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Maria K., Women’s Program

August 26, 2011

Maria K. helps people get what they need.  She locates apartments, speaks with employers, and evaluates educational programs: “I have a beautiful job,” she says.  “I find people what they need to stay safe and keep sober.”  Currently employed as a Housing Consultant for HAS’s Transitional Housing Program, Maria is a natural fit for the job, drawing on years of work experience in the medical and customer service fields.  She has another set of experiences that help her assist THP residents as they establish themselves in recovery, however: she herself is only too familiar with addiction and the problems, including homelessness, it can create.  Now in recovery for three years, Maria had her first drink at the age of nine.  She was drinking regularly by eleven and smoked marijuana for the first time at thirteen.  At sixteen, she was introduced to cocaine.  “After that, it was on,” she says.  “I went to a party when I was sixteen, and I didn’t come back until I was fifty-five.”

Maria’s forty-year struggle with substance abuse, however, was often far from a good time.  “It was madness, actually,” she says.  “I was crazy.”  As an addict, Maria sold drugs.  Her relationships with her children suffered.  She was often unable to pay her bills—“sometimes the lights went out,” she remembers.  “My kids were used to that.”  The factor that truly defined Maria’s years of drug and alcohol abuse, though, was the constant fear of violence.  “I had a lot of bad, violent relationships,” she states.  “I was afraid.  I used to drive around with a grenade—a live grenade—in my car.”

It was in fact a particularly frightening incident of violence that finally propelled Maria into treatment.   Maria was living with a man in Florida, an unstable relationship that frequently erupted into physical altercations.  “We were drinking and using, of course,” she says.  “He would have killed me eventually, either physically or with drugs.”  One night, intoxicated and enraged, Maria’s partner made a serious attempt on her life.  Terrified, she waited until he fell asleep and then collected her hat, her shoes, and the man’s wallet, and headed for her daughter’s home in Chicago.

Shortly after her arrival, at her daughter’s urging, Maria checked into Haymarket Center.  After she completed treatment there, staff referred her to the women’s residential program at Sisterhouse.   Thanks to the calm and structured environment there, Maria was able to think about herself and her past as she never had before, and she began making rapid progress.  “I learned a lot from my counselors,” she says.  “I learned how to talk about what was happening with me instead of keeping it inside.  I learned how to be humble and how to forgive.”  At Sisterhouse, Maria says, she learned strategies for coping with everyday life.   She was also able to “get rid of a lot of garbage,” including her violent relationship with her own mother, that made recovery difficult.

She also learned the satisfaction of helping others.  Maria volunteered at THP, working with residents there for several months before accepting paid employment.  Her life is now dramatically different than it was before she entered treatment.  She is grateful for her improved relationships with her family, her job, her new apartment, and “even my cat, Rocky.”  Maria appreciates even the challenges she faces, because she knows she now has the skills she needs to meet them: “I’m living life on life’s terms, now,” she says, “and I would never go back.  Treatment here worked for me, and I want to be here to help it work for others.”