Next month, it will be 30 years since Recovery House admitted its first client in need of treatment for serious drug and alcohol abuse.
The addiction recovery center for women is located on about 90 acres of land in New Hope, not far from Lake Lowndes. Up to 12 women at a time stay in residential care for inpatient treatment — and the center stays at max capacity, according to director Stephanie Johnson.
She has worked with Recovery House since 1988, and can remember when Recovery Center shared a building with Safe Haven, the domestic violence shelter in Columbus. Both were first opened by a local branch of the womens’ group Soroptimist International back in 1985, and the Recovery House treated its first client in 1986. Recovery House quickly outgrew the space, Johnson said, and in 1989 was deeded the house where women currently stay for residential treatment in New Hope.
In 30 years, it has served about 1,675 women and more than 50 children.
One of those women is 28-year-old Ashley Nettles, a lifelong Columbus resident who moved to Tuscaloosa in December. When Nettles was about 19 or 20, she first got high on illicit drugs.
After trying a slew of drugs provided by friends, Nettles began to like the way she felt when she was high — it was an escape from the stresses of every day life, she said.
Once addicted to a combination of Adderall (an amphetamine) and Tramadol (an opioid) — among other drugs — Nettles said she became thin and sick-looking. She was always late to work. She lost her temper easily and didn’t care about other people.
She’s not sure when she became physically addicted, but it was after failing a drug test while on probation for a drug possession arrest that she realized she needed to make changes to her life.
“I (thought), ‘You know what, I’m tired of this lifestyle. I need help, because there’s no way that I can quit by myself,'” Nettles said. “I made the decision to go (to Recovery House) and it was probably the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.”
Nettles was in residential treatment there for 90 days, the average stay during which clients go through inpatient treatment that focuses not only on treating addiction, but on identifying and dealing with past trauma. Johnson credits Glenn Ellis, a consulting psychologist with Recovery House with developing the program for that treatment.
Ellis, who has there for more than two decades, said many clients have undergone some form of trauma during childhood or early adulthood — problems like sexual abuse or domestic violence.
When people don’t deal with trauma correctly, they become defined by their pain, Ellis said, and not by their own capabilities or a set of beliefs. This makes them vulnerable to drug and alcohol abuse, he said.
“They go through life in a defensive and guarded manner because they always maintain the expectation that something bad’s going to happen,” Ellis said. “So if you work through that, if you resolve those past issues… then you’re able to redefine yourself in a positive manner. At this point (after recovery), your identity is a strong belief in yourself.”
He and clinical director Lucy Flowers, a licensed professional counselor, both use experiential therapy to work with clients at Recovery House. These therapies get the women engaged in some sort of active therapy, from role-playing, which Ellis uses often in group sessions, to art therapy. What the sessions really do for the women is help them build confience and trust, Ellis said.
At first, Nettles said, she did not enjoy her stay in residential. It was difficult to have to get up at 6 a.m. every morning for morning devotionals and chores, all while being away from family and having to detox.
But it surprised her how welcoming it was. There were no security cameras or gates trying to keep people in, she said.
And yet, it “felt safe,” Nettles said.
Once she got used to the new setting, Nettles started having fun. She loved being outside and making friends: She went to the YMCA, movies and the Columbus Christmas parade with the other clients.
“I just enjoyed being around everybody honestly,” she said. “It was just nice to have people that were like me.”
The clients in residential care stay three to a bedroom and share a kitchen and living space. Johnson picked out the brightly colored bedspreads herself. And though a cook prepares meals for the clients during the week, the women cook for themselves and each other on the weekends, Johnson said.
Clients attend one-on-one counseling sessions and group therapy sessions during the week, which some, like Nettle, continue following their stay.
Nettles, following her 90-day treatment and about two years in transitional care, still continues to drive to Columbus every other week to attend the center’s after care program.
“It keeps me accountable,” she said. “And I love all the people that are there.”
Recovery House is one of only two providers of recovery support in the Golden Triangle, though it serves women from around the state. The other provider is Community Counseling Services, which serves Lowndes, Clay, Noxubee and Oktibbeha counties. The two take on local needs in terms of drug and alcohol abuse, which continue to grow throughout the state, according to Glenn Ellis, a consulting psychologist with Recovery House.
The Mississippi Department of Mental Health estimates that for the past several years around 190,0000 people in the state have needed alcohol and drug services, according to Adam Moore, the department’s director of communications. Throughout the state, there are only 18 providers of residential services for addiction that are certified through DMH, though Moore added that there are likely other providers that aren’t certified.
In fiscal year 2015, those 18 providers served 2,751 people in residential treatment, Moore said.
Recovery House does little marketing, Johnson said, because it usually stays at full capacity. Currently, 12 women are in residential treatment and another 20 women are in its transitional or permanent housing — programs which help women who have graduated from residential treatment as they shift back into society.
Six of the 12 women will graduate from residential treatment in the next three weeks. Of their beds, four are already reserved.
Johnson hopes to expand Recovery House to create more space for more women in the near future. The center had bought land to do so in 2008, but the expansion was delayed due to the Great Recession.
But, Johnson said, using grants and donations, she is optimistic that work will begin on new cottages and a multipurpose building within the next year or so. The expansion will not only allow Recovery House to serve more women, she said, but it will include facilities to serve pregnant women or who those who have just given birth without separating them from their newborns.
Donations also help pay for the clients to stay in residential treatment, Johnson said. It costs Recovery House almost $6,000 to house a client for 90 days, but after grants and donations from organizations like United Way, the average client pays around $1300.
Nettles was married in December and is now enrolled at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa. She is taking prerequisites for the nursing program and plans to apply for the program next summer.
“Everything just has fallen into place for me,” she said.
And her life has changed since Recovery House, she said — from the words she uses to the way she dresses. Those who knew her before November of 2013 notice the change in her, she added.
“I’m super motivated now,” she said. “Back then I was not. Now I’m back in school… I care about life now. I care about the people around me.”
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