An Incredible Journey
How a former SGR employee is drawing on her own experiences to transform the lives of women recovering from substance abuse.
Unlike many drug users, who get hooked at a fairly young age, I was 33 years old in 1985 when I first encountered crack. Although that made me something of a late starter, one thing I have learned in my life is that there is no such thing as a “typical” substance abuser. I’ve seen people from almost every age group and socio-economic background affected by addiction.
I didn’t turn to drugs to escape from a disturbed or unhappy home life. In fact, I had a very close
family. However, my brother was a drug dealer. I would see this stream of people going in and out of his house almost begging him to give them crack. I thought to myself, “What on earth makes that stuff so good?” It was dumb of me to try it, but I did.
Unfortunately, I quickly became addicted and within a few months I knew I had a problem. My family pleaded with me to stop, but I told them there was nothing wrong and that it was they who had the issues. I was constantly telling myself, “Next week, next month, next year, I’m going to give it up,” but of course I never did. I was in complete denial.
The big problem with crack is that you are constantly trying to recreate the euphoria of that very first high. I became so desperate for money that I started doing things that I knew were wrong — like stealing from my family. I lived in a nice house in Oxford, Georgia and I smoked it all away. I reached the point where I had no money and almost no possessions. My sister was granted custody of my children.
My lowest point came in my fourth year of addiction. One night, I was out of drugs and wanted to lie down, but I was so agitated and restless that I couldn’t keep still. I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep either. I knew then that enough was enough and that if I didn’t stop I was either going to die
or end up in jail. I decided that night that I was going to get myself clean.
FIRST STEP TO RECOVERY
The next day, I checked myself into My Sister’s House — a shelter/program operated by the Atlanta Mission — and I stayed there for eight months with nine other people from the program and many homeless people. My treatment was faith based — learning how to turn my life over to Christ so that
I could live it the way he wanted me to.
Upon leaving My Sister’s House, the next step in putting my life back together was getting a stable job and finding a place to live. I stayed with my nephew for a little while and went to work at Smith, Gambrell & Russell. I am still grateful to SGR for giving me a chance to start over and rebuild my life with my feet on the ground. I started out in the mailroom and I was a fax courier for many years. I also worked for a long time in the IT department, where I learned how to use a computer for the first time.
After working at the law firm for 15 years, I decided I needed to do something different with my life. A friend who for a long time had been telling me that she wanted to open a house or a shelter encouraged me to start House of Hope. She gave me the money to have my House incorporated with the state, three people from my church each adopted a room, and a tax accountant helped me with the finances. I was in business! Within a few weeks I had eight women staying at the house.
The role of House of Hope is to help people who are recovering from drug addiction stay clean
and successfully transition back into society. The women who are living at the house have
already made the decision to quit taking drugs and my role is to help them rebuild their lives.
I do that by helping them address their spiritual, health, financial, emotional and relational needs. In addition, all of the women are engaged in life-changing classes such as overcoming addiction,
relapse prevention, financial stewardship and, where applicable, parenting classes.
Discipline plays an important role in the ongoing recovery process. Each woman must adhere to 50 of my “house” rules, one of which is that they need to obey a strict 10 p.m. curfew each night. I’m pleased to say that, although I occasionally will have to ask a woman to leave the house for breaking the rules or reverting to her old habits, the vast majority leave only when they are ready and go on to live drug-free lives.
I credit much of that success to the fact that, regardless of their financial position or job status,
women can stay here for as long as they feel is necessary to help ensure they stay clean. If I send somebody back out into the world before they are ready or without a place to live or a job to go to, the chances of them reverting to their damaging old life is very high. One of my key beliefs is that, to
permanently break the habit of addiction, you need to change the people, places and things around you. House of Hope gives women that opportunity.
I’m proud to say that even with the challenging economy in recent years, House of Hope has remained private — we have never had to accept a grant. However, like any non-profit program, we require continual funding to cover costs and maintenance of the home.
While women who are employed are required to make a financial contribution to stay at the house, many women who stay here are not yet working. It is very hard work and, at times, it can be stressful. But I have always found a way, and I know I will continue to do so.