Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a multi-part series where the Border Belt Independent looks at what has changed since The News Reporter’s six-part series in 2017 that reported on the opioid crisis and associated mental health issues. Today, Reporter Ivey Schofield looks at how women at the Rose House in Whiteville work to overcome addiction.
By Ivey Schofield
Eleven women gather in the living room, Bibles in one hand and workbooks in the other. One moment they’re crying and the next they’re laughing. Bonded by struggle, they’re sisters — ones “I never had or asked for,” joked Julia Smith.
Smith is one of the residents of Rose House, a free, six-month, Christian-based substance abuse treatment program within Christian Recovery Centers. Each day, they comb through the 12 steps of recovery with correlating Bible passages to answer the questions: Why did they become addicts, and how can they reclaim their lives?
“It’s a very deep, digging, sad, celebratory process,” said Monique Holenko, director of operations at the Rose House in Whiteville.
For the last six months, Rose House resident April Bell has poured over the recovery workbook in an effort to better herself for her two children. She’s been struggling with addiction since she was 19.
Bell said the root of her addiction, which started with alcohol and led to pills, was the sexual and physical trauma she experienced as a child. “I couldn’t cope with what I had been through,” she said.
Then, at 24, Bell’s addiction got worse. Her dad died, and then a couple of weeks later her daughter’s father shot himself while he was on the phone with her. Bell started consuming more alcohol and pills — until she found out she was pregnant with her son.
Bell said she quit “for a long time,” but picked back up in 2019 and even attempted suicide. “I just couldn’t get myself out of that cycle,” she said.
Bell relocated to Greenville from Tennessee, where an ex-boyfriend was supplying her with pills. Moving back home helped her quit taking the pills for a while, and she started going back to her childhood church.
But, once again, Bell relapsed due to stress from her job and her relationships. “I was beginning to build the foundations of Christianity back up,” she said. “When I did that, the enemy came at me really hard, and I allowed it.”
In 2020, Bell’s pastor told her that she needed help, and Bell agreed. She then applied to the Rose House and, upon her acceptance to the program, moved to Whiteville.
“When I first got here, I didn’t think I had a problem,” Bell said. “I thought I was wasting a bed.”
Six months later, Bell feels stronger in her faith, her coping skills and her mental health. “It’s nothing short of a miracle,” she said.
‘God has moved mountains’
The other women at the Rose House now look at Bell in admiration. “She’s set this standard I want to achieve,” said Laura Privett, who had been in the program for less than two months.
When she first arrived at the program, Privett considered running away every day. Now, she turns to Bell for guidance on coping with her struggles.
“We can’t deal with all of it on our own,” Privett said. “That’s what led us to addiction.”
Privett and the other Rose House residents also turn to God.
Each Monday, they attend Celebrate Recovery, a Christian-based, 12-step program to help people with their bad habits, including substance abuse. “It’s like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), but everybody knows Jesus,” Smith said.
Since May, Director of Operations Holenko has witnessed the power of these women’s faith. “God has moved mountains,” she said.
The newest resident, Whitney Watts, says that having God’s support throughout her recovery has made her feel safe. Fifteen years ago, she started doing drugs at the age of 12.
Now, Watts is working on reconciling her relationship with her sister and potentially moving to Seattle to be with her. “I’m looking forward, but I haven’t put a stamp on it yet,” she said.
Smith also struggles with seeing her life post-treatment. Now, she’s just trying to make it through one hour at a time. “I cannot focus on anything else but that,” she said.
Kayla Woods, who has lived at the Rose House for months, can see her future. She hopes to apply to become an intern with Christian Recovery Centers.
Individuals who have completed substance abuse recovery programs can become interns who help Christian Recovery Centers manage their programs. While working, interns get benefits like housing, meals, transportation and educational opportunities, along with a small stipend.
The purpose of the internship program is to get people to a major milestone: one year of sobriety. “It’s a great opportunity for anyone who’s in recovery to continue to grow spiritually, get stronger and have a better chance of success,” said Colton Reaves, director of operations at the Columbus Christian Recovery Center.
Interns can then become full-time staff with salaries and benefits once they reach one year of sobriety. Most of Christian Recovery Centers’ workers, like Reaves, have struggled with addiction.
In 2015, Reaves completed a substance abuse program and became an intern at a similar program in the Outer Banks. That’s when he realized that sobriety, and a meaningful career, was possible for him.
In 2017, Reaves started Saving Sons, a residential treatment program for men in Whiteville.
In 2020, Reaves decided to partner with Christian Recovery Centers, which would take over funding operations at the Whiteville treatment facility, and become the director for Columbus County.
The old Saving Sons facility is now the Rose House — but only temporarily. In early 2022, the women will move to a 28-bed facility in Brunswick County, and the men will move back to Whiteville for the first phase of the program that lasts a few weeks.
Reaves would then be in charge of the Whiteville location once again. He would work on expanding relationships with organizations like Southeastern Community College and on engaging Columbus Countians more through volunteer opportunities like teaching sign language, decorating for the holidays, driving people to doctors’ appointments and doing arts and crafts projects.
Before the Rose House moves to Brunswick County, Bell will graduate — a “bittersweet” moment for her. “I was crying when I was packing my suitcase to leave my kids, and now I’m crying because I have to leave [the women],” she said.
Bell’s graduation, however, will give another woman an opportunity to grow in her sobriety and faith.
More than 100,000 people died of overdoses last year in the United States. But the 11 women at the Rose House are working every day to overcome that statistic through their bonds as struggling sisters.
“They’ve come further than some could have even dreamed of,” Holenko said.
The Border Belt Independent (borderbelt.org) is a nonprofit, online newsroom that provides in-depth reporting in Bladen, Columbus, Robeson, and Scotland counties, often in collaboration with the six newspapers that serve the region.