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When talking about any issue, people would rather speak with someone who has “walked a mile in their shoes.” For clients in Alton Memorial Hospital’s Warm Hand Off program, Louis Hollingsworth has walked a few marathons.
Hollingsworth, 56, is a peer recovery specialist for the program, which provides assistance to those dealing with substance abuse issues. He was on the other side of the counseling desk for so long that patients know his help is genuine – which is the main idea for the peer recovery specialists.
“You have to learn another way to live,” Hollingsworth says. “That requires a considerable amount of help, and I got to the point where I would take whatever help I could get.”
Hollingsworth has been with the Warm Hand Off program for less than a year, but he quickly got to the point where he was able to resume an earlier chapter in his health care career. He works full time as a registered respiratory therapist in the AMH Respiratory Care department.
“Even with all I went through, I kept all my licenses current,” he said. “It was so good to get back to that. I just have to thank Meredith Parker and Elizabeth Bhandari (managers of the WHO program); Penny Krause, Jamie Goss and the entire Respiratory department, and my two good friends, Alex Easton and Amanda Phelps (fellow peer recovery specialists).”
Easton says that Hollingsworth is a living example of what’s possible for people in recovery.
“It has been a blessing to witness Lou’s personal as well as professional growth over the last few years,” he said. “Lou carries himself with integrity, honesty, and immense gratitude for the life he leads today. Our program has been notified countless times by previous patients wanting to share their thanks to Lou for being authentic and providing them hope in a time where they felt none. Getting to see first-hand the work ethic and humility of his character has been so inspiring to our team. I am grateful to not only call Lou my co-worker, but also my friend.”
A native of Indiana, Hollingsworth was in a car accident on the night of his high school graduation in 1984. He fractured his neck but there was no paralysis. However, as a “strong-willed person,” his alcohol intake increased and did even more so after he enrolled at Purdue University that fall.
“College life can be conducive to the escalation of that type of lifestyle if you allow it to do so,” he said.
He didn’t graduate from Purdue and moved around quite a bit the next few years, with alcohol and other substances continuing to cause problems.
“But the drugs are just a symptom,” Hollingsworth said. “I had to go through everything before I could completely surrender.”
He got married and had two children, but the marriage ended, and he was separated for a while from his children, went bankrupt and continued to spiral downward before seeking help. He spent time in several southern Illinois towns and eventually became involved with Chestnut Health System, which is where he first met Easton and Phelps. Louis’ 12-step program eventually helped him become a Certified Alcohol Drug Counselor (CADC) in 2021.
“I had my last alcohol on March 23, 2019,” he said. “You just have to burn some bridges to get out of it. The disease is physical, emotional, and spiritual. We all have an ego, which to me is Edging God Out. I definitely credit a Higher Power, and God continues to put people in my life. And it’s very important to create a support network, plus a lot of gratitude, humility, and keeping it very simple.”
Hollingsworth now has a good relationship with his ex-wife, plus his two children, and is engaged to be married.
“Lou is a perfect example of why we should never treat someone differently based on their past mistakes or what we are treating them for as health care providers,” Bhandari says. “Every single person alive makes mistakes, but someone in recovery, like Lou, is honest enough with themselves and others to admit it and strive to always do better.”
Pictured above: Louis Hollingsworth (center) with some of his teammates in Alton Memorial Hospital's Warm Hand Off program.