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‘They saved my life’ from alcohol abuse

A few years ago, Susan Banoski didn’t care if she lived or died.

A homemaker married to her husband for 30 years, Mrs. Banoski’s life was forever changed when he died four years ago. Distraught by her husband’s death, she went into a downward spiral.

“I started using drugs and alcohol,” the 57-year-old said.

Reeling from her husband’s death and substance abuse, Mrs. Banoski eventually found herself in legal trouble when she was arrested for writing bad checks.

Luckily for Mrs. Banoski, a transitional house saved her from continuing her destructive lifestyle. After her incarceration, she voluntarily opted to live at Paula’s House, a recovery house for women in Monroe.

“They taught me about recovery,” she said about her stay in the house from Dec. 13, 2007, to spring, 2008. “They saved my life. Thank God for Paula’s House.”

On Friday, Paula’s House celebrated its fifth anniversary. It is a transition house for women recovering from alcohol and drug addiction who are coming out of incarceration or drug rehabilitation centers who have nowhere else to go.

The house, located at 902 N. Monroe St., houses up to five women. Women Empowering Women, a nonprofit group, received permission in 2004 to operate the transition home. It is run by executive director Paula Whitman, who also is a substance abuse counselor.

“We’ve had a lot of women come through our doors since we opened five years ago. We’ve had a lot of success stories with women finding jobs and their own place to live. It does make a difference,” she said.

The women voluntarily choose to live at Paula’s House. Referred through courts and Harbor Light, the women must be familiar with the 12-step program and attend substance abuse meetings. Other guidelines include household chores, meeting curfew and paying rent. A full-time house manager also lives with the women.

The women live in the house a minimum of one to two years but the exact amount of time is determined on individual assessments.

“Sobriety is overwhelming for these women since most of them started abusing when they were 12 to 15 years old,” Ms. Whitman explained. “So a minimum of a year is really not a long time to turn your life around. They not only have to deal with their addiction, but have to learn a whole new life without addiction. They have a whole new set of coping skills they must learn before they go out on their own.”

The transition to a sober life is a delicate process.

“They have to undergo a personality change. They have to face their demons and risk running into their old drinking or drug buddies and learn how to handle those situations,” Ms. Whitman explained. “They’re tested every time they leave the house. A lot of them fear using the (public) bus or going to AA meetings because they don’t want to run into those people. They’re not used to leading a sober life.”

In its five years, Paula’s House has helped many women. According to Ms. Whitman, 10 women have successfully completed the program and three of those women have remained sober. Approximately 34 women entered the program in the first two years of operation and an average of 11 women entered the program for the past three years.

The average resident is homeless, between the ages of 31-50, and has no income. They also abuse alcohol and drugs and is referred to treatment by their parole or probation officer.

“I am unable to get an accurate count, but there are women who did not complete the program who are sober today,” she added.

While the recovery house has successfully helped women, it faced challenges when it initially opened. It dealt with opposition from neighbors concerned that convicted felons would be living in their neighborhood.

Since opening, however, there have been few problems.

“The police only have been called once to the house,” she said. “We have rules they abide by so there aren’t problems. Their household chores include cleaning up the yard so it looks nice, too.”

The nonprofit organization also has had to deal with staying financially afloat. Grants from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the City of Monroe, however, have helped the organization. It has received a Supportive Housing Grant from HUD to help pay for the house rent and a Community Development Block Grant from the city to help pay for much-needed house repairs.

Ms. Whitman, who will celebrate her 20 years of sobriety later this month, is pleased to see her vision of helping women with substance abuse become a reality.

“These are women who have hit rock-bottom and are willing to change their lifestyles,” said Ms. Whitman, who has a doctoral degree in psychology. “It makes me proud to see these women become better people.”

Still, she says much more work needs to be done.

“There are so many women that need help. My goal is to open a second house, and eventually, open a homeless shelter for women. There’s nothing like that in Monroe,” she said. “My ultimate goal, though, is to open five houses.”

Mrs. Banoski is an example of how a transition house helps local women. More than a year after being released from Paula’s House, she lives in a Monroe apartment and is attending Monroe County Community College. She is studying psychology in order to become a counselor to help other women like herself.

“The best thing that ever happened to me was living at Paula’s House. I didn’t know how to help myself when I first got there but they helped me become a better person. I went to AA meetings every day,” she said. “I needed a lot of help, and step by step, they helped me see my mistakes and take responsibility for my actions.”

She is studying psychology in order to become a counselor to help other women with substance abuse issues.

“I want to help the next person like they helped me,” she said. “Underneath it all, they are really good people. Drugs and alcohol are not the problem, it’s the solution to their problems. I want to help them get past that so they can start living their lives again.”

source: Monroe Evening News

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