From the Perspectives Newsletter: A Place to Call Home

Support from CJ’s Place Helps Traci on Her Recovery Journey

From the Fall/Winter 2015 Perspectives Newsletter

For most people, the Bahamas conjures an image of an island paradise.  For Traci, it brings back traumatic childhood memories. “It was hell,” she said.

“My mother had a tendency to find guys who would beat on her,” she recalled. And sometimes they also physically and emotionally abused Traci, which was the case in the Bahamas. The St. Louis native moved with her mother to the Bahamas when she was 11 and lived there until she was 13.

Positive male role models were never a part of Traci’s youth.

“I never knew my father,” she said. Traci only had two interactions with her father, meeting him once when she was 5 years old, and then talking to him on the phone 11 years later.

As an adult, the abusive relationships continued. “I was a battered woman,” she recalls. She attempted to cope with the trauma she experienced through drug and alcohol use.

Drugs and alcohol also were the methods Traci used to deal with a mental illness diagnosis she first diagnosed in 1981. “I would pick up my medication and not take it,” she said.
Instead, she self-medicated with alcohol and crack.  “I really didn’t treat it. I was taking drugs.” In 2010, this led to her becoming homeless.

“I would stay anywhere I could,” explaining that she would often sleep on the steps of churches around town.

At some of her lowest points, Traci turned to prostitution.

She would try to stay the night with her clients whenever possible.

In 2011, Traci was admitted to St. Alexius Hospital. That is when she came into contact with Places for People Outreach Specialist Emily Ludwig. “That’s where I began my recovery.”

Ludwig helped Traci enroll in services at Places for People, and also helped her find shelter at a women’s safe house.

In March 2012, Traci moved into an apartment at one of Places for People’s housing facilities–CJ’s Place.

CJ’s Place features 18 efficiency apartment units, and uses a harm-reduction model for individuals living with severe mental illness, substance abuse and/or HIV. A harm-reduction model includes a specific set of strategies aimed at reducing the negative consequences associated with drug use. These individuals are enrolled in services at Places for People and have been affected by a frequent history of homelessness and evictions due to poor choices.

A 24-hour support team at CJ’s Place assists with crises and monitors controlled-access points to the building to ensure that residents have a safe, drug-free living environment. In addition, staff assist with accessing other resources in the community, building skills to live more independently, and working toward other personal goals such as employment. One of few of its kind in the nation, CJ’s provides stable housing and treatment to residents–many for the first time in their lives.

“CJ’s Place played a major part in me maintaining my recovery,” Traci said.

After years of on and off substance use – Traci was once sober for seven years between 1996 and 2003 – continues to work toward sobriety.

She now takes medication for her major depressive disorder and borderline personality disorder. “I don’t want to lash out or attack anybody or myself,” she said of how medication has helped her.

The staff at CJ’s Place has helped Traci understand the benefits of taking her medication.

“There was a lot of education around the benefits of medications,” said Amanda Schuermann, substance abuse specialist at CJ’s Place.

Traci knows that it won’t be an easy path going forward, but she feels more prepared to face it. “There’s going to be obstacles and barriers, but there are only obstacles and barriers if I let them be.”

During each sober period, Traci would “get glimpses of how her life could be better,” Schuermann said.

Traci has learned something from each of her relapses, and has developed strategies to deal with cravings.

Traci, who has six children, celebrated her 50th birthday in a different way than recent birthdays – clean and sober.

Traci gives the staff at CJ’s Place credit for helping her learn strategies to deal with her addiction, including attending multiple therapy and support groups offered by Places for People (Community Reinforcement Approach, Seeking Safety and CJ’s Place’s wellness group), and participating in different support programs in the community. She also participates in one-on-one therapy sessions. She said staff at CJ’s has always “made themselves available.”

The staff at CJ’s Place also worked with Traci to help her improve her money management skills, setting boundaries with others, and rebuilding relationships with family members.

Schuermann is proud of Traci’s progress and said she is a wonderful example that “persistence pays off.”

The path to recovery is not always as simple as going from point A to point B – there can be many peaks and valleys along the way. “We all slip up every now and then, but she kept at it.”

Schuermann said. “I think she’ll get there. I don’t see her as the giving up type.”

Traci has a background in social work and would like to return to the field one day as a peer specialist. She would like to use her own experiences to help others.

“I’d like to work with clients at an agency like Places for People,” she said.