, or speaking out as a trafficking survivor, she is reaching out to others in her local community. The Midcoast area is where her substance use started, and now she is a light to others struggling. ““Anyone can recover. People think you have to hit rock bottom to recover but it doesn’t have to be like that. People’s rock bottoms can look different. Anyone’s mind can be changed at any time”

For Kasie, the radical and redeeming love of Jesus isn’t pick and choose. “I say it when I speak on human trafficking, and it’s not a popular opinion, but even the guys trafficking these girls need love too. We are all broken somehow, and we all need to be recovered.”
If you believe you have a problem with substance use, reach out for help. For a list of local recovery meetings visit: namaine.org/meetings-by-table/ or csoaamaine.org/meetings/.

Jamie Lovley is substance use prevention specialist for Knox County Community Health Coalition, a division of Penobscot Bay YMCA, and in partnership with the community. For more information about this project, call 236-6313, ext. 4, or email jamielovleykcchc@gmail.com. If you have a problem with substance use, call 211 for Maine resources that can help.