By Kaitlin Gillespie, The Columbian

Wrapped in a pink and gray blanket, 16-year-old Asher Burnside swiveled in a chair in a building that’s been a place of refuge for nearly a year.

Tuesday was a hard day for the teenager, who, after two separate stays at Daybreak Youth Services, graduated from the inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility.

“You can do this sober stuff, Asher,” a counselor had written on the blanket’s tag.

At this ceremony, there are no gowns, no caps tossed into the air, none of the pomp or circumstance that will accompany other graduations around Clark County this spring. Instead, counselors and patients pass a recovery coin around the dimly lit room, sharing messages of love and support for the 16-year-old boy they’ve come to know and love in his extended stay at the center.

“Daybreak is just awesome,” Asher had said one day prior.

“I’ll cry because I’m leaving. I don’t want to leave.”

And Asher’s graduation was, indeed, a day full of emotion and tears — and some of the crass humor that comes from a roomful of teenage boys. As of his graduation, Asher had been at the center longer than any other current client: 231 days. Before that, Burnside spent 90 days in the center.

Most clients stay for 30 to 90 days, depending on how long their family’s insurance allows them to.

Now, Asher, whose family lives in Federal Way, is enrolling in Queen Anne at Interagency, one of two recovery high schools in the state. The school provides onsite chemical dependency and mental health professionals while allowing students to pursue their high school degree.

“He’s looking forward to being with people he can relate with,” said Lacey Josephsen, Asher’s primary counselor.

Asher withholds details about the experiences that put him into Daybreak in the first place. He first started using drugs and alcohol at the age of 13, he said, though he doesn’t share his drug of choice or why he turned to substances.

He was arrested before his first stay at Daybreak for possession of drugs after a police officer spotted him smoking at a transit center in the Seattle area. The first stay was court mandated.

“I didn’t take it seriously,” Asher said.

Four days after he got out, he went on a bender.

“I got minor alcohol poisoning,” he said. “I called Lacey and I was like, ‘I need help.’ I need to come back.”

Josephsen pointed to some of the challenges she said Asher has faced — a father with substance abuse problems. Low self-esteem and trust issues. Severe anxiety around other people, so intense he couldn’t eat in front of other people.

“He didn’t trust anyone,” she said.

But with Daybreak’s intense program of therapy and counseling, she said, Asher opened up.

“I love to love people,” she recalled him saying.

“His growth is just amazing,” she added. “He’s truly one of a kind.”

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