Full of Grace

By on June 7, 2017
The faces of recovery include (from left) Alex, Celeste, Gerri Shober and Grace Shober. The surnames of Alex and Celeste are bein

The faces of recovery include (from left) Alex, Celeste, Gerri Shober and Grace Shober. The surnames of Alex and Celeste are bein

In wake of daughter’s struggle, Shober family opens doors to recovery for other women

The Shober family, alone, cannot change the world, but its members are creating ripple effects in the community, one by one, making it a safer less drug-filled environment.

Phil and Gerri Shober bought a house in Denver for their daughter, Grace, in hopes she would get back on her feet after drug rehab. The day they signed the contract, Grace relapsed into drugs. Thinking they would lose her, they decided to keep the house as a sober living environment for women who want to work on and maintain their recovery.

“This is the last step for the ladies to be totally independent,” said Gerri. “This is supportive, minimal oversight so women can get back on their feet.”

The Shobers make it their mission to try to save other women and have since opened sober living houses in Akron and Ephrata.

“At one point, I wasn’t sure we were going to save Grace, but I knew that if I couldn’t save her, I was going to save other people,” said Gerri.

The debate of whether substance abuse is a disease or whether it results from individuals making poor choices continues. Mental health problems can also be sparks for substance abuse.

“I didn’t feel like I fit in at school or with other people and that made me internally depressed,” said Grace Shober of her high school days.

Phil said he saw “absolutely nothing” as far as Grace using drugs and abusing alcohol.

“She’s our youngest and I always said that I have it easy with this one,” said Phil. “I know it sounds ridiculous, but I didn’t see this. We knew we had a problem, but we thought we had a girl going through social challenges. With the help with the school and the counselors, we were trying to address it. That was the direction we were going.”

Phil said there were no drug or alcohol problems in his family history.

The Ephrata Review visited Grace House in Denver and talked with some of the most articulate, humble women who live there. One theme the reporter will take away, and lhas earned, is when there is an underlying mental health problem, combined with drugs or alcohol, there is an addict in the making.

Loneliness, despair, depression, poor self-esteem was present before the substances; seemingly the need for love and acceptance is as difficult a challenge as the need for drugs and alcohol.

“Grace House should start after rehab,” said Gerri. “They come to the house right after rehab and it helps the women on the despair problems so relapse will be less likely. This transitional period has been the key to success that many do not get.”

“You need to put yourself back into your real life,” said Grace, now 26. “You need to relearn how to live and rehab doesn’t have enough time offer this. Not much time is spent on mental health.”

This critical stage after recovery is necessary to stay sober, but there are few of these houses in existence, and they can house only a few.

“The houses are a big chance for these women,” said Phil.

Residents must adhere to all house rules and are expected to be actively engaged in a recovery program. Management performs weekly random drug and alcohol testing and the women must leave if they fail a test.

“We had heard there’s a big need for sober living,” said Gerri. “I got certification in sober living and continue with workshops. An opportunity like this is something we saw that was missing for Grace.

“A lot of times the women, it’s not a good thing for them to go back into their home. People, places, and things can be real triggers for our ladies. Going back into the same environment can put someone at risk for a relapse. Residents give significant support to each other such as attending AA/NA meetings together.”

Running a sober living house is not a money-maker.

“If you’re in the business to make money, this is not it,” said Gerri. “It maintains itself; it’s our passion. We make it really affordable because these women now have to be self-sufficient. Families either can’t afford it because of rehab payments, or they won’t. We will accept weekly dollar-by-dollar payments if we have to.”

The Shobers get some down-turned looks and subject-changed-quickly encounters when sharing their passion.

“I got a negative vibe from people when I told them I’m running a sober house,” said Gerri. “There’s not a whole lot of interaction with the neighbors. We like to try to keep it as anonymous as possible.”

Women are coming in frail and defeated.

Celeste (surnames are being withheld), 43, graduated from the house in April.

“The addiction for me started at age 17,” said Celeste. “I didn’t think I was an alcoholic at 17, but looking back, I didn’t drink like normal people. I thought I was the fun type and the party type, but I got out of hand. It kept getting worse, just from the drinking. I didn’t know when to stop. It caused problems in relationships.”

Celeste was once sober for seven years. She wasn’t sure she could live in a sober living house because she has two children and they are not allowed to be in the house, along with other family members or male visitors.

“I couldn’t go home, but nothing changes if nothing changes,” said Celeste. “Every time I relapsed, I never changed anything. I just kept going back to the same insanity and doing the same thing over and over again.”

Celeste has a master’s degree in education and was the director of a preschool.

“I resigned from my job once I knew I would be coming here,” said Celeste. “This was the best thing for me to come here and be with sober women who understand the disease.”

Most addicts, recovered or not, have shattered relationships.

“I feel the Grace House has helped me with structure and accountability in my life,” said Celeste, tearing up. “There are people that don’t get that it’s a disease. My friends support me, but they don’t truly get it. These women get it. I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to live here because all the times I’ve been sober before, not once have my parents said they’ve seen a change in me, and they see it now.”

Celeste is an extrovert and wore multiple bracelets up and down her arm.

“I was abusing muscle relaxers from a car accident and thought it was okay because I was sober from alcohol,” said Celeste. “I never thought of myself as a pill addict, and then I became one. I know I can become an addict.”

Celeste now lives with her roommate, at the time, from Grace House. She is rebuilding her life.

Ideally, a sober living house is the next step after a halfway house. A halfway house should come after rehab.

“A halfway house has more restrictions,” said Grace. “A more affordable option for people is sober living. There’s only one halfway house that I know of, and that’s in Scranton.”

Another woman said there is one in Leesport.

Grace, now almost three years sober, manages the house and says the women get along.

“We let them know that we are all here fighting for our lives due to alcohol abuse and addiction so we need to support each other and that’s where the common ground comes in,” said Grace. “After the first three weeks, we want them looking for a job.”

Alex, 23, currently living at the house, faces legal issues stemming from addiction. She explained what substances did for her.

“It was that calming,” said Alex. “It was the feeling that I got when I put that drink in my body.”

Alex closed her eyes and breathed in and out deeply as if being suddenly relieved or hearing long-awaited good news.

“I was drinking to feel okay about myself and to remove myself from the situation that was going on,” said Alex. “I’m not drinking for the effect, I’m drinking for the feeling. It was a constant need.”

Alex’s, and the other womens’ description of why they abused substances suggests there may be underlying psychological problems or disorders, emotional problems that might not cause addiction but once they are combined, must be dealt with and should be noticed early on to prevent ruined lives.

“They sometimes try to self-medicate themselves,” said Gerri.

Alex is learning how to create and sustain satisfied feelings without using substances.

“When I’m having a bad day, I can come home to five sober women,” said Alex through tears of thankfulness. “I have women and people here who care about me and get me through things when I’m a hysterical mess. I don’t feel like I need to put that drink or drug in my body anymore. They want the best for me.”

Where in the world are they getting these drugs?

They go to cities such as Reading and Philadelphia and walk up to strangers on the street and ask them if they have drugs.

“There are people that you can find and if they don’t have drugs, they point you to someone who does,” said Grace.

They keep asking until they find it. All agreed.

“I’d go out to a bar with people from work and then say: ‘Hey, when we’re done here, let’s go smoke some weed’,” said Alex.

Connections come from there.

Whether folks are on the side of “It’s not a disease, it’s their choice, they chose to take the drugs” or you believe “It’s a hereditary disease, not their fault” camp, there is a need to think beyond that.

Drugs have exploded. Even children as young as 12 are going to take them — for whatever reason we may not ever be able to explain or know why exactly. Drugs and alcohol abuse are taking the brightest and most talented.

“The face of addiction and alcoholism has changed completely,” said Grace. “It’s not the person, under the bridge, all the time homeless. There are people that have good jobs and are professionals that are struggling with addiction and alcoholism. People still don’t understand.”

Michele Walter Fry welcomes your comments at michelewalterfry@gmail.com.

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