On March 19, 2001, the first woman moved into Vineyard House's third and newest residence - a house dedicated solely to Island women in need of a safe living environment during the early stages of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. More than a year later, 14 women have already moved through the house, most staying for between one and three months. Four live there now.
"To see them initially, then three months later, then six months or a year - it's nothing short of being present at a miracle," said Vineyard House board member Sandy Broyard. "To see them finally putting their lives together; to see them becoming the person they were always meant to be. It's incredible."
Success is a slippery label to apply to substance abuse recovery. It doesn't only come from spending months or years without using. Addiction is by nature a disease of relapse, and successes can in fact be found at every turn. The admissions interview for Vineyard House can itself be a positive and productive experience, even if it doesn't lead to immediate residency, said Ms. Broyard, who also chairs the screening committee. "To sit with six people who are making suggestions and who all want to help you. It's an important step in identifying, ‘Yes, I have a problem. I want to do something.' "
That something may be a detoxification program or a treatment facility off-Island. But for those for whom Vineyard House is the best solution, organizers move them in as soon as possible. A year-long stay is recommended, though residents move at their own pace, some leaving after less than a month and with maximum residency capped at 18 months. And if a person leaves and comes back - "that's a huge success," said Donna Davey, a board member and social worker. "It meant they found it helpful and want to try again."
When Vineyard House Inc. opened its first two houses in 1997, one had been intended for women only. But organizers watched the waiting list grow for male tenants, while empty beds remained in the second house. And so they opened that house to both men and women; the layout lent itself to co-ed living, with one small cluster of rooms accessible by a separate, back staircase. But organizers knew the arrangement was not ideal. "It's because of the vulnerability of men and women in the early stages of recovery," said Sandra Demel, executive director of Vineyard House. "It gets cloudy. It's easy to replace [the addiction] with another person. They need to focus on themselves."
Also, women in recovery have some different, more complex needs than men. There can be issues because of prior sexual or physical abuse, and dependent children are often part of the picture. Women may avoid seeking help for fear of losing their kids. Though the women's house currently has no accommodations for live-in family, allowances can be worked out for visitation, and organizers are keeping the need in mind for future planning.
In addition, said Ms. Davey, "Addiction is more stigmatized with women. That leads to shame, and to waiting longer to get help. The women we see are often in deep trouble, chronic users."
Women's house manager Mary Hillman agreed. "They've often been around and around for a while, maybe tried to quit a number of times." Of the four women in residence now, all have been to other treatment facilities.
"But this is different, because it's their home community," Ms. Demel said. "It's about creating a support system locally." One goal is to renew the responsibilities in their life and in their relationships, which cannot be done as easily from an off-Island treatment site.
The women's house has three double-occupancy bedrooms on the second floor, and another bedroom for two in the basement. The women share a kitchen and laundry facilities, and an exercise and computer room is in the works. Weekly chores are shared, and monthly rent of $430 covers everything but food.
The rules of the house, an extensive 17-item list, are the same as for the men. They cover everything from dating, curfews and a visitors policy to permitted medications, random drug and alcohol testing and sponsorship requirements. Every resident must be involved in productive work, whether it be paid or volunteer. As manager, Ms. Hillman plays a dual role, overseeing the house as a whole and also tending to individual needs.
Though they are governed by the same policies, the men's and women's houses have somewhat different dynamics. "Men are not as much homemakers or nesters," said Ms. Broyard. "It's harder for women to share space."
And though they are there to provide mutual support, there can be trust issues between women. "Women are often not close to other women when in using situations together," explained Ms. Davey. "In social situations that revolve around drinking, women are often in a position where they're in competition with each other - which sets up that dynamic of being in competition. It takes a while to break down those walls of mistrust."
Looking ahead, Vineyard House organizers want to work with the Island Counseling Center and the hospital to create a fuller range of services and support for women in recovery. Ms. Davey said groups to help with finances, boundary setting and assertiveness skills would all be useful additions to the current offering of Island services.
For those in early recovery or who are contemplating stopping substance abuse, one option is Ms. Davey's drop-in group Monday nights at the hospital's acupuncture clinic from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. The cost is free for those not in counseling; otherwise the cost is $15 a session.
To contact Vineyard House, call 508-693-8580. All discussion is strictly confidential.