St. Martin’s is such a beautiful place. It prepared me to reclaim my life.

Crystal, 51, is looking forward. Fourteen months sober, and a recent graduate of St. Martin de Porres House of Hope, Crystal has a part-time job and sings with Harmony, Hope and Healing, a therapeutic and educational music program. Melanie Bagnola, the Case Manager at House of Hope, connected her to Housing Opportunities for Women (HOW) and this past April she moved into her own apartment.

Crystal has battled addiction for 30 years. She grew up in a suburb of Chicago and began using alcohol and marijuana while in high school. She remained functional until her late 20s, when both her mother and her brother died. Following this trauma, her addiction spiraled out of control. She began smoking crack cocaine to relieve her anguish. “In the beginning, getting high makes you not feel rotten. Then the escape from misery dissipates, but you are stuck in a vicious cycle,” she says.

In and out of treatment centers and recovery homes, Crystal says today that it took her “a long time to have the capacity to get gut honest” with herself and other people. St. Martin de Porres helped her get there. She learned about St. Martin’s year-long program from some women who graduated from it. They told her “You don’t have to worry about running out and getting a job and paying rent – you have to worry only about yourself.” She was also drawn to the security and structure it offered. “I’m undisciplined – I had been doing what I want to do when I want to do it,” Crystal says. “I knew from prior experience with trying to get sober that I needed the time to build the foundation. We had groups, homework – you didn’t have time to get bored.”

Focused on getting sober, Crystal took every opportunity that St. Martin’s had to offer, including therapy. Crystal says her therapist, Sister Carlotta, was calm and genuine, non-judgmental but stern: “She doesn’t play. I talked a lot of stuff through with Sister Carlotta. I confided in her, and released the guilt, shame and remorse I had been holding.”

Crystal also praises Recovery Coach Amanda Longe’-Asque, another graduate of St. Martin de Porres, for her knowledge of the 12 steps and her skill in leading Groups. “I was drawn to her and her energy. Her tenacity and her spirit oozed out of her and I wanted it. Ms. Amanda’s passion for recovery gives you hope and proof that with hard work and dedication anyone can recover.”

“What I learned from Sr. Therese is if you are willing to allow yourself to be vulnerable and believe in yourself, your dreams are still possible. Her quiet presence and nurturing spirit covers you like a quilt. She listens to you wholeheartedly. I trusted her the first time I laid eyes on her. She has the largest spirit in such a small frame.”

Asked what advice she would give a woman entering St. Martin’s, Crystal says, “I’d tell every woman to take advantage of this opportunity you have been blessed with, and all the resources that St. Martin’s has to offer. It’s such a beautiful place.  It prepared me to reclaim my life. I still do a lot of the same things I learned at St. Martin’s. I get up and make my bed every morning. I pray every morning.

I learned at St. Martin’s how to become responsible for my recovery. Addiction is a very lonely, isolated place. Staying connected is key. Your disease wants you to be isolated and alone where it can trick you and tell you lies. You need to stay connected to the source that has given you hope.

Crystal plans to participate in St. Martin’s weekly relapse prevention group for alumnae, which launches in September. The group will help graduates stay engaged in their recovery as they transition back to real life by staying connected with other women who share their goals and values. “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity,” says Crystal. I will participate in the alumnae program and anything they give or do.”