Voices of Recovery | Meet Laurie.
She remembers it vividly – walking through the aisles of a local grocery store along with a few of her housemates – carefully selecting ingredients for the week’s meals. Into the cart, then onto the conveyor belt and into brown paper bags the items would go and up stepped a Meta House staff person to pay the bill. When the transaction was complete, the women grabbed a few bags and trudged back out into the cold Wisconsin winter and headed for the public bus stop. It was January 1991 and Laurie was settling in to her first week of a nine-month stay in Meta House’s residential treatment program.
Life at Meta House was stable. Two counselors managed a ten-woman caseload in what today is known as Riverwest North – one of the residential treatment houses. The holistic services for which Meta House is known today weren’t quite as developed at the time. Only a few years had passed since children were permitted to live alongside their mothers in treatment. Women used primarily public transportation to get to and from medical appointments, the grocery store and the two required outside support meetings each week. Two buses arrived in front of the treatment center each morning – one for school-aged children and one for the little ones who were delicately delivered to a local daycare. Two group meetings took place each day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
At the time, women were permitted no outside contact for the first month. For Laurie, that meant that she was insulated from the knowledge that her husband was arrested for cocaine possession just a week after she gave birth to their daughter.
Here, Laurie’s story begins.
She and her husband had been arguing about his drug use. Just days away from her due date, an expectant Laurie found more cocaine in the house. Despite her addiction to primarily alcohol, she managed to stay clean for the majority of her pregnancy. The last find, though, was devastating. She snorted the small amount that her husband had left behind. Hours later, she welcomed their daughter. Both Laurie and her newborn tested positive for cocaine.
Authorities told her she needed to go to treatment or she’d lose custody of her newborn. So, Laurie left her daughter behind at the hospital and in the care of her husband and embarked upon a new journey – a sober life – which Meta House would help her achieve.
At Meta House, she faced the root cause of her addiction. She talked about seeing her husband shoot cocaine for the first time and about the years of abuse she survived at his hands. She recalled some painful memories of growing up in an abusive family riddled with alcoholism. She shared that she started smoking marijuana her senior year of high school because the release calmed her – when she smoked, she found a sense of peace and serenity despite the chaos raging on around her. She talked about drinking socially in high school, but did so only because alcohol was readily available. It made her sick, so it wasn’t until later on that her drinking became a problem. She discussed with her peers how drinking went from a social activity to a daily habit.
Laurie graduated from high school and started working, but drinking tended to get in the way of being a reliable and punctual employee. She met her husband at a seedy club where drugs ran rampant, a whirlwind that quickly swept Laurie up in its path. They were married a year later and pregnant with their first child.
Laurie’s time at Meta House was productive – she made steady progress, gaining tools necessary to build a solid foundation crucial for a sustainable life in recovery. She successfully completed the program in the time allotted to her – nine months.
A few months later, back home with her family, amidst the holidays and witness to the joy of so many around her, Laurie came to a realization. Her recovery was proving to stand the test of time whereas her marriage was not. Her husband refused to stop using drugs and the abuse didn’t subside.
She moved into a flat alongside a good friend she met at Meta House. She enrolled in school. Laurie worked hard to make ends meet, living in a two bedroom apartment with her daughter on $517 in cash and $250 in food stamps each month.
Laurie got into the habit of regularly attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. She earned her one year coin, signifying one year of sobriety. While attending those meetings, she began admiring a gentleman from afar. After a year, she started spending more time with him and they began dating. They married September 8, 1995. Shortly thereafter, Laurie became pregnant and they welcomed a healthy daughter.
Years passed and Laurie felt like she had it all together. That joy was cut short though. Her older daughter, then in eighth grade and a few weeks from graduation, celebrated with her class by going to Six Flags on a Friday. On Monday, the class was scheduled to go to Washington DC on its final field trip. On Saturday, Laurie walked into her home and found her older daughter lifeless on the ground, having taken her own life.
Months passed and she struggled desperately to stay sober through this tragedy. She struggled also to parent her younger daughter – the pain was simply overwhelming. Laurie attended support groups, which helped her stay sober, but she faltered at times, purchasing travel-size bottles of alcohol occasionally just to find that release for which she so longed.
Time helped her heal, and today, she doesn’t struggle like she used to. She says she knows, “not to get on that roller coaster” again. Even through her dad’s passing in 2009 and her stepmother’s passing in 2014, she remained steadfast. Laurie credits in part the really strong support system around her. She says of her husband, he was raised, “old school;” he works hard, he’s very respectful and they split household chores. Recently, he celebrated 30 years in recovery. She’s not far behind him.
She came back to Meta House over twenty years after she completed treatment, just a few weeks ago, and is blown away by the comprehensive program offerings, evidence of Meta House’s exponential growth. Notably, she says the after care is so important, mentioning that women need continued support after they leave residential treatment. Laurie says that because there is no maximum length of stay at Meta House, women can be present and focused on their treatment rather than trying to maintain connections with people outside of its walls to ensure they have a place to land post-treatment. Finally, the extension of services to allow family members to engage first hand in treatment is crucial to end the generational cycle of addiction.
Today, Laurie prides herself on decades of life in recovery. She and her husband are homeowners and they enjoy fishing on their boat. She works full time in accounting, and though family commitments drew her out of state, she stays in close contact with some of her closest friends, many of whom she met at Meta House. She and her husband are involved in church and looking forward to retirement.