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.

When you meet Iain Kirkham, it doesn’t take long to realize his towering stature is eclipsed by a much bigger heart. Iain is the manager at the Friends House in Rockland, a sober house that provides care and shelter to men navigating recovery.

Iain recounts a happy childhood in Wisconsin and Georgia with a loving family. At 18 he joined the army and was stationed in Europe. During his early 20s, Iain first experienced snapshots of addiction. “I always had a foot in the door though, substances quieted my mind, I had trouble sitting with myself.”

After Iain left the army and returned home, his father died suddenly, and Iain felt himself spiraling. He drank daily and began taking prescription medication but kept up his work life. After a particularly bad night he gave up drinking for a year. When he started to drink again, his marriage and life began to fall apart.

On Sept. 14, 2018, Iain drove his truck at 80 miles-per-hour straight into a telephone pole. He somehow walked away, unsure what had happened. While unable to work he realized how much harm he caused in his family life. “One day I just realized why I did it. I had tried to kill myself. I finally said, ‘I need help.”

After a stay in a crisis unit and a rehab, Iain was confident and excited about recovery. On the bus ride home from rehab, however, he got high again. “But this time there was no enjoyment, just shame and guilt. I got home, went to a meeting that night and restarted my sobriety.”
Iain got a sponsor and worked a recovery program. Veterans Affairs supported him and provided mental healthcare that became crucial to his journey. He began to volunteer with Mid-Coast Recovery Coalition. Right as the COVID-19 pandemic came to the U.S., Iain became the house manager for the Friends House.

Iain is passionate about the importance of mental healthcare and emotional wellbeing. “The drugs are a symptom of the disease. They’re not the problem. If you don’t figure out what deeper problem brought you there, you’ll always replace one symptom with another.”
Iain believes sugarcoating recovery gives people false expectations. “Life doesn’t get easier, but it gets much better. Best thing about recovery is you get your feelings back. Worst thing is you get your feelings back.”

This can be especially hard in an all-male environment. “Here in America, we have expectations, ‘You’re a boy, dust off, don’t cry.’ Or a man’s value and self-worth is all working and making money.” Iain leads by example and shows others it’s okay to be emotional. This was something he himself struggled with, especially in the military, where “There was fear around losing your career if you talked about mental health struggles.”

Vulnerability is more difficult when people at the men’s house experience discrimination. In 2020, the Friends House had a case of COVID-19. Iain called the CDC, got people tested, and started looking to rehouse the men. Initially a local hotel agreed it could accommodate them. The guys were packed up and ready to go when the hotel owner called and said, “We don’t want you people here.”

Iain was devastated. “I was so hurt, and mad. These are my guys. They’re putting hard work in and they’re doing it. All they need is some help. People like that make people in recovery feel like ‘What will be enough? When will society accept me?”

Iain gets calls daily from people looking for rehab or detox. Generally, there’s a week’s minimum wait for detox. “When someone’s at their rock bottom admitting they need help, you have a two-hour window, 12 at the most. There are maybe four rehabs in Maine that aren’t faith-based and are affordable. And if you haven’t been affected by addiction yet, you will be.”

During recovery Iain rediscovered his faith and met his wife, Kasie. Together they have five young girls. At the house Iain provides an environment that is forgiving, understanding, motivational, and vulnerable. His example and words call upon the community to help support those in recovery, and to start open conversations about mental health.

If you believe you have a problem with substance use, reach out for help. Call 211 for Maine resources that can help.

For more information about how to be a part of this series, contact Jamie Lovley, substance use prevention specialist for Knox County Community Health Coalition at jamielovleykkchc@gmail.com