WINCHESTER, Va. - Julie Funkhouser and Meredith Speir are trying to connect with female recovering alcoholics and addicts.
On Sept. 1, the two opened The Recovery Connection, an eight-bed recovery home in Rolling Hills Estates off Valley Avenue. There are seven clients, and the eighth bed is for the night manager, a recovering addict who works there part-time. Funkhouser and Speir, clean and sober since 2008 and 2009, respectively, are using their own experiences and perspectives to help their residents maintain sobriety.
Besides maintaining sobriety, the transitional living program’s goal is providing structure, developing meaningful relationships and building self-esteem in a clean, safe environment.
“Meredith and I really want to help these women learn how to live,” Funkhouser said. “The first step is getting the alcohol and the drugs out of someone’s system, but then what? Then what do you do?”
Funkhouser, 30, and Speir, 37, met while in recovery in 2008. They decided to open the home in January after Speir had problems trying to find a recovery home for a loved one. Besides a real estate search, efforts included getting trained in cardio pulmonary resuscitation and use of the overdose antidote naloxone. They also got the program certified by the Virginia Association of Recovery Residences, which measures quality and sets standards. The association is part of the National Alliance for Recovery Residences.
Resident’s pay $1,850 per month for the program, which includes food, a gym membership, rides to Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, religious activities and appointments for therapy and treatment. Life skills classes and recovery and relapse prevention workshops are also part of the program.
The goal is for residents to stay a year to 18 months, but stays aren’t limited. Funkhouser and Speir say some residents have been deeply traumatized and need more time before they can live independently.
“There is a strength in everybody and we need to find it and build from that,” Speir said. “We want them to feel valued here and we want them to be able to establish and maintain solid relationships and that takes longer than 28 days.”
Residents are regularly drug tested and a positive test usually results in residents being removed from the home for at least 14 days. Forty to 60 percent of alcoholics and addicts relapse within a year of leaving recovery, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, and Funkhouser and Speir say they recognize relapses are part of recovery.
The program doesn’t accept Medicaid, although Funkhouser and Speir say that’s something they’re considering in the future if they can afford to do it. The two, who are renting the home from investors in Saratoga LLC on an annual lease, say they recognize many alcoholics and addicts can’t afford the cost. They have a limited financial aid program to those who qualify.
Many recovery homes don’t accept recovering addicts who receive medication-assisted treatment (MAT) such as buprenorphine, a synthetic opioid marketed as Suboxone that blocks cravings and withdrawal symptoms. However, allowing MAT is part of the program’s philosophy of individualized care.
“We recognize that the disease of addiction is so complex that we need to afford people the opportunity to figure out what works for them,” Speir said, adding that drugs are kept in a locked box. “We’re in the business of helping people. We don’t want to stigmatize a MAT resident versus a non-MAT resident.”
The program includes helping residents find employment and get treatment and includes bonding activities such as two-day per week group dinners with residents rotating cooking responsibilities. The meals are part of the program’s relationship-building mission.
“A lot of the time when people are out there using, they lose the ability to connect,” Speir said. “They don’t feel loved. They feel alone.”
Resident Krystle Etherington, a 41-year-old methamphetamine addict who has been clean since Sept. 11, said she has been using drugs since she was 14. Etherington said the longest she has ever been clean is three months, but the customized nature of the program gives her hope that she can maintain sobriety.
Etherington, who’s receiving financial aid for her stay, is hopeful the program can provide perspective and help her deal with her need for instant gratification. She’s grateful to Funkhouser and Speir.
“If it weren’t for Meredith and Julie, I could definitely be back out on the streets getting high again. I could be dead,” ” she said. “They have just brought so much light to the darkness I was drowning in.”
The support Funkhouser and Speir offer is reciprocated. On Sept. 11, Funkhouser’s 38-year-old husband Danny Gordon Funkhouser II fatally overdosed. Funkhouser said she’s grateful to residents for supporting her.
“These residents are amazing people because they allow me to struggle, too,” she said. “I’m going through a tremendous amount of loss and a tremendous amount of grief right now in my life. That’s kind of how this thing works. We’re here for each other.”