Jen Cutting, Recovery Coach
Jen Cutting is a Recovery Coach at the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council of Delaware County (ADAC) in Delhi, NY, harm reductionist, Narcan trainer, and the founder of Supplies for Life, an organization that collects essential products like toothbrushes and tampons for those enduring substance use disorder. Jen is a recovering addict whose healing comes from connection with peers in the recovery community. She lives in Masonville, NY (Delaware County) with her husband and daughter.
On September 28, 2022, Christina Hunt Wood sat down to interview Jen for the Living Archive.
Christina Hunt Wood: What words would you use to describe yourself?
Jen Cutting: Mother, woman, wife, activist, harm reductionist, lover of animals and nature.
CHW: You’re originally from Staten Island and lived in Manhattan and Long Island prior to moving upstate. What was it that brought you to this area?
JC: I was actively using pills and cocaine. My family moved up here and I knew something had to give with my lifestyle because my life was a shitshow—I was falling apart. I came up here because I wanted to give myself six months to get sober and then go back to my life. Instead, I found heroin here…and prison…and here we are. Ta-dah! [laughs]
CHW: Yeah, we have the Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals company producing oxycontin here and it’s like the red flag of what lies beneath the surface of our rural splendor.
JC: We don’t like to admit it, but our main professions, if you will, are alcoholism and substance use disorder. Anything we can do to make ourselves “feel better” and escape—alcohol, coffee, cigarettes, drugs, sex, gambling.
Something that drives me crazy about our society is that we pride ourselves on how much stress we have. We equate stress with money and success, success with the hierarchy of who we are. What should make us successful is family time and the work we do in the community. All that other stuff is bullshit. When we die, no one is going to remember us for, “she was super stressed out”
CHW: [Laughing] Well, they might remember it, but not for the right reason, “she was so stressed *all the time*.” [rolls eyes sarcastically]
JC: Yeah, “she was a hot mess..." [laughs]
CHW: What do you think are the differences between upstate and downstate and where do you fit in at this point in your life?
JC: There’s a lot more hustle and bustle downstate. Here, it sometimes feels like “push me, I’m coming.” Downstate is more materialistic and family connection is often a big production whereas here, things move slower, family gatherings are about BBQs in the backyard.
I wouldn’t feel comfortable going back down there. Even though I was a “grown-up,” I was still really immature. I’ve grown and become the woman I am in this setting. This is my home, my family is here, and it’s where I developed my expertise as a sobriety coach.
CHW: So, you are in recovery, you’re a recovery coach, the founder of supplies for life, and a YouTuber with 14,000+ followers. So, what wisdom did you glean from your path from being forced to face your demons to being in this moment right now where you’re sober and finding success?
JC: I’ve realized that the work I do right now is so important. The people who previously did [the job] and who will do it in the future are vital to the success of the peer movement. The incarceration saved my life, yes, but it just forced me to be in a box and got me out of a situation I wasn’t strong enough to take myself out of—even though I knew I needed to get out of it. That was the active addiction. So, while I was incarcerated, ADAC, who I now work for, provided a peer program that came inside the jail. There were two people who came in, Kayla Weaver and Pastor Derek Johnson, as recovery coaches.
I never understood what a recovery coach was, but everyone was telling me they were awesome and that I should meet with them, so I did. Derek, who is now family to me (and I adore this man with every ounce of my being) loved me when I couldn’t love myself. He saw what I couldn’t see because my brain was so foggy and hazy from all the substances. He treated me like a person when I thought I should have died.
He knew I loved cats. At Christmastime, he took a picture of his cat who had hopped into his Christmas tree. He printed it out on paper and brought it in to me so I could [make a card] and mail it to my daughter. I was an inmate, a nobody, a drug addict going to prison for the third time in her life. I had lost custody of my daughter, my husband was still free doing drugs, I didn’t know where we stood—like, who was I? I was nobody. But this man was considerate and compassionate to think, “she’d really like this,” It was the simplest gesture, but it resonated volumes with me. Look, I’ll be sober five years this October and it still resonates with me.
Kayla would come and talk to me. She was only supposed to spend a half hour and she’d stay for an hour and a half. We would talk about everything from the type of pen on her desk to whatever. We still joke about what kind of pen she’s using. Those relationships were a vital turning point for me. Now I have the honor to be that person for someone else and I can say to them, I was once you. You can be this person for someone else.
CHW: What do you think Delaware County could do better to support alcohol and drug recovery? I ask because, I see that there are real issues with addiction in our area—I don’t know the numbers, but I imagine they are high, and it seems like the resources are low.
JC: I think one thing that would be incredibly helpful would be supportive living—sober housing. Also, not having a six-month waiting period for a mental health appointment, and doctors that do more than just write a script. We need more human-based agencies. We need more street outreach. More people, less judgment.
And parole in this county [stops]…Listen, I’m the face of recovery here. When people hear recovery advocate, my head pops up in their mind. I’ve created a niche for myself as the face of recovery and I’m grateful for it. But still, my parole officer rode me like I was slinging crack in the corner. In spite of my role, they kept me on parole six months longer because my husband relapsed. I was denied sitting on the police reform committee and the sheriff had to call and advocate for me.
CHW: So, what you’re saying is, Delaware County probably could do better working with people in recovery [laughs]
JC: In defense of the parole officer, there’s only one in this county and it’s not fair to them. As a person that has been burned out, I can understand. But, when we get to that point, we need to step back and say, “I’m not doing my best work. Maybe it’s time for me to have an extended leave of absence, do some professional training.
In June, I was part of a conference on the Arizona Public Healthcare Alliance’s series on substance use disorder, pregnancy, and motherhood. Did you know that parole officers provide peers in other parts of the country? Where when you come home and you’re on parole you are required to meet with a peer to provide support and complete a reentry piece to further substantiate what is going on and support you more. The peer also trains you to administer Narcan and if you relapse you go to your peer.
CHW: What are we doing here? [sighs] Do you think it’s a lack of money or a lack of vision?
JC: Both. And it’s a lack of wanting to admit there’s a problem. We, and I mean “we” in this generalized area, believe that if we provide clean needles or Narcan we’re giving the green light to use drugs. So, say you’re in active addiction, I know you’re going to get high. I care enough about you that I want you to get through because we can’t have another conversation about recovery if you’re dead. So “here, take these clean needles because I don’t want you to get AIDS or Hep C; I don’t want you to get a bacterial infection so that you die in front of your children painfully.”
I’ve had people who’ve said, “you give a shit if I make it?” I say, “Yeah, I do.” It takes two seconds to say, “I love you, don’t die.” That can potentially change someone’s whole outlook. We tend not to understand that with the higher-ups in this area. It’s mind-boggling to me.
CHW: So, the problem is that leaders are thinking, “if you think about the thing, you’re supporting the thing.”
JC: I think maybe they’re also just so afraid of looking too progressive. There are terms in society that if you get them, you get them, but if you don’t you might not speak up and try to understand them because that might make you appear open-minded or stupid. For me, when I think of progressive, I think forward moving, we are progressing, getting better.
CHW: Let’s talk about the power of letter writing. On your YouTube channel, I see that you encourage your followers to write snail mail to you at your PO Box and sometimes to people that are currently incarcerated. What do handwritten letters mean to you?
JC: Mail can be very important for someone’s mental health. When you’re incarcerated, they do mail-call every day. I've watched women stand there every day with their hopes up really high that someone was going to write them. There was one woman, an older lady, that I was incarcerated with. Every day she’d get super hyped up that mail was coming from her daughter, and it never did. One day, she got like four pieces of mail because the other girls had said something to their friends. When she got them, everyone was cheering and clapping—she was crying.
A letter is the smallest gesture you can do for someone. What’s a stamp? $.65 or something? It takes nothing to pick up a postcard and write, “hey, how you doin’?” and it can mean the world. It helps people realize they matter and gives them something to look forward to—they are forming healthy sober relationships through exchanging letters.
CHW: If you were to write a postcard to your former self – the version of you that is incarcerated and getting sober – what might you say? Or what words of comfort would you offer?
JC: Woo, I don’t think it would all fit on a postcard, girl! [laughing]
CHW: That’s why I made it a postcard, so your message would have to be small!
JC: [pauses] “Don’t stop…You are worth so much more than you think. You are much stronger than you realize. And you won’t even believe how it’s all going to turn out.”
I don’t know how I became “me,” but this is the “me” I was supposed to be.
Learn more about Jen's work at www.jencutting.com