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October 8, 2012

Recovery gives women chance for big next steps

Staying sober, fighting addictions

TERRE HAUTE — A foundation that stepped out on faith to give women with addiction problems a new beginning is now seeing the fruits of its labor.

Three women have graduated from the Next Step program, and they eagerly shared their story recently in the hope that others find recovery in a clean and sober environment where they can transition back into society.

Stacey Edwards and Aja Haynes both graduated from Vigo County Drug Court last week, while in September, Kay Rickard became the first graduate. Even though they are finishing their time at Next Step, they all hope to stay involved and be encouraging to the current and future participants in the program.

“The ultimate goal is to be involved here as much as I can,” Stacey said. “I hope to do mentoring to show them the program works.”

Next Step began accepting residents last spring. It is Terre Haute’s only women-only home for women overcoming addiction issues.

Located at 619 Washington Ave. in a former Presbyterian church, the program is overseen by the Next Step Foundation, a group of area residents who purchased the church property and received donations of furniture, services and funding from individuals, groups, churches and businesses.

Both Stacey and Aja agree that the participants who don’t make it through the program — who relapse into drug and alcohol abuse — aren’t ready to change.

“They don’t have an open mind, and they’re not willing to work at it,” Stacey said.

She speaks from experience. Now age 25, her struggles with alcohol abuse began years ago.

“I received my first DUI before I turned 22. And my second before I turned 23,” Stacey said. “And so I was ordered to Drug Court. I relapsed twice. So between me and my father and the court, we agreed to try something new.”

She already had taken drug and alcohol courses, and was participating in 12-step programs. But she found success in her assignment to Next Step, where the structured environment took her away from her old habits and friends into a new setting.

“Ultimately, the real problem was not my drinking. It was my thinking that was the real issue,” she said. “I had to switch up and become responsible.”

She moved into a dorm room at Next Step with six other females — and she is quick to note that being housed with other women trying to overcome substance abuse issues of their own is not the easiest environment in which to live.

But, Stacey said she found her own voice during her time with Next Step, so that she wouldn’t get stepped on.

“I had to learn to speak up for myself,” she said. Through a life-skills class, she learned how to set boundaries that both she and others can deal with in a positive way.

“When I do get feelings of hurt and being angry, I know what to do now,” Stacey said. “I won’t let it build up.”

As Stacey spoke about her Next Step experience in the resident lounge of the recovery house, she was joined by Aja, who was fresh from an appearance in Drug Court. Aja was pleased to announce that she had been sentenced to 915 days of informal probation and credit for time already served in jail.

But she is most pleased about the relationship she is rebuilding with her 3-year-old son, who has been in foster care since Aja was criminally charged with methamphetamine-related offenses.

She recently saw him during play therapy, and he was happy she was able to play with him.

“He got really clingy,” she said of the toddler, smiling at the memory.

And while she wants to be reunited with him soon, she said is not going to rush the process.

“I can’t wait to get him back, but I want to be prepared,” she said of her life after Next Step.

Her two older children — a 9-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl — live with their father in Indianapolis. She is also rebuilding a relationship with them as a sober mother.

Aja said she has been in and out of jail and the court system since 2005. She tried intense outpatient treatment as well as the county drug and alcohol program, but her real change has come at Next Step.

“I had no clue how to stand up for myself,” the 26-year-old mother of three said.

She now has a job that she loves, and she has been offered a supervisor position. But before she jumps at that possibility, she is patiently considering how it will work with her scheduled time for support meetings, her children and her sober life.

“Something I’ve never had before is patience,” Aja said, “and that’s something this program has offered me.”

The program’s first graduate, fondly known as Mama Kay by the younger residents, recently moved out of Next Step to be with her family during her daughter’s recovery from a medical issue. Kay was a night manager for a while, and she earned the respect of the other residents.

“She’s blunt and she’ll tell you how she sees things,” Aja said.

Kay is a great-grandmother and entered the program after a stay in jail due to a meth addiction.  Her children and family had stopped speaking to her and she was drifting from dope house to dope house. But during her six-month stay at Next Step, she transformed her life and restored her family relationships

The changes in Kay, Stacey and Aja have been dramatic, said Next Step executive director Dana Simon, and she credits that to the life recovery skills that the women learn, as well as to their determination to make changes.

Sadly, some women assigned to Next Step have failed the program on their first attempt and have found themselves back in the court system. And some of those women have returned as “double steppers” who are more serious about their sobriety.

Dana said that both she and the Next Step board had to go through some growth to learn what kind of sober living facility they wanted to be.

But they had help from others working in the recover community — most notably the men of the Club Soda and Turning Point sober living houses.

In fact, Turning Point resident Mike walked his wife Kimberly Edmondson to the door of Next Step about three months ago and encouraged her to get into the program so the couple and their children could get their lives back together as a family.

On a recent weekend, Kimberly and Mike had a 24-hour visit with their five children in the family room at Next Step.

“We got to put them to bed, give them showers and make them breakfast,” Kimberly said. “I got to put them to sleep for the first time in five months. We said our prayers. It was 24 hours just like a real family.”

Kimberly and Mike have worked with the Department of Child Services to rebuild their relationships with their children — and with each other.

On a recent weekend, Kimberly and Mike went canoeing with other couples, and they had a leisurely cookout that didn’t end with people getting drunk and fighting.

The recovery community has been receptive to Next Step, Dana said, with many groups stepping up to do repair and improvement projects to the former church and its education wing, which is now the women’s living center.

“Because in the recovery community a lot of people want to give back, we get a lot of projects done,” Simon said.

But even though work projects are now completed on the Next Step property, another step is ready to be taken in the community, and that is transitional housing such as duplexes, Simon said.

Aja agreed that while she feels ready to move out on her own, she would prefer to have transitional housing near and associated to Next Step to keep her recovery foundation strong.

“It’s about love and limits. Having external boundaries as well as internal boundaries,” Aja said. “It’s not magic. There’s a program to follow.”

If people do not make it through recovery, it is because they have rushed and process and are not ready, she said.

“They’re not patient. You don’t give it time to feel it in here,” she said, rubbing her chest over her heart. “It doesn’t happen overnight. It will be a lifelong process for me.”

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at -812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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