DeKALB – The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration marks September as National Recovery Month, and an Illinois woman is celebrating the month sober after spending almost two years at a DeKalb sober living house for women.
“It’s really nice, I’ll be honest,” said Alison, a 32-year-old who left the Northwestern Medicine Ben Gordon Center Discovery House in August. The Daily Chronicle has granted Alison partial anonymity as she continues her sobriety journey.
Alison suffered from addictions to heroin, crack cocaine and meth for half a decade before she began living at Northwestern Medicine’s sober living house for adult women in DeKalb.
“This was my second chance,” she said. “I’d already went to rehab once before, was clean for a little bit, trying to do it on my own, but this time going to Discovery House was actually a fresh new start for me.”
Alison said the structure offered at the house through the help of Northwestern Medicine gave her the chance to refine herself and work on her traumas. She said the Discovery House gave her the tools to enable her to practice her recovery on her own.
During her recovery, Alison said she had multiple options as she sought addiction treatment, but chose the DeKalb women’s home because it was closer to her family. Both of her parents are graduates of Northern Illinois University, so they also were familiar with the area.
Discovery House provides a myriad of resources to residents through its affiliation with Northwestern Medicine. The facility offers on-site support services, peer-led meetings, access to addictions treatment services that incorporate individual therapy and group counseling, alcohol and drug education, according to the center’s website.
The sober living facility is a voluntary addiction recovery program for adult women. The home can house up to 12 women at a time and also can offer housing for up to two children – between ages 2 and 12 – of someone recovering from addiction, if enough bed space is available. The residents can expect to share their living space with a roommate as well.
Residents moving into the home must go 30 days sober if they’re coming in with no prior addiction treatment. However, if they’re coming from an in-patient facility, only two weeks of sobriety is required for entry. This is done so there isn’t constant relapses and turnover inside the home, staffers said.
Rent for the residents of the Discovery House is $8.25 a day, or about $250 a month – depending on the month. That total includes everything. No utilities are tacked on to the monthly bill.
While there is a recovery home coordinator who works 40 hours a week, Marissa Kirch, the recovery home manager, also is responsible for issues that might occur outside of those 40 hours at the home. She provides additional support to the residents of the house by creating structure and enforcing rules, and also regulates any issues inside the home. She said her job is different every day.
Kirch, who has a master’s degree in social work and is a licensed clinical social worker and alcohol and drug counselor, said her work at the Discovery House for the past six years is “both the smallest and largest part of” her job.
“It’s a very small subset of what I do,” Kirch said. “However, it does take a lot of time commitment and a lot of attention to essentially provide this hands-on support to up to 12 women at any given time, who are struggling with their own addiction and mental health and trying to figure out what their recovery journey is going to look like.”
Alison said the structure and support provided to her through workers such as Kirch gave her new ways to deal with her addiction.
“So it has given me outlets and it has given me tools in ways that I’m able to kind of delve deeper into myself and kind of work on some of the deep core issues and reasoning behind my addiction,” Alison said.
The scheduled counseling, group therapy sessions, and sober activities help to create an environment where women in the home can work on themselves, Alison said. She thinks those community programs made the difference for her.
“Because before, when I tried getting sober I was just doing it on my own, I wasn’t working on myself or working through this deep rooted issue,” Alison said. “So I wasn’t able to address what tools and things I really needed to get the most out of it.”
When fighting to overcome addiction, Kirch said for many, the biggest thing to understand is that recovery is not a linear process.
“There are setbacks, there are struggles. And I think a lot of times we think, if you’re in recovery, you’re making this choice, and it’s just as easy as ‘Don’t use, don’t do this behavior, just change,’ and it’s not,” Kirch said. “There are going to be moments when people revert to their old behaviors, their own thinking patterns. It takes a lot of support, a lot of understanding, a lot of wrap-around services to really help guide people on that road to recovery.”
For those looking to support others in recovery or going through it themselves, Kirch said it’s important to accept that setbacks will occur, but that doesn’t have to be the end, or deter success.
To that end, the Discovery House uses a variety of methods to help the residents on their path to recovery. The group setting in particular, Alison said, is a paramount feature of the recovery journey. Alison said she was able to learn from the other women living in the home while also feeling safe to express all of her feelings and concerns. Alison said she never felt judged while in the home. She was taught that recovery is specific to each person, and that she can tailor to the journey to her needs.
“Discovery House prepared me to move out on my own,” Alison said. “I lived on my own a long time ago, but that’s when I was also in active addiction so I wasn’t necessarily prepared for it then.”
Alison said Kirch helped her move out of Discovery House when she was ready and helped settle her into her own place throughout the final months of her stay.
It’s an experience that’s inspired her to encourage other women to reach out to Discovery House if they’re struggling with addiction and substance abuse issues, too.
“Coming through Discovery House it definitely helped, definitely helped me,” Alison said. “It’s not embarrassing to ask for help.”
Recovery for Alison was more than just dropping the drugs.
“If you’re not working on everything, the only thing you’re not doing is just not using drugs,” she said. “By going through the program and actually going to classes, going to meetings, reaching out to other people, you’re working on things. You’re just not abstaining from drugs. You’re working on yourself to get better. So going through a program definitely gives you the tools to where you’re able to work on everything.”
Kirch said one of the biggest things she always says is “it’s never too late to change your life,” and she encourages people to look at what options are available in their community they might not know about. And Alison’s testimony comes as she prepares to mark a milestone in her recovery.
“I just think the Discovery House gave me the fighting chance to work on my sobriety,” she said. “And I’m now one month shy of two years clean from heroin, crack cocaine and meth, so the program worked.”