Erasing the Stigma of Addiction
‘We Have a Choice Justin’s House for Men’ in Tobyhanna is the first officially licensed recovery house in PA
Millions of Americans are touched by substance use disorder every day. With SUD comes a slew of challenges: jail time, lost jobs, shattered families, overdoses and deaths. When a person with a substance use disorder seeks treatment, they most likely will find themselves in an inpatient facility to overcome their addiction. But when their time in the facility comes to an end, where do they go?
Recovery homes are an option for people with a history of addiction. These sober-living homes provide a place for those in recovery to ease back into society without temptations surrounding them.
In Tobyhanna, “We Have a Choice Justin’s House for Men” is run by Kenny Ramirez, who was featured in a 2018 Monroe Matters newsletter. We recently spoke with Kenny, his wife, Amanda, and his mother-in-law, Kathy, to follow up on their journeys and how recovery has transformed their lives. A sampling of our Q&A follows:
Q: Since we spoke in 2018, what, if any, changes have the recovery home undergone?
KR: We have continued to serve clients in Monroe County and surrounding areas by providing safe, sober living to individuals. We help anyone who we can when we can.
Q: What personal or professional changes, if any, have happened in your life?
KR: This year, our family suffered major losses. My brotherin-law overdosed on fentanyl, and it devastated our family. This makes it more real for us and our dedication to helping others. We looked to expand our services by seeking Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs recovery home licensure and are the first recovery home to be officially licensed in our commonwealth. We are also certified through the Pennsylvania Alliance of Recovery Residences and continue to work with the executive director Fred Way, who always gives us excellent guidance in maintaining safe recovery home living that meets national standards. We are also in the process of contracting with Jamie Drake, who is the executive director of the Carbon-Monroe-Pike Drug and Alcohol Commission’s Single County Authority to expand recovery home services to residents of Monroe, Carbon and Pike counties.
Q: What does DDAP certification mean for the recovery home?
KR: Our goal is to get more DDAP licensed recovery houses in the future because people in recovery need safe places to live. We are forever grateful to be of service to our community today and to be part of the solution.
Q: Can you tell me about yourself, your years of addiction, your path to recovery, how you met Kenny, and your journey to opening the recovery home?
AR: I began experimenting with drugs when I was 11. It started with cigarettes, alcohol and weed when I would get together with friends at parties. I graduated to other drugs such as ecstasy, opioid pills and cocaine and was eventually introduced to heroin. This is really where my addiction journey took off as I was consumed by the feeling heroin gave me. I would do anything to keep that feeling, which led me to start stealing from my loved ones, lying and manipulating people. I continuously hurt myself and everyone around me. Relapse is a part of my story. I would get some clean time and do all of these things all over again. It was a torturous cycle. Inside, I would be screaming that I wanted to stop. I didn’t want to continue how I was living but physically was unable to do so. By the time I was 21, I had been arrested multiple times for possession and shoplifting, been to detoxes and outpatient services, and inpatient and residential treatment. Finally, I went away to a facility for a year, and during this time is where my recovery journey began. About 6 months into it, I woke up one day with a different set of eyes. I looked around at my surroundings and said to myself, “I never want to come back to a place like this again.” I wanted to live a good life where I didn’t wake up in pain. I had the desire to change. From there I went to a sober living home for women, which was a slum house with no heat and bed bugs. But I knew if I left and went back home, I would most likely use. I continued on and went to meetings and IOP programs and got a support group and took all the suggestions everyone gave me. I met my husband during this time, as he lived a few blocks away from where I was living. At this point, we each had a year clean and helped each other continue our recovery journeys.
Q: Recently, you became a certified recovery counselor. What motivated you to do this?
AR: I became a certified recovery specialist in August. I had just been thinking about all the recent overdoses because of fentanyl and thought to myself I wanted to do more. I had 11 years clean at that point and just felt like I needed to share my recovery with others, so I enrolled in school. Let me tell you, God makes no mistakes because on my second day of class, I got the devastating news that my brother overdosed on fentanyl and died. He is part of the 100,000 lives lost due to overdoses in 2021. This has forever changed my family. We will do whatever we can to save lives because addiction is killing people from all walks of life and backgrounds, different ages and races. It does not discriminate. Most people won’t seek help due to the shame and stigma that comes along with being addicted to drugs. We are here to kill that stigma and say everyone is worth recovery!
Q: What are the challenges of being the parent of someone with substance use disorder?
KM: One of the most challenging parts of being the parent of an addict is being helpless to the fact that your child is harming themselves and trying to get them to accept that they need help. It’s also very challenging to not enable your child because, as a parent, you want to help them, but you cannot allow their addiction to become your addiction even though you aren’t the one using. As a mother who lost her son to an overdose, it’s heartbreaking to accept the fact that you cannot always help and to realize that you did everything you could possibly do. If love was enough, no one would die from addiction.
Q: How has your daughter and your son-in-law’s journey in recovery affected your relationship with them?
KM: My daughter and son-in-law’s journey in recovery has helped to flourish our relationship in many different ways. We are able to communicate openly and honestly with each other.
Q: Why was it important for you to partner with Amanda and Kenny on the recovery home?
KM: I wanted to open the recovery house with Amanda and Kenny because all of us have lived each side of addiction – as addicts and as the loved one of addicts. Together we could build a community of experience to help others.
For more on Justin’s House, visit www.facebook.com/WeHaveAChoiceRecoveryHouseForMen.
MORE RESOURCES: Find drug and alcohol treatment by calling 1-800-662-HELP or by contacting the Carbon/Monroe/Pike Drug and Alcohol Commission at 570-421-1960 or by visiting cmpda.cog.pa.us.