Forming Connections through Peer Support
As a Peer Recovery Partner at the South Portland substance use treatment clinic, Michael Niles provides support and a unique connection to patients working through their recovery journey.
Peers, like Michael, are specially trained in the intentional peer support model of connecting, understanding a person’s perspective, and encouraging positive, forward-moving goals. Most importantly, Niles focuses on establishing a two way relationship as peers who can connect on a level that differs from a traditional client/provider relationship.
“The goal is to help each other,” Niles says. “We share struggles we’re having that day, or that we have had, and it helps in realizing no one is alone in this.”
Establishing mutual relationships isn’t something Niles rushes. He wants each connection to feel genuine and knows not everyone he meets is ready to start opening up about their journey immediately. Niles is patient and understands this himself, as he has personally experienced the recovery process.
And the patience pays off. In September, Niles recalls chatting with a new group member. For a few weeks, they chatted but then Niles noticed they were missing group and not responding to his text messages.
“I started checking in every few days via text, but didn’t get any responses,” Niles shares. “In December, I started to think this would be a missed connection, when out of the blue I got a text from this person. They said they were sorry they didn’t respond to my texts and that my checking in meant the world to them. It made me realize any level of connection truly is appreciated.”
And Niles isn’t the only one to realize how important these connections are. Program Manager Marty Braga sees it firsthand every day in the office.
“Michael is so warm, empathetic, and kind in his connections with the individuals we serve,” Braga says. “He is patient and allows people to set the pace in developing a relationship and what would be helpful to them in their recovery journey. Recently, one of our clients referred to Michael as the only support he has!”
The type of support Michael offers can range from accompanying people to meetings, visiting people recently incarcerated or at the hospital.
“I want to always be available to help everyone, but I also have to make sure that I am helping myself as well,” Niles says. “If I can help someone after hours by going to their first meeting with them because they’re scared, I absolutely will. But I also make sure I’m balancing things out by spending time with my family, going for beach walks with my dogs or bird watching to recharge.”
Though he’s been in the position less than a year, Niles has truly embraced the importance of his role in people’s recovery journey.
“Michael has stepped into this role with kindness and enthusiasm,” Peer Services Director Randy Morrison says. “He has been a constant in the uncertain lives of many of our most vulnerable clients and he is impacting their lives in powerful ways.”