As reported last week in The Woodstock Independent, McHenry County had 21 overdose deaths in the first seven months of this year the lowest number for the January-to-July period in five years, counter to the national trend of rising overdoses during the coronavirus pandemic.
But while the decreasing number of overdoses is good news, even better news comes in the stories of people who, with the help available in the county, are learning a new life without drugs or alcohol.
Sober living homes provide people who have completed alcohol or drug rehabilitation a structured environment in which to recover and transition back to normal life.
New Directions runs three sober living houses in the county, with a total of 26 beds. The Independent recently visited the Lincoln Home for women in recovery.
A recovered home
When New Directions bought the 1910 home just a few blocks west of downtown Crystal Lake, the listing advertised it as not a fixer-upper for a normal handyman. It seemed to be a solid house, the listing continued, that needed just about everything.
Thats an apt metaphor for what a sober house does taking the hand of someone who has completed drug or alcohol rehabilitation and teaching them skills, instilling accountability, and building confidence to restore that persons solid structure.
The home was taken down to the studs, said house manager Virginia S., age 55, whom the four current residents affectionately refer to as Virg.
Lincoln Home opened in January 2018 not without opposition from the neighbors, Virginia said.
But as time has gone on, the restored house and its recovering residents have become part of the neighborhood. The man who lives next door mows the propertys large yard with his lawn tractor, and a woman who lives down the street invited the residents and some of the neighbors to a cookout so everyone could get to know one another.
To live in the home, residents must stay sober, pay rent, get a job, open a bank account, obey curfew, attend regular recovery meetings, and pitch in with cooking dinner and house chores.
I love the rules, Hannah C. said. I need stability in my life.
Hannah, who is 26, said her addiction began with alcohol, then methadone.
I used drugs every day for six or seven years, she said.
During addiction, she could not hold a job and was raped twice. After two one-month stays in rehab, she relapsed both times. She came to Lincoln Home after three months in the Northern Illinois Recovery Center.
Although they come from different backgrounds and misused different substances, all residents agree that a 28-day rehab stint, as romanticized in the Sandra Bullock movie 28 Days, is not enough for a successful recovery.
Twenty-eight days gets the drugs out of your system, said Casey M., 25, but you have no skills.
Before going to a sober living house, you need 90 to 180 days in rehab, Virginia said.
The last straw
Bed bugs drove Casey to rehab.
Caseys drug-of-choice was alcohol, along with a little of everything else.
She and her boyfriend of seven years became homeless and took refuge on a friends couch. Horrified to wake up covered with bed bug bites, Casey called her mother, who said she would pick up Casey if she would go into rehab.
She entered Timberline House in Lemont and then completed treatment at the Northern Illinois Recovery Center. After three months, she became a resident at the Lincoln Home, where she is learning to deal with lifes curveballs.
I couldnt go through challenges without Virg, Casey said.
Virginia relishes the role.
I am proud to live in the sober house and help these girls, Virginia said.
While her title is house manager, Virginia functions more as a house mother.
Her own troubles began with opiates after a difficult C-section with the second of her four children. The problems intensified with an ensuing 21-day migraine, a later broken tailbone, and a difficult divorce.
She used opiates off-and-on for 10 years, followed by two decades of constant use. During the final four months, she became a heroin user.
Neighbors who lived next to the townhome she shared with a roommate called police about suspicious activity.
Police raided the townhome, and Virginia was taken to jail something she calls a blessing in disguise.
Substance-free since May 2018, she enforces the rules, provides the sympathetic ear, and dispenses Mom advice.
You cant order fast food for the rest of your life, she reminds the young women who are tasked with making dinner.
Time to heal
Generally, residents stay for six to 18 months, Virginia said, but a longer stay is possible.
Christine C., who goes by C.C., is 52 years old and will have been at Lincoln Home for two years this coming November, after 35 years of addiction to alcohol and drugs.
A stint in rehab when she was in her 20s and one when she was in her 40s did not work, she said, because I was doing it for everyone else.
But then things got much worse.
I almost died twice, C.C. said.
Determined to survive, she found herself on a month-long waiting list to get into a rehab center.
While waiting, I went to five meetings a day so I wouldnt relapse, C.C. said.
In addition to working on her recovery, C.C. had to get her body back to health and have extensive dental work done.
AA and New Directions saved my life, C.C. said.
Daring to dream
Rachel B., age 26, agreed to enter rehab after her father drove up behind the car she and her boyfriend were in while they were wasted.
She received suboxone treatment for her heroin addiction before coming to the Lincoln Home.
Now working at a fast food restaurant, she wants to find a good job that pays well so she can realize her dreams of traveling and supporting herself as a yoga instructor.
Daring to dream again is one sign of recovery.
Virginia wants to spend time with her children and grandchildren, while OK, sober, and happy.
Hannah, who has worked her way up to a full-time job in one of the big box stores, wants to marry and have children. Casey, an employee at a home goods store, hopes to graduate from cosmetology school. C.C., who prepares breakfast and lunch at a gas station convenience store, would like to find that good job, save money, have my own place, replace my car, and help people.
All five of the women share C.C.s foremost desire: to learn how to live without alcohol and drugs contentedly.
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McHenry County Opioids Update: Learning to live without addiction - Woodstock Independent