Peer support specialist shares his story with others who are working on their own recovery

Bill Welch spent years running from his problems before he reached out for help. Now he shares his recovery story to help others.

Bill Welch spent years running from his problems before he reached out for help. Now he shares his recovery story to help others. by Jeff Burkhead

When Bill Welch interviewed for a job at the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, he discovered a problem.

He had applied for the wrong job.

But, as fate would have it, it turned out to be exactly the right job.

“I came in and interviewed and after five or 10 minutes I realized this was not a peer mentoring job,” Welch said. “There is a big difference between being a peer mentor and a peer support specialist. I didn’t know that until I was in the interview.”

Welch had previously gone through the process to become a certified peer mentor, helping people who are dealing with chemical and behavioral addiction issues. A peer support specialist is someone who has progressed through their own recovery and is willing to work with others who are going through dependency or mental health issues.

“Come to find out I was qualified to do either,” Welch said. “I was hired at Bert Nash because of those qualifications, not only on an alcohol and substance abuse level, but also a mental health level.”

Welch joined the peer support team at Bert Nash, where he shared his recovery story and assisted others who were going through similar struggles.

“I have been in mental health recovery for four years,” Welch said. “I made a mistake thinking I was applying for a peer-mentoring job and I wasn’t. But I got it anyway. To me, that just tells me I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”

For Welch, it was a long journey to Bert Nash. It started in Detroit where he was born to alcoholic and drug-addicted parents.

“It was a super dysfunctional household,” Welch said. “My parents were alcoholics and heroin addicts. It was a very volatile relationship. They split up when I was young. My father took his own life after my parents divorced. I think he was 42 at the time.”

Welch’s mother was in no condition to care for him. She had her own issues, including addiction and mental illness. As a result, he ended up in foster care by the age of 9. When he was 12, he was adopted. He was already drinking and smoking pot by then. He felt abandoned.

His adoptive father’s brother started a tire business in Wichita, which is how Welch’s adopted family ended up in Kansas. Welch hated the move. When he was old enough to leave home, he took off. He spent time in San Diego, Los Angeles, Dallas, among other places. He was running from his past and from his problems.

“I always thought my trouble was somebody else or somewhere else, so I would run to the next place,” Welch said. ‘But I always met myself in these new places and the pattern started all over again. I ran from myself for a long time.”

Welch finally ran out of places to run and hide.

“There were no other options. Everything had stopped working, the finger pointing and the blaming. There were several suicide attempts. Nothing worked,” he said. “I had been telling people to leave me alone, when in reality what I needed was for someone to help me. I finally decided maybe I should try asking for help.”

He reached out to a friend’s mom, who, come to find out, had been in recovery for years. She asked Welch if he had considered going to an AA meeting. He was 36 at the time. In December, he will celebrate 10 years of sobriety.

In 2010, Welch decided to move to Lawrence. He has been here ever since. During that time, he has been working on his own mental health recovery. After years of battling depression and feelings of hopelessness, he knew he needed help.

“I realized there was something that wasn’t right,” Welch said. “I ended up calling Heartland Community Health Center.”

Bert Nash and Heartland have a partnership to provide integrated physical health and mental health services.

“The 12 steps are miraculous, but I had been waiting for the 12-step program to save me, and it hadn’t up to that point,” Welch said. “Through medication and therapy I found the serenity that I had been looking for the whole time.”

Now he’s helping others find the same thing. He started out helping people as a peer support specialist; now he’s doing it as a member of the Bert Nash Health Connections team, which focuses on whole-person care. Welch said the role feels like an ideal fit.

“I teach people about recovery and health, whether it’s physical, spiritual or mental health,” he said. “Because it’s all tied together.”

Welch found his passion is helping people with their own recovery from a mental health perspective.

Welch found his passion is helping people with their own recovery from a mental health perspective. by Jeff Burkhead

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