A Tribute to Caryn Burgh

In August 2020, Caryn Burgh lost her battle with addiction. She was 32 years old.

Caryn was a member of the Pittsburgh Recovery Walk Planning Committee and an advocate for improving the way we treat people with addiction.

Earlier this year, we did an interview with Caryn about her personal story and the significance of the Pittsburgh Recovery Walk. We are publishing it in full, in memoriam.

Donations to support Caryn’s family can be made on GoFundMe.

How does your personal experience connect to the Pittsburgh Recovery Walk? 

I have been fighting my addiction for the last eight years and during that time have touched various types of systems and services in the greater Pittsburgh area. This includes inpatients, outpatients, sober living, the criminal justice system, and harm reduction programs–and I’ve met some of the most incredible people along the way. The Pittsburgh Recovery Walk is a reflection of that journey. 

It brings together so many aspects of both addiction and recovery, and all the people and places who are connected. It’s amazing to be a part of.

What inspires you? 

Seeing others not only fight for, but achieve change against systemic injustices and stigmas 

What are some of the gifts of your recovery?

The best gift my recovery has given me is the relationship I have with my children. They’ve been through so much with me that we’ve always had to communicate openly and honestly about everything going on in our lives, addiction and otherwise. Because of this, we’ve built an incredibly strong bond.                                            

Why do you think it matters that we speak more openly about addiction and recovery?                            

The only way we can make progress towards overcoming this drug epidemic is with more knowledge and communication. The best way to achieve this is to keep the conversation going, no matter how hard or raw it is. There are so many sides and faces to addiction and recovery. The more we know as a society, the better we can work toward solutions that really help people.                          

What do you think would make Pittsburgh a more supportive place for people who are struggling?                        

There are two main issues I believe need the most attention when it comes to helping those with substance use disorder in our area. First is housing. Currently, everyone who has housing needs is filtered through one central system and is required to meet a difficult standard of “homelessless” to be eligible for assistance. For example, someone in a treatment facility is not considered homeless even though they may have no place to go upon discharge. Many don’t have the income, credit or background to rent an apartment on their own. Therefore, once treatment is completed, people can get caught in a cycle of sober living houses or staying with friends that can leave them feeling stuck and headed down the road to relapse.

The second, most drastic changes that need to occur is to our criminal justice system. While many citizens believe that the jail is full of criminals who should be locked up, many people in ACJ are there because of a simple probation violation. If they had housing, employment and custody of their kids when they entered ACJ, they often lose it because they are held in custody for an indeterminate period of time. Losing these things can undermine someone’s progress in recovery. And while substance use disorder is considered a health issue, the judges, probation officers and jail staff are generally not medically-trained professionals. The criminal justice side and the treatment side rarely interact, even though they can have a huge influence on someone’s path toward recovery. All parties involved need to work toward bridging that gap.

Self-care: tell us a few strategies that work for you.             

I believe in balance and moderation. I try to give equal energy to work, kids, exercise, socializing and fun. It’s important for me not to put all my eggs in one basket. If I have a rough day at work or with the kids, there’s other supports in place to get me through those down patches. 

What are some of your favorite things to do in Pittsburgh? 

I’m a dancer at heart. I danced with Pittsburgh Ballet Theater for many years and picked up salsa dancing in college. Pittsburgh has an amazing salsa scene made up of some of the best people I’ve known–I highly recommend it.