For One Student, GCC's DARC Program Was Stepping Stone Towards Healing, Activism

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ana Gopoian began college at the age of 42. She graduated in May and received her Drug and Alcohol Recovery Counselor certificate from the DARC (Drug and Alcohol Recovery) program at Gateway Community College.

Gopoian identifies herself as a woman in long term recovery. For her that means she hasn’t used any drugs, including alcohol since July 13, 1995. To that end, she founded the nonprofit organization, TriCircle, Inc. The not-for profit’s goal is to provide a solution to the cycle of relapse and recidivism inherent in the current system by offering long-term residential treatment and providing individuals the resources they need to recover and succeed. While the program is in its primary stages of development, Gopoian has a concrete vision for the organization, having mapped out a two-year plan just a few short months ago.
Gopoian credits a great deal of her success to GCC’s DARC program.

“I joined this program because I needed to feel a sense of humility towards this profession," she said. "My main goal at the end of the day was to take my education and use it to build this vision that I had for TriCircle, Inc; I never imagined the program could help me through my personal journey as well.”

During her time at GCC, Gopoian was able to utilize GCC’s Student Accessibility Services (SAS) center and was impressed with how accommodating they were to meeting her needs. “They made me feel like my education truly did matter, providing me with longer testing periods, the allowance to record lectures, and text-to-speech textbooks. It was all so helpful and conducive to my learning,” she said.

Gopoian specifically recalls that the Co-Occurring Disorders class, as part of the DARC program, acted as a form of self-help, which came unexpectedly. 

“People shared their personal stories in class, their lived experiences with addiction, and why they chose to get into this profession or enhance their education in the first place," she said. "Our professors reinforced the reality of compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and the great need to stay on top of one’s personal self-care. In class, you got to see classmates for who they really were and in turn gained a higher level of tolerance, understanding, and empathy, not just for them, but for the clients we interacted with in our required 450 hours of internship. I came into the DARC program knowing there is hope for recovery, but while getting further involved in the program’s curriculum, I was humbled to hear how concerning, how limited, and how siloed our resources in Connecticut are."

According to Gopoian, over the past decades, addiction counseling as a profession has gained integrity and accountability.

“Because of my experience with the GCC’s DARC program I have a higher level of respect not just for the profession, but for our professors and the challenges they are confronted with," she said. "I want to make sure that I state my gratitude for my professors; they have been instrumental in creating a safe environment and diverse insight not only with substance use disorders, but also the high level of co-occurring mental health disorders that usually accompany them. I leave this program a better woman and member of society, and I will proudly walk with my classmates on May 25 with a clearer understanding of the complex considerations needed to best serve the people needing help to get well. The DARC program has truly opened my eyes and allowed me to see the disease of addiction in another light.”

Wanda Pizzonia, fellow GCC graduate of the DARC program, attests to the strength of Gopoian's vision for TriCircle, Inc.: “Ana’s personal story is compelling, and she has done what all of us hope to do. Her vision, energy, knowledge, and ability to draw others into sharing their vision in authentic ways has established a foundation for what TriCircle, Inc. will become."

TriCircle, Inc. held its first annual “Walk the Walk for Recovery” on Saturday, May 6. The walk raised funds as well as awareness about the organization, its mission to serve recovering individuals in the community. It also spread awareness about substance abuse.

“I believe that the stigma and isolation created by the disease of addiction is just as detrimental as the disease itself," Gopoian said. "We in the class of 2017 will stand stronger with our education from GCC’s DARC Program and bring light to the diverse options and solutions for recovery.”

Learn more about TriCircle, Inc.

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