They arrive broken by addiction, the scorn and derision of a cold and misunderstanding society weighing them down like battleship chains.
For all of the judgment — the ill-informed opinions that addiction is a choice instead of a disease, or that addicted parents should face harsh and unforgiving consequences that strip them of their children, no one loathes these mothers more than the women staring back at them in the mirror.
At Susannah’s House, a nonprofit, Knoxville-based drug treatment program for mothers battling addiction, they find shelter from those tempests. They find a new way of life in the light of recovery. And more than anything else, they find hope, according to Executive Director Rebekah Fetzer.
A mission of hope
“We help moms get clean and sober, and we do that through therapy and classes,” said Fetzer, who also serves as an associate pastor at Cokesbury United Methodist Church in Knoxville. “We are licensed by the state of Tennessee, and we use evidence-based therapy. We have aftercare, and we also have full-time childcare for moms while they’re in the program. We also help them with wraparound services — housing needs, education, job skills. It’s a very holistic program, and it’s long-term. This is not a quick fix.”
Because of the comprehensive nature of the help Susannah’s House offers, the organization can use all of the assistance it can get — which is where the Cornerstone of Recovery Alumni Association enters the picture each year. Every spring, Cornerstone alumni, with the assistance of staff members and current patients, organizes the “Race for Recovery,” which has benefited Susannah’s House since 2015, shortly after the nonprofit was organized.
Originally called the “Cornerstone Classic,” the 5K run/walk/stroller run was first organized as an Alumni Association outreach activity in 2012 to assist another local addiction-related nonprofit. The beneficiary changed three years later, and ever since, Susannah’s House has been gifted the money raised through participant registrations. This year’s “Race for Recovery” will take place at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 27, beginning and ending at Alcoa High School, 1205 Lodge St. in Alcoa, Tenn.
Parking and registration take place at the school, and the route will take participants through nearby Springbrook Park and back to the school, where awards will be given and entertainment will take place. Participants need not have a connection to Cornerstone or even one to addiction and recovery — only an interest in helping out a worthy cause and giving back to the community, and helping an organization that gives women a second chance at both life and motherhood.
“I think one of the things that people really are surprised at and don’t understand is how many families are being separated and torn apart by this,” Fetzer said. “If these moms aren’t in a program and don’t get treatment, then DCS (the Department of Children’s Services) is right there to separate those moms and babies. These women aren’t getting out of consequences; that doesn’t happen.
“What Susannah’s House does is try to help moms who have had their children removed. We help them in the process of getting those kids back. We go with them through the whole huge, long process it takes to do that, because it’s lengthy and it’s hard. That’s why it’s always better for pregnant women to come to us (before they give birth), because if they’re already in the program, there’s a pretty good bet that they’re going to get to take their kids home.”
A safe space for the most vulnerable
Still, fear and social stigma keep many mothers and potential mothers from ever speaking up. In the latest session of the Tennessee General Assembly, a bill that would allow for assault charges to be levied against women who illegally use drugs while pregnant, if the child is “born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug and the addiction or harm is a result of the woman’s use of a narcotic drug while pregnant.” It passed the state Senate unanimously and is up for a House vote this week, although the bill allows that “enrollment in an addiction recovery program while pregnant and successful completion of the program is an affirmative defense.”
Many women are under the impression that such a law already exists, and in many cases, they don’t come forward to get the help they need, Fetzer added.
“We’re under no obligation to report anybody for anything,” she said. “That’s not why we’re there. We’re there to help moms get clean and sober and be the moms their children need.”
And to better carry out that mission, program officials are always seeking new revenue streams for various projects. This year, Fetzer said, the goal is to raise money for housing.
“We have property beside the house that’s already bought and paid for, and we have plans for apartment-style housing drawn up for women who are homeless or who don’t have a safe place to live while they’re in our IOP program,” she said. “That’s really our focus this year.”
Because Susannah’s House is a nonprofit organization, the cost to participants is zero, and no charges are filed with a participant’s insurance company. In addition to the therapeutic tools used by the organization, Susannah’s House host women from Cornerstone on a monthly basis as part of a mirror-imaging program, the goal being to inspire both sets of recovering women that a new way of life, free of the bonds of addiction, is possible.
“We’ve had incredibly good results with our ladies, and we’ve had numerous graduates of the program who are now out there doing well and working and who have gotten their GEDs,” Fetzer said. “It’s very individualistic, because whatever their needs are is what we try to meet.”
For more information about Susannah’s House, call 200-4759. To register for the “Race for Recovery,” click here, and for additional information on the race, email Chris Rowe, volunteer coordinator at Cornerstone of Recovery, at [email protected]