About 25 years ago, Stepping Stone house opened as a residential treatment center for women in recovery.
“The community of women who have been through our program and have developed friendships and supported each other - they've moved into the same neighborhoods, rented houses close to each other, they babysit each other's kids. I have been so impressed with what they've done with each other,” said Peggy Gemperline, program director. “It is so much more than we treatment professionals could ever provide for them and they've done it themselves.”
She said she gets calls from some of the women who have been gone for many years and still keep in touch.
“One lady completed treatment here about 10 years ago,” Gemperline said. “She didn't have a GED, she didn't have a high school diploma - she has an associate's degree now and working on her bachelor's in social science. She's working as a counselor in Columbus.”
Many women who have been out of the program for many years call to find out about some of the employees and keep in touch with the women in their area who also have been in the program.
“There's a lot of people like that who anytime we call them for a get-together, they're here,” she said. “We've got people peppered throughout the state who have been through our program and allow us to give their phone number out to someone who's graduating who is moving to that community.”
The biggest sample of that network is in Portsmouth, she said.
“What I see is the recovery community growing in Portsmouth,” she said. “You see more people who have high school diplomas, more people going to college that are in recovery, more people who have gotten their GEDs, more people going off welfare and who are tax-paying contributors in the community.”
Women who complete the program are the ones who are taking their experiences to help the next person coming through, she said.
“It's an amazing thing to watch, it's a miraculous thing to watch,” she said.
Gemperline always checks out Shawnee State University's President's List and most of the time she will find someone who has been through Stepping Stone House on the list, she said.
An average of 30 to 32 women are in the program at two houses.
After the residency at Stepping Stone House, women can go to outpatient services, transitional living and HopeWorks.
“To complete all of that, there's a 90 percent success rate,” she said. “It's an amazing success. The ones that stay in Scioto County and go through the full range of our services tend to be very successful. Treatment works, it absolutely works. It's a new level of health they obtain and it exceeds the level of health they had before they ever picked up a drug or a drink. It's an amazing thing to watch.”
Davina, Carie, Bonnie and Sarah have completed the program and work at Stepping Stone House helping other women in the program.
“We're all women and we work together,” Davina said. “We don't have the ‘cattiness' or anything like that. We work together and we love each other and it's like we're sisters.”
Davina is from central Ohio originally and said she was at her bottom when her family helped her get into rehabilitation. That was nine years ago.
“I was ready to get clean,” she said. “The treatment support, the counselors, AA, NA - recovery support helped me. I wanted to go to college, so I started college and got my bachelor's in psychology.”
Helping others and seeing them get clean inspires her. Most of her friends are either dead or in prison, she said.
The women work and play together, playing cards, shopping, going to recovery dances.
“We do things with our kids, we have money to shop. We do things differently today,” Davina said. “We talk a lot. The 12-step recovery and treatment really works, it really does. I'm living proof of it. If everyone worked the 12-step program, the world would be perfect.”
Carie used drugs and alcohol from the age of 12. She would skip school as a teenager and get into trouble.
Although she finished the treatment at Stepping Stone House in 2001 and went into the transitional program, she relapsed. Her disease progressed quickly and she ended up in jail in Columbus, she said.
“One day I was in jail and I woke up and I remembered the story in the Big Book about Bill W. being in the hospital,” Carie said. “It was the day I had to sign over custody of my kids. I had a moment of clarity at that time and I started to realize that I didn't want my life to be the way it was.”
She called Stepping Stone House and asked to be readmitted to the program. Gemperline held a bed for her so she could come back. She returned to the house after she got out of jail and had a brief visit with her children.
“It was very hard. I was very angry,” Carie said. “A lot of my friends that I went through the program with were clean. That played on my pride a lot.”
She struggled with her addiction and she wanted her kids. They finally came to the house and although she wanted to leave at times, it was more important for her to keep her kids.
“I had another moment of clarity when my counselor had discussed some issues with me,” Carie said. “I played over and over in my head what she had told me.”
Although she denied the issues at first, she realized they were true and from that moment, she made a conscious decision to work toward her recovery.
“It's so different - the life we have now from when we were using,” Carie said. “Recovery has given me a whole life. The women I've met through Stepping Stone ... they are part of my family.”
Sarah was pregnant with a second child and when she went to the hospital to give birth, the baby tested positive for drugs. Childrens Services got involved and referred her to get treatment.
At the time, she was thinking about giving the child up for adoption.
“My counselor didn't want me to put a lot of thought into getting defocused from treatment,” Sarah said. “But, it was there until it was actually finalized. I didn't know if it was a decision that I was making with my heart or it was a decision that was kind of fogged up from all the drugs.”
That was in 2003. She brought her oldest son to Stepping Stone House and after three days, she wanted to go get high.
“When I left treatment and did go use, that was like my moment of clarity,” Sarah said. “I realized that's not how I wanted to live anymore. I called Stepping Stone and pretty much begged to let me back in.”
Growing up, both of her parents used drugs. After seeing how well she was doing after treatment, her brother and two sisters went into recovery. She is inspired by being there for her family and her child, she said.
“I've been able to build a very strong support group of women in recovery,” she said. “If I'm down and having a problem, there's always somebody there that I can call ... I have more fun now than I ever did using because I was always at home hiding, getting high.”
Bonnie said she used drugs and alcohol 23 years of her life and she was in and out of jails and institutions.
“My biggest motivator was my children, because I wanted to show my kids that there was a different way to live,” she said.
When Bonnie first went to Stepping Stone House and saw some of the women she had used drugs with working on staff at the house, she had a lot of hope.
“That showed me there was a different way to live - that inspired me a lot,” she said.
The first time she went to an NA function, she saw Sarah dancing and “acting crazy,” Bonnie said.
“I had no idea how these people could have this much fun being clean and sober,” Bonnie said. “I'd never experienced nothing like that in my life. I have more fun now than I've ever had in my life. It's a whole new way of life.”
PHYLLIS NOAH can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 234 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.