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SADOD Article About Kenneth Gumes

March 13th 2024

Recovery Coach Copes with Loss While Helping Others 

By Luke Schmaltz, VOICES Newsletter Editor

After decades of struggle, Kenneth Gumes, 63, is now in recovery. “I come from a family of 10 brothers and sisters,” he explains. “My dad was an alcoholic, but my mother did her best raising us until I was able to go out on my own.”

“I got myself into trouble trying to become a man, following in my older brother's footsteps. He had drinking and drug problems and eventually, I went down that same road. I dropped out of school in the ninth grade because drinking was more enjoyable.”

Never Too Late

“My first arrest happened at the age of 15, my last arrest was at the age of 52. A light bulb went off and I realized I was doing the same things as an adult I was doing as a teenager. So, I began to work on myself. I knew about recovery, but I had never taken part in my own recovery. Alcohol led to all the drugs – they go hand in hand – and I could never hold onto sobriety. But during my last incarceration, they had just opened the School of Reentry in Roslindale. They were recruiting repeat offenders without a high school diploma. Luckily, I was one of 25 people picked to go to that school.”

“I got my GED in computer skills. That was the turning point. I gained a huge sense of belief in myself. Growing up the way I did, I didn’t believe I was good enough, smart enough, or deserving enough. To this day, it is still hard to shake that mentality. It’s not easy, but I managed to do it. I have a lot of support around me through AA and the work I do with Paul Hammersley and the people at The Bridge Recovery Center. I gain strength from them and from giving a helping hand to those in need who are living the way I used to live.” 

Triad of Tragedy

Three of Kenneth’s four brothers are deceased from substance-use-related issues. “I love talking about them. That’s my way of keeping their memory alive. The first one to die was the second oldest. He worked a good job, but we never knew why he was always locked in his room. At the end, we realized he was in there shooting heroin the whole time. He developed HIV and that’s how we lost him. It was 1990 and I was incarcerated when I got the news. My oldest brother was living here in Everett with my wife and me. He was on dialysis at the time, and I again got the news that another brother had died. His death was due to a life of drinking, drugging, and going in and going out of prison. My closest brother died when I was out in society. We were only 11 months apart. We grew up doing everything together. He was my protector and I really looked up to him.” 

“Looking back, my drinking really took off when he got arrested. I was lost without him. I looked for a drink to make it through each day. I was a blackout drunk, a fall down drunk, and the drugs made everything three times worse.”

Rough Reflections

Gumes describes being addicted to crack cocaine, entrusted with money from his mother to pay her rent, and instead spending it all on drugs. “That’s when I found myself homeless in downtown Boston. That’s something I speak about when I go to my groups, because for a long time it was really eating me up. I thought I would have a chance to make it up to her, but she passed away when I was incarcerated. That really bothers me, because she didn’t deserve that and didn’t raise me to be that way.”

Grieving while incarcerated was profoundly difficult for Gumes. “I couldn’t sleep at night,” he explains. “They gave me some kind of liquid medication that knocked me out, but I didn’t like it. My mind was always foggy, and I was exhausted. I took that for a week or so, and then told them I didn’t want it anymore. What helped me, was when an older gentleman directed me to the Bible. I’ll never forget, he read me a verse from the book of Isaiah that said, ‘Nobody understands that the good is taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk upright enter into peace, they find rest as they abide in death.’”  

“I lost my wife in 2020. She had gone through weight loss surgery six months prior. I was against it, but I supported her, and one day she collapsed and that was it. My world was shattered, I couldn’t believe it. A year-and-a-half later, her oldest son from a previous marriage died of an overdose. After that, her uncle passed away, then her mother, then her father. Two weeks ago, the mother of my stepson’s kids overdosed and died. They are 15 and eight years old. The hard part is, they were both in the house when each of their parents died. My wife’s daughter and other son are here trying to get custody of those kids. The plan is, they will get an apartment together so they will still be a family unit.”   

Finding Connections

“Losing someone you love is so painful – it leaves you with a void that can’t be filled. But it is part of life, and everyone is going to die someday. I had to connect certain things I can draw strength from. I believe I played a part in my mother’s death because of all of the heartache and the sleepless nights I put her through. Recovery enlightens me and I find strength in that. That’s why I do the next right thing, which brings me joy. 

I tell people, even though my loved ones are gone, they are watching over me. I’m one of those people who wears their feelings on their sleeves. When something is wrong, I can’t hide it from the people who are around me.”   

In his work, Gumes goes to “hot” areas and offers assistance to people struggling with substance use. “When I’m helping someone, I say, ‘My name is Kenny. I am a recovery coach with the City of Malden. Have you ever thought about detox? I can get you into recovery. I can make a call if you’re ready. If not, here’s my card. I’m available at the center five or six days a week. If I’m not there, there will be someone else present who can get you help.”

To hear more stories like Kenneth's click here

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