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New recovery director brings life experience to Bernardsville center

By February 21, 2020 No Comments

By CHARLIE ZAVALICK Editor • Feb 7, 2020

Ken Musgrove, the new director of social recovery support for Community In Crisis (CIC), discusses his new position during an interview at the Old Library Building in Bernardsville on Friday, Feb. 7.

BERNARDSVILLE – Imagine the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, happening on a regular basis throughout America. Ken Musgrove, the new director of social recovery
support for Community In Crisis (CIC), offered that scenario for perspective on the nation’s deadly opioid crisis.

“There is a crisis and people need to wake up to the fact that we lose between 127 to 130 people a day in this county,’’ he said. “We lose 3,000 people every six weeks in this country. Imagine turning your TV on every six weeks and seeing two planes flying into a building. What would your reaction be? What happened when that happened?

“In every town in Morris County there’s a memorial to the victims of 9/11. There’s no memorial to the 700,000 that were lost since 1999.’’ In New Jersey alone 3,000 people died last year due to addiction, he added.

“My fear is that we’ve become numb to it. The numbers that came out most recently from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) show deaths went from 70,000 to 68,000. It was the first decline – which is something to celebrate – but it’s still 68,000 deaths. That’s more than we lost in the entire Vietnam War.’’

“We spent billions of dollars to answer what happened on 9/11, and we have a 9/11 every six weeks.’’

Musgrove, 55, began working with Community In Crisis, a local non-profit, just one month ago. On Friday, he sat down for an interview to discuss his background and his new job with the community-based organization, which was established in 2013 following the overdose deaths of two local young adults.

The new position was created through funding from the Margaret A. Darrin Charitable Trust. It’s Musgrove’s job to “direct and implement all recovery work for CIC, offering individuals in recovery from substance use and their families a network of holistic connections and solutions,’’ according to a press release announcing his hiring.

It’s Musgrove’s first full-time job in the recovery field. But he brings to the role a lifetime of experience in recovery – and his own personal tragedies.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in Queens and Long Island, his mom passed away when he was just 8 years old. “I started drinking and using when I was 12,’’ he said.

Drugs were easy to acquire in the city, he noted, and he tried everything from pot to pills. “As a kid I dabbled in everything,’’ he said, but alcohol was his “drug of choice.’’

Musgrove was hit with another tragedy when his natural father committed suicide when he was 15. He got sober for the first time at age 16 but it didn’t last. “I heard people say you didn’t have a drinking problem, you have a drug problem,’’ he recalled. “If you stay away from drugs you can drink and be OK.

“That was what I wanted to hear. The worst thing that happened to me was nothing happened, so I got a way with it. So I kept doing it. Then very quickly I started drinking in excess. I took the drugs out of the equation but I still wanted the effect.’’

Through it all, he was a good student and put himself through college, earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Hofstra University. He subsequently worked in retail for some 15 years at K-Mart and Office Depot, rising to management.

He was also married to a woman who worked in the addiction field. “I stayed on track for a couple years,’’ he said. But tragedy struck again when his wife, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, died about 17 years ago of respiratory failure. Musgrove started attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings after being charged with driving while intoxicated in 1999. “Once I started drinking, things started going down hill,’’ he said. “I hit one more bottom. I’ve had some periods of crash and burn in my life and have had to rebuild.’’

Giving Back

About two years ago Musgrove decided to “take my living experience and give back and try to help people.’’ He began volunteering with a drug court in Morris and Sussex counties, and eventually became coordinator of a program that helped addicts express themselves through writing. “You’d see people come out of their shells,’’ he said. “A lot of talented people have addiction issues.’’

“I put myself out there to see what happens and trust that the universe will provide,’’ he said of his volunteer work.

He subsequently met Andi Williams, executive director of CIC, at a breakfast meeting in Rockaway and learned about its operation. “It seemed to be a very unique approach,’’ he said. He also fulfilled the course requirements to become a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist, including 46 hours of class work, 25 hours of supervised work and 500 hours of volunteer service. He later applied for the newly created job at CIC, and was hired.

“When the Margaret A. Darrin Charitable Trust awarded Community in Crisis funding for the director of recovery support position, it was the beginning of an exciting and critical chapter in our work,’’ Williams said. “The recovery community is an underserved population, culturally, socially and emotionally. Moreover, public policy and funding has traditionally been directed at preventing overdose deaths instead of aiming more broadly to include long-term wellness among the estimated 22 million Americans leading a life of recovery.

“Ken brings with him long-term lived experience of the disease, deep humility, and a passion for serving others,’’ she added. “We anticipate a landmark year of expanded social recovery support programs and family support.’’

‘Value In Experience’

“I’ve been in and around recovery for 25 years,’’ Musgrove said. “I’ve got a good background but I’m also educated. I like to read, I do the research.’’ The Peer Recovery Movement, he said, recognizes “there’s value in people’s lives, in people’s experience.’’

“I bring a passion to recovery because I’ve walked the walk.’’ Musgrove said he’s excited about his new opportunity.

“I have some freedom to go out and build some programs for the community,’’ he said. “Our belief is that the answer to addiction is not only sobriety, it’s community. A strong community might get us through some of this.’’

CIC is a coalition of community organizations includes leaders from the local schools, churches, police departments and other community agencies. It’s now headquartered in the Old Bernardsville Library building on Route 202, where it has offered a series of programs such as family support groups, evening acoustic coffee houses and even cooking classes to engage residents and share its message.

He noted the significance of working in a historic building that for decades served as a library. “This is a very welcoming space,’’ he said. “It’s not your typical recovery center that looks like grandma’s furniture was thrown into a room. Learning is still going on here, just in a different form. It’s more experiential that out of a book. It’s personal story telling, not story books.’’

“Here we offer long-term recovery,’’ he said. “A lot of us who have had childhood traumatic experience never really learned life skills, how to balance a checkbook. You’re not necessarily learning life skills in the 12-step recovery process. Here we can do some of the other objective things, housing education, job search skills, legal issues.’’

The Hub, as the CIC building is called, offers various unique programs. Last month, for instance, it hosted members of the Ridge High School Guitar Club, school faculty and parents for an evening of music. “They came, they performed,’’ Musgrove said. “We provide them a platform. They were able to see we have a welcoming and safe environment.’’ CIC is “not only for people in recovery,’’ he added. “We’re a resource for the community, a place for folks to come together.’’

‘Navigate Difficulties’

In his short time on the job Musgrove has been “getting out to the community, meeting folks, letting them know that I’m on board and what CIC does.’’ “I can be the boots on the ground,’’ he said. “I’ve been blessed with a lot of energy and I have a passion for what I’m doing.’’

Part of his job is to help connect individuals in recovery and their families with available resources. “We don’t do clinical therapeutic counseling one on one,’’ he said. “We’re here to help people navigate some of their difficulties.

“We’re not telling the person what they have to do for their recovery but offering different options and helping them get connected to the services, cutting through the red tape. What’s going to help your recovery be more successful and how can we get there.’’

The opioid crisis “knows no boundaries’’ and has hit people from all walks of life, including kids in Bernardsville and Basking Ridge. Addiction “hijacks the brain and very quickly,’’ he noted. Research now shows that it takes a minimum of a year for recovery, not always “in a facility but having active support’’ that will help people with “more sustainable recoveries.

“That’s what we can do with this building is give folks the space to support them with some options,’’ he said. “We’re in it for the long haul.’’ “I want to help other people from the tragedy of my life, to be able to transform that into helping somebody else,’’ he added. “I want to be able to open some doors for folks.’’