On the forefront of treatment dynamics
It was August 1986, when Anita Bradley’s father, Obie, went fishing on Lake Erie. A Kent State junior at the time, Bradley (MSW ‘99) was pursuing a bachelor’s in criminal justice while indulging in typical college bacchanalia. She was 26 credits shy of graduating.
Then, a storm swept over Lake Erie, which had then risen to drastic levels. Bradley’s father, an avid boater, had gone out with her uncle, Jimmie, and was expected to return that afternoon. Five days later, after a Coast Guard search, Obie’s body was discovered on the shores of Buffalo.
“My uncle’s was never found,” she says.
To cope with loss, Bradley’s college partying morphed into material for coping.
“I didn’t go to counseling, I didn’t go to church,” she said. That September, months before dropping out of Kent State, “I crossed the line of no return.”
Deflated and mourning, Bradley grew addicted to cocaine.
Today, after 17 and a half years of spearheading recovery efforts as founder of theNorthern Ohio Recovery Association (NORA), Bradley is helping to advance the public’s — law enforcement especially — understanding of the disease of addiction. And since 2019, Bradley has extended NORA’s treatment wheelhouse by including co-care for mental illnesses.
In the throes of the crack cocaine epidemic, Bradley became clean on May 8, 1990. Trouble befell her before sobriety. Without a job or diploma, she stole Cavs jerseys to pay for drugs, often from gun-toting Detroit dealers. But come the spring of 1994, after four years of intense treatment at the Compass House, Bradley found herself in a better place.
She owes her success to her fight as a track and fielder. “I’m not aggressive,” she said. “But I’m certainly persistent.”
The Compass doctors that saved Bradley — that had seen her addiction as an illness — led her to want to become one of them. In 1995, after completing her bachelor’s, Bradley applied to Cleveland State for a master’s in social work. She was at first denied, Bradley believes, due to her mediocre GPA and the freshness of the program. In 1997, she met Andrew Edwards, a pastor who encouraged Bradley to write transparently about her trials as an addict — against prevailing societal stigmas. After all, Bradley was a budding success story: “A mother, a taxpayer, and I was married, too.”
The resulting essay thrived. In 1999, Bradley graduated, from CSU with a master’s in social work, free of an addict’s guilt. “I can’t tell you when the magic wand happened,” she said. “But at some point, I became okay with being able to say I used cocaine and being able to share about that life more openly.”
Fed up with “cookie cutter” rehab programs that blindly followed the status quo — even those at Compass, which she directed for four years — Bradley opened up her own center, NORA, in a 2,400 square-foot facility off East 55th in the winter of 2004. Over the next 15 years, NORA grew with progressive tendencies. Intake window times were open twenty-four seven. E-counseling and gender-specific outpatient care blossomed. And today, NORA treats intake patients with co-occurring disorders — schizophrenia, depression, bipolarity. “A person more as a whole,” Bradley explained.
Bradley’s fight to fix Northeast Ohio’s opioid epidemic garnered her recognition as one of 10 Champions of Change by President Obama in 2016.
NORA had treated some 22,000 patients, Bradley says, with 84 percent clean at least six months after intake. “There’s not a whole bunch of money in this work,” she said. “But for someone to recognize your creativity? Your blood, sweat and tears?”
The fruits are more personal. She recalls a recent patient of hers, a Mansfield mother of two who was admitted for an opioid addiction. Two years after she was released, the Mansfield mother returned voluntarily.
“She wanted to drop off a letter to me: She got her kids back. She was working,” Bradley said, jubilant. “That’s what makes this work. That right there is what makes me happy with my work.”