When I was out there last Wednesday at the Boyd County Community Center covering the Greg Gibson apology tour, a common refrain I heard was “this house isn’t a sober house.”
Yes, a house for folks suffering from traumatic brain injury isn’t a sober house, but what surprised me was the way folks would say it. One young man, who spoke out against Gibson, told it to me like this:
“You can’t compare my son to some drug addict,” he said.
Another lady, very passionate about her work with TBI patients, said it like this:
“We’re not sobriety houses, nothing like that. ... Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” she said.
Heck, one of the cops who raised some questions about the TBI house said he’d be adamantly against a sober house coming to the neighborhood.
Here’s my question — why is “sober house” a dirty word?
In the Year of our Lord 2018, I prayed to God to help me get sober. It was my second day not using, not drinking and I did something I never did when I woke up — I prayed.
And not more than five minutes later, a boss of mine — he was in recovery and silently watched me as I resumed my drinking — called and said he could get me a bed somewhere.
I didn’t have anywhere else to go. While the folks I was living with weren’t addicts, one happened to be one of my biggest enablers. He didn’t know what he didn’t know about my condition. To him, like myself, the constant binge drinking, the occasional sniff of heroin and the pounds of reefer I smoked seemed normal.
That’s just Henry being Henry. A drunk, a lush, a dope fiend, a stoner, a pill sniffer. I’d been that way going on a decade and that’s the way I would die — it seemed natural to me and for him, with a front row seat to my slow suicide, found it natural, too.
So when my boss extended that hand, I grabbed it and went. I picked up my stuff that night and I found myself living in a house where everyone had a felony except me, and half the residents were on an ankle monitor.
It was along a quiet, residential street in Huntington, a stone’s throw away from Marcum’s Terrace. At any time, there were between six and 10 of us living there.
People would filter through — some would last a day, others a week, some for a month.
There were only two real rules there — pay the rent on time and pee in a cup.
I’ve since come to learn my situation was the exception, not the rule, to sober houses. Many offer programming, and keep stringent rules on housekeeping and cleaning. They expect one to attend so many 12-step meetings a week and turn in a signed sheet to prove it.
Mine was lax — very lax.
But you know what? Most of the folks there stayed clean. I know I did.
I lived there nine months and witnessed only one overdose. I don’t recall anyone stealing the weedeater from the next-door neighbors (who happened to be a cop), nor do I remember any fights breaking out.
For the most part, I kept to myself. I found my recovery in the meetings, in the recovery literature and under the tutelage of an elderly man named Butch, who taught me everything he knew about staying sober.
I get it — if you look around, especially in Huntington, it appears sober houses and rehabs are taking over full city blocks. Some of them are fly-by-night operations, others stick and stay.
The fear people get when they hear about a house full of junkies and lushes moving in down the street is real. I can’t speak for everyone with a substance abuse problem, but I can confidently say when I was drinking and drugging, I did terrible things.
I lied, I cheated, I stole, I had outbursts of violence. I’d broken up a couple of marriages, I kept my loved ones up all night with worry — waiting for “The Call, “the one telling them I was dead.
I wouldn’t want me around, either.
And the old adage goes — if you take the drink away from a drunken horse thief, you still got a horse thief. But it’s been my experience that once the drink is out of the horse thief, he tends to rethink stealing horses, too.
If you don’t want people in active addiction around, that’s fine. In fact, it’s absolutely understandable.
But why are we shunning those who are trying to clean up? Why are we saying, “Well, you’re doing the right thing, but because of what you can do, we still don’t want you around?”
Yes, in that first year, the risk of relapse is high. Very high. It took me quite a few tries before I’ve pieced together the five years of sobriety I’ve been gifted today. But that’s the nature of the disease — it convinces the sufferer that they don’t have one.
Case in point — I’d been dry for a couple of months, but I hadn’t done anything to work on myself besides not drinking. A friend of mine was going to a Halloween party and I wanted to go, but I knew I couldn’t stay sober there.
So I fooled myself into thinking as long as I don’t drink, I can sniff cocaine. Dear reader, you may ask yourself, “How did you come up with that?”
Very easy — cocaine comes from cocoa leaves. I incorrectly reasoned (and didn’t bother to look it up to find out I was wrong) that coffee came from cocoa, too. We drink coffee at the meetings, so why not sniff cocaine? It’s only a little stronger, that’s all.
And I did. That line of coke resulted in my last drinking binge.
That’s how powerful this disease is — it fools all who suffer from it.
I’d venture to say while many an addict or alcoholic have done terrible things, they’re not terrible people. We’re desperate to get the fix. We’re shunned for that and to a degree, it’s pretty reasonable.
And when we finally reach a point where it’s time to quit, we’re desperate for help.
But then we’re shunned for that?
I’m one of the lucky ones. When I got sober, I had a car and I had a job. There are a lot of people who are fresh out of jail and fresh off the riverbank. They literally have no where to go.
A sober house is a place of refuge for them. Though they might not get sober that time, it might plant a seed that hopefully will one day lead to them turning their lives around.
You won’t see any sober house popping up in million-dollar-home neighborhoods — since most of them are taking Medicaid, in my experience they tend to lean towards the cheapest neighborhood they can find to keep the costs low.
Most of the ones I’ve seen tend to be right in the middle of neighborhoods with trap houses and street prostitutes. In areas where if you need a fix, you can get a fix.
Heaven forbid we get clean somewhere safe! We wouldn’t want to lower your property values.