Twenty years ago, I made a yearlong commitment to a county residential sober-living treatment program known as Moms & Kids. My recovery process and the tools I obtained there gave me a strong foundation for what has ended up being my life’s work. This represented the culmination of a road I had started down years before, since I had relapsed for several years before committing to the action in a 12-Step program.
During those “in-between” years, I just surfaced it and attended meetings, but still kept in close contact with people using and selling drugs. Today, I am the living result of having been what is known in the recovery drug culture as a “diehard dope fiend.” The true meaning of recovery for me is that if I choose to use today, it means death—not just physical death, but also death to the spirit and death to all that has been built in my recovery. I live, eat and drink recovery every day by managing 38 men in the recovery residence programs Genesis Sober Living and Dads & Kids Recovery in Ventura County, Calif.
Finding the path
In March 2009, with 16 years of sobriety, I received the terrible news that I was being laid off from my job. In a bad economy this was devastating, to me and my family’s finances. My reaction to my husband on the day I was laid off was, “Don’t worry. God has another plan!” I was always careful to speak life and not death into my situation, even though it really felt like a deep loss—we had just purchased a home at the top of the market!
Personally living in recovery, working with corporate employment business law, and working at the Ventura County Rescue Mission for several years helping homeless addicts and alcoholics gave me quite a well-rounded background. God had prepared me for something new, something big and something exciting. I had learned to stay clean and sober no matter what the circumstances were, and I became educated in my imperfect progress.
Despite these scary circumstances, I had my faith. And what is faith? It is being certain of what we hope for. What did I desire to do? To work in recovery helping to change and restore lives just as mine had been changed and restored. One thing I knew for certain: When I helped others, it helped me to stay clean and sober regardless of any situation with which I struggled.
About a month into my layoff, I received a phone call from a family friend who was working overseas. He offered his home to me as an opportunity to open an eight-bed sober living residence. He said, “I trust you and I know your background.”
I wondered, “Could I run a sober living home? Wow—that would be my heart’s desire.” Would I finally have the freedom to work solely in recovery and not hide behind a corporate cubicle, renouncing anything about being a recovering addict/alcoholic? I had to pinch myself. I was so excited just thinking about the possible journey.
And so it began; it was perfect. God seemed to line up everything for me: the home, people, places, talents and crafts. All of the networking, education and experience seemed to meld together at this point. We had only one problem: no funding at all to do the startup.
Despite the obstacles, in June 2009 we opened Genesis Sober Living with eight beds. The following few months marked the beginning of a powerful, exciting, emotionally draining and challenging journey.
In the first month we had only three residents. One was homeless and slept behind a Laundromat, one was from mission housing, and one had been rejected from another program for psychological reasons.
We had no income for months. We survived with funding from a fluke car accident. We learned by making a lot of mistakes and morphed into a recovery-to-work home to encourage men to get off government entitlements. We had started off by taking in homeless addicts, but our approach wasn’t working because while some men were willing to do what was needed, most just wanted to live and eat for free.
So we turned Genesis into a goal-oriented program. All rewards are based on recovery and sober time, learning to live a drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle. We outsource for any clinical services needed beyond the recovery support we offer.
While some men are in jail counting their days out to get high or drunk, we count our days out and away from our addictions. First and foremost, we want our men to learn to stay clean and sober, to work a solid 12-Step program, to get sponsors and jobs, to restore wreckage and to reunite with family. They can’t have any of those things without working a program first!
We press them to get jobs within a certain time frame, to learn to support themselves with confidence. Most residents self-pay to be in the program, either through work or family support. Some government money pays a portion of our program fees.
After six months, we see men with tools of recovery, gifts and talents, self-respect, honor, perseverance, and spiritual awakening, and the best thing of all is giving back to others who are out there suffering in the disease.
Nineteen years ago, I voluntarily gave up two of my children to my family, kept my youngest daughter who was 3, and entered a residential treatment program for mothers and children. I committed for a full year. Today I challenge the men in my homes: If I can do this with three kids, why can’t you? So the challenge begins, and men love to compete. It takes courage, dedication and commitment to learn to stay clean and sober for a lifetime.
Our sober-living home offered this to people who were willing to apply all the principles in a 12-Step program and chase their recovery just as we chased our addictions. Our plans and goals began to take shape. I honestly thought that all I needed was to manage this one home. But God had other plans.