GROWING up, Marissa King was always surrounded by friends. She got along with almost everybody, and she brought many different worlds of people together throughout her lifetime. She was a writer, loved to read, played the flute in marching band, loved music and live shows, worked on local movies, and devoted the bulk of her spare time to theater where she worked in tech crew and production. Marissa was also a natural helper, when she saw somebody in need, she'd drop everything to help them.
But, like most, her life was far from happy and easy. She struggled with trauma, depression, and self harm. She was diagnosed bipolar and had attempted suicide multiple times throughout her teens. Unfortunately, her experiences with well meaning mental health care systems were traumatizing in their own way, and the wrong providers fanned the flames of her pain instead of extinguishing them. Because of this, she learned to numb her pain on her own through drugs and alcohol, and became very good at hiding it.
In 2008 Marissa graduated high school, moved out of her mom's house, and began college in hopes of becoming a journalist. In 2009 her family started to notice changes in her personality. Something seemed different about Marissa, so her mom Nancy began reaching out to her friends. Her family learned Marissa had a new circle of friends and had graduated from abusing prescription opioids to using heroin. Without a clue what to do, Nancy recruited the help of Marissa's boss and organized a private intervention. Movies and television shows like "Intervention" had suggested staging one would lead to recovery. Unsurprisingly, it went nowhere. Nancy tried to push rehab, but Marissa resisted the option. As time passed, Marissa's addiction spiraled and Nancy exhausted her resources searching for help. She reached out to professionals she knew personally, she called 800 numbers, and she tried to find answers and support on the internet, but she found no practical help. At the time, an addiction to heroin was seen as a personal failing and a vice, it was not looked at as a disorder or as a mental health issue. So, buried in shame, blame, guilt, and secrecy, Marissa's addiction continued and she and her family fell deeper into their suffering.
Then, in January 2012, Nancy received the phone call she'd been in fear of for the past three years. Marissa's third overdose was fatal.
Since Marissa's death, Nancy has devoted herself to understanding addiction. With a professional background in community outreach and education, Nancy already acutely understood the intersection of healthcare, non-profit, and community.
As her relationship to addiction shifted from mother to activist, she began to notice how often recovery organizations worked privately and independently, even if it meant duplicating services or being hard to access. Nancy knew first-hand how difficult it was to navigate recovery resources alone. She also knew how a loved-one in danger increases one's sense of urgency and compounds the pressure, stress, and confusion of the process. While Nancy advocated for organizations to work together and to be more accessible and transparent, she first realized her dream of creating COPE for the community.
In 2013 she founded the Kalamazoo Coalition on Opioid Awareness with addiction psychiatrist Dr. Michael Liepman in an effort to bring recovery and mental health professionals to the table to discuss our fractured systems. In 2014 she learned about Families Against Narcotics, an organization formed in Fraser, Michigan, who appealed to Nancy's belief that families also suffer when a loved one struggles with addiction. Operating under FAN, Nancy and Kristi Angelo of Calhoun county co-founded a chapter in their area of Southwest Michigan. Nancy began running support group meetings under FAN and became a certified recovery coach to better help the people she met through her work. Soon after, she became a public face and a voice within the community. Local news segments sharing Marissa's story and Nancy's message have since been syndicated to stations across the country.
In 2015 Nancy received a grant through Southwest Michigan Behavioral Health and The Red Project to distribute the life saving medicine Naloxone (also known as Narcan) to the community. She has since trained businesses, organizations, schools, law enforcement, government agencies, inmates, medical professionals, and community members all across Southwest Michigan about overdose prevention and the importance of having compassion for people fighting addiction. To deliver Naloxone to those hardest to reach and highest at risk of overdosing, Nancy trains patients at local rehabs, trains out of her car on the street, and is on call in her spare time for small or private trainings. Nancy sees it as a priority to accommodate community needs and meet people where they're at, instead of expecting them to reach out on their own. Through sharing this belief, she has been invited to present in a variety of unexpected or informal places, including on stage to concert and festival crowds.
Nancy is also a member of Berrien County's Voice Change Hope and is head of the harm reduction committee for the Kalamazoo County Opioid Coalition.
In 2016, after years of planning and preparation, Nancy launched COPE Network.
When Marissa's addiction first took hold, she isolated herself from past social groups, dropped out of school, lost jobs and opportunities, and through classic addictive behaviors like lying, stealing, and acting out emotionally, she lost many of her best and healthiest friends. Given how Marissa had always been such a hard-working, creative, caring, and social person, it was devastating for her family to see her lose connections, support systems, and huge parts of her identity.
COPE was born out of Nancy's belief that people shouldn't have to lose themselves or the things they loved the way Marissa did. Since addiction is a disease, not a choice, we believe social isolation doesn't teach lessons or change behaviors as much as it exacerbates someone's pain and keeps them turning to their substance. We want people seeking recovery to be held accountable for negative behavior without losing all sense of worth, purpose, and belonging on their journey to recovery.
We know that socialization, support, and respect can be very hard, if not impossible, to give someone struggling with addiction. Family, friends, or caregivers should not be expected to always provide for their loved one, should never be alone, and should never be without support for their own struggles.
At the facility COPE is in the process of opening, individuals affected by all aspects of addiction and related mental health issues can come and surround themselves with people who have compassion for such issues. Our goal is to be a drop-in, open to the public facility where people seeking recovery or trying to maintain recovery can socialize in an accepting, open minded environment. Families, friends, and people personally affected by addiction can come to meetings, classes, or events and make connections with others who understand.
We currently offer recovery related meetings and events. In the future, we plan to offer general classes and workshops on art, music, movement, crafts, trades, and more. We hope these classes allow our members to explore healthy coping mechanisms and tap into new skills while preserving the curiosity, passion, and creativity they had before their addiction. We know addiction turns lives upside down, but we believe people shouldn't have to completely lose their identity to their addiction.