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Community Support Center is expanding mission in Ontario County

Everyone is battling something.

For Erin Pownall Burns, recovery from drug addiction has been a significant battle. In high school she discovered alcohol helped wash away her feelings of not being good enough. From there she tried other substances. Her drugs of choice were uppers — cocaine, methamphetamine and eventually, crack cocaine.

Burns, 32, who grew up in Naples and now lives in Canandaigua, became sober in 2016. That is the year she checked herself into a psychiatric ward and came to a realization.

“I am supposed to be in rehab,” she recalled in sharing her story this week over a cup of coffee at a local cafe.

Burns said she believes she has a genetic vulnerability to addiction, and thinks that predisposition, along with her excessive and persistent exposure to drugs and alcohol, brought her to a point where she didn’t have the power to make another choice.

“I had to use,” she said.

Burns shares her experience with a lot of people these days in helping others going through similar struggles in her work as a certified recovery peer advocate.

Peer advocates are people with life experience with substance use — either themselves or through a loved one — who use that experience to support the recovery goals of those using drugs and/or alcohol. Along with being a peer advocate, Burns is now also trained to train others for the peer certification, a position needed by local agencies such as Finger Lakes Area Counseling and Recovery Agency, or FLACRA.

Renae Campbell is acting coordinator of the Community Support Center in Canandaigua, which sponsored Burns to become a trainer. Campbell said that Burns, with her life experience and personal strengths in connecting with people, makes an ideal peer advocate and trainer. Burns is also helping the center expand its mission.

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