Overlooking the calm waters of Yatesville Lake in rural Lawrence County is a place that is offering hope, healing and deliverance for 19 women working to overcome the bonds of addiction.
They come from all walks of life: raised with both parents and single parents, rich, poor, young mothers, older, but they share one commonality — recovery.
Karen’s Place, a state-licensed residential program, uses a faith-based approach as its core, including other models like 12 steps, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholic Anonymous and group therapy sessions.
The facility was the dream of Tim Robinson, a local attorney who once battled with the bonds of addiction.
“I found hope through a relationship with Christ, and I wanted to create a model of therapy where faith was at its core,” said Robinson, who serves as executive director of Karen’s Place and is a recovering addict. “I think that sets us apart as our clients leave with hope for a better tomorrow through a relationship with Christ.”
Karen’s Place recently celebrated its second year, and they plan on opening new facilities in Catlettsburg and Flemingsburg this year.
A service that’s needed
According to 2010 census data, more than 86,000 children in Kentucky are being raised by someone who is not their biological parent (mostly grandparents) and a common component to broken families is addiction to prescription drugs.
With increasing rates of prescription painkiller addiction and methamphetamine, deaths related to drug addiction in Kentucky have surpassed 1,000 a year, eclipsing traffic fatalities and more than doubling the drug death toll a decade ago. Deaths related to prescription drug abuse skyrocketed from 403 in 2000 to 978 in 2009. Traffic accidents killed 791 Kentuckians in 2009.
“It’s an epidemic and we have to do something about it in our local communities,” said Fred Mills, a certified alcohol and drug counselor at Karen’s Place. Eastern Kentucky registered a prescription drug overdose death rate of 26.3 per 100,000, which is almost twice as high as the rest of the nation.
A 2008 study by the federal Appalachian Regional Commission found high rates for both psychological distress (16.1 percent) and major depressive episodes (10.6 percent) in the coalfields region. Abuse of painkillers like Oxycontin and Percocet is more than twice the national rate.
Never thought I’d be
Christina Butcher sweeps the floor as part of her post-lunch duties Friday afternoon.
“I never thought I’d be an addict,” says Butcher, who holds an undergraduate degree in psychology and Spanish from the University of Kentucky. “All it took was one time, and I spiraled down a deep hole and lost control of everything.”
The Lexington native was arrested for a second DUI charge and was placed in jail where she had to detox.
“Detoxing is never easy, and doing it in an environment like jail makes it more difficult,” Butcher added. “There’s so much going through your mind…you feel like dying.”
Her immediate family, which lives in Paintsville, intervened and linked her up with Karen’s Place. She’s been there for 16 days and admits it’s not been easy.
“When I first got here, I was upset and mad,” she explained. “I didn’t feel like I needed to be here.”
That’s a common attitude when arriving to treatment, says Dana Greider, who serves as a residential coordinator at Karen’s Place.
“We see these girls at their very worst in many cases. They are reluctant to come to therapy and many feel like they do not have a problem,” she said. “It’s amazing to see their transformation. It comes faster for some than others, but you start seeing on both the inside and out: their faces regain color, their eyes brighten up and they renew their heart, soul and spirit.”
Butcher has turned the curve in her short time there: “It’s refreshing to be sober, and I thought I’d never be able to say that again in my life.”
Breaking the stereotypes
Courtney Hager, of Ashland, shares the same sentiment of all 19 women in treatment: “I’m worried about going home.”
The 28-year-old said many dealing with addiction and recovery are unfairly stereotyped because they come from small communities where the stigma of addict is placed on those even if they are in treatment and well on the road to recovery.
“People think we choose to be this way,” she says. Many of the 19 in treatment joined the conversation, including Taylor Keller of Louisville, who admitted she was terrified of going home.
“Every time I go home, I run into the same people, the same crowd, wanting to do the same thing,” Keller said. It’s her third time in treatment, and she’s learned, among other things, she can’t go home this time around. “I will get sucked back into my old ways, and those days are behind me.”
Many of those in treatment are from small towns where news travels fast. Amanda Knack, 28, of Campton, is worried about rebuilding her life beyond treatment.
“Where am I going to work?” she asked. “Everyone in my town knows who I was, but they are not interested in who I am becoming.”
Tonya Mills, 47, of Martin County, has been in treatment multiple times. She’s looking forward to a life of being sober, but admitted dreading returning home where “the drug-heads don’t want you to be clean and almost work to bring you back into the bonds of addiction.”
A joyful noise
The old church hymn “I Go to the Rock” is often heard through the corridors of the house, which once served as a bed and breakfast overlooking Yatesville Lake.
One of the lines in the song hits a soft part with everyone: “I run to the mountains and the mountain stands by me.”
Many at Karen’s Place call the facility “The Mountain.”
It’s secluded, and a place of serenity, says 24-year-old Sarah Woods, of South Point, Ohio.
“You can definitely feel God’s presence here,” she added. “This mountain allows us to escape the world for a while to focus on ourselves.”
Each day, the group participates in choir practice. This is a time of reflection for the women, and it is also used as an outreach. Every other week, the women perform at churches across the region and share their testimony.
“It shows our women that there’s something therapeutic in sharing their story,” Greider said. “In most cases, there are several people in the audience that can directly or indirectly relate to their story. It brings those listening to their story hope, and it allows our women to know that despite their shortcoming, that they are still loved, and that God loves them.”
Greider intertwines a message into their practice. On Friday, she spoke of the power of humility.
“If you want to do well and grow and get better, you got to get humble,” she told the group. “You cannot pretend that you know everything.”
She ended her conversation with a line from one of the final songs they rehearsed: “One little lost lamb, here I am.”