This story originally appeared in the Nov. 25 edition of the weekly LINK Reader. To see this story and others sooner, subscribe to the weekly newspaper here.
In 2019, Erica Owens went through the treatment program at Brighton Center’s Recovery Center for Women. Today, she is the food service manager for Center Table, working in the same program she said played a considerable role in saving her life.
“Tons of positive things happen here all the time,” Owens said. “Lots of miracles. I always say that Center Table saved my life.”
Center Table is a catering business that supports recovery efforts and culinary training for women with substance use disorder.
After completing the treatment program in January 2020, Owens took the next steps in her journey when she became a staff member just a few months later in March.
At the time of completing the treatment program, Owens said she was still on probation and had a felony on her record, making it difficult to find employment. Owens said she doesn’t know what she would have done without the Brighton Recovery Center.
“The best part is that it gets us out into the community, and it shows the community what the face of recovery is and not the face of addiction,” Owens said.
The phrase “the kitchen is the heart of the home” rings true at Center Table. Owens said it makes the women at the facility feel at home; they get in the kitchen, share laughs, and create good memories.
“When you’re in your own home, and you’re cooking, and people come to the kitchen and just talk to you and eat snacks and stuff, that’s like how it is in here,” Owens said. “Center Table gives them a chance to build confidence and self-esteem.”
Owens said she found new confidence in herself by learning new kitchen skills.
The past two years have been the most successful at Center Table, Owens said. They just celebrated their 10th anniversary in August.
Center Table also recently partnered with The Florentine Event Center in Florence. Owens said they average about 30 to 40 events a year. They have catered for the governor, St. Elizabeth hospitals, and the Boone County Library, to name a few.
“People love our purpose, and that’s why they want to help us, and every bit of the proceeds go back into the recovery center,” Owens said.
On the road to recovery, Owens’ outlook hasn’t always been positive. When she first got to the treatment center, she said she was “extremely angry.”
After years of bullying in school, two failed marriages, and her father’s passing, she turned to methamphetamine to cope.
“I didn’t want to live anymore,” Owen said. “It was weird. Every night, towards the end, when I was ‘in the madness,’ we call that ‘in active addiction,’ I didn’t want to do the drugs anymore; and every day when I woke up, I had to. It’s hard to explain when people don’t understand.”
Her addiction eventually led to her arrest. Owens said she felt like she had lost all control of her life.
“The ladies in this house loved me back to life and took good care of me, and they’re still my friends to this day,” she said.
The treatment could be mentally exhausting, Owens said. She said it was hard to work on things that she didn’t realize have always bothered her, like the years of bullying in school and her father’s death, and have those emotions get brought to the surface in recovery.
“The women in this house taught me how to love myself,” Owens said. “It makes me almost get emotional because I wouldn’t change my life today for nothing. I used to say that I regret that I had to lose my house, my car, and my mom had to take my son for me, but I don’t regret it. I know now that God made me do that so that I could be where I am today to help these women.
“I love to empower them, and to watch the light come on in their face, and to teach them how to be self-sufficient and successful, and that we don’t always have to be that sad person that we looked like when we got arrested.”
Part of her work at the recovery center includes teaching at family night with her mom. Family night educates families on the treatment, how to be helpful in their loved one’s recovery, and how to avoid enabling their habits. They also provide the families with resources to help them heal.
The recovery center is a long-term residential treatment facility that can house up to 108 women. Owens said a lot of their participants are from the Department of Corrections. When they arrive at the facility, they work through four treatment components.
The first step in the treatment center is Safe Off the Streets. Women quarantine for seven days due to COVID-19, then meet their “big sister,” who takes them to treatment classes.
The women then move on to Motivational Track. They walk two and a half miles to and from a church to attend classes. Owens said this allows bonding time, exercise, and gets them out into the community.
“Unfortunately, before the Brighton Recovery Center got here, treatment was very hush-hush,” Owens said. “It was embarrassing. People didn’t want to know, and that’s not how it needs to be.”
Owens said the center wants the community to see who they are and what they do.
Women receive counseling and medication for their mental health during the Motivational Track, if needed. The center also has a nurse practitioner and a nurse from St. Elizabeth on staff four days a week.
The Motivational Track lasts about eight to 10 weeks, and then the women start working with a sponsor, following the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) steps.
Owens said her sponsor, “Tai Chi Dan,” who teaches Tai Chi to the residents, was the “strict” sponsor she knew she needed once she got out of the program.
Dan Landers’ sobriety date is Oct. 20, 1983, making him 39 years sober. He has sponsored hundreds of people over those years.
Landers and Owens work through the 12 steps of recovery, which he said are technically suggestions but something he sees as mandatory to stay sober.
“I help her with her problems,” Landers said. “I help her with her anger problems, with her normal everyday problems when she doesn’t know what to do. I suggest things to her, and she usually follows my suggestions.”
Owens said the guidance is invaluable.
“We tend to be selfish and self-centered people,” Owens said. “My sponsor always says, ‘What have you done today to inconvenience yourself?’ It’s all about giving back.”
Landers passed on those words of wisdom to Owens – words he once received from his sponsor.
“My sponsor told me a long, long time ago, ‘Takers don’t last long in the land of givers,’ and I went, ‘Wow.’ We become givers so we can live this life,” Landers said.
Even after 39 years sober, Landers has a sponsor. He said he has outlived four of his sponsors over his years of sobriety.
“The first guy, he died (of old age) after eight years of sobriety,” Landers said. “Probably not a day goes by where I don’t think about him at least once because he gave me these tools to live by.”
When Landers first started working with Owens, he saw how much turmoil she carried.
“I thought when I first met her, ‘This woman’s going to explode.’ She was so full of anger, guilt, and resentment and has gotten rid of most of it,” Landers said. “She’s still got a way to go, but she’s working on it. I love her so much. I’m glad she’s in my life today, and I can be a part of hers.”
After 30 days, people in treatment can attend AA meetings outside the property, where they must attend five a week. They also must attend three in-house meetings a week. The center brings in Narcotics Anonymous for people to participate in other programs as they see fit.
Once the Motivational Track is completed, the women can pick a job to start working in the facility. They can join the kitchen crew, become a door greeter, become a big sister to help women in the Safe Off the Streets program, or work on the catering crew.
Participants will work those jobs for anywhere from two to four months as they work on their life skills. Life skills classes can be anything from financial help, parenting, and healthy relationships, to how to write a resume and prepare for a job.
Owens said during her stay, she was able to relieve some of her debt through help from the financial class.
“We want them to be able to walk out this door and have everything they need at their fingertips. Once they complete it, they are always able to go to any Brighton Center to get any resource that they have,” Owens said.
After the 12 steps, phase two begins.
During phase two, there is an option to become a peer mentor that helps teach classes and share their recovery experiences. Or they can opt to get a job within two weeks.
Phase two lasts 90 days. After the first 30 days, residents can move off the property if they want to, and then for the remaining 60 days, they come back once a week for group counseling.
Owens said they never “throw them out.” Women receiving treatment are allowed to stay for 24 months.
Phase two is the biggest transitional stage, and staff ensures that residents know that the center is always a safe space for them.
Owens said 83% of women involved in the program achieve sobriety. In her opinion, it’s because the treatment is long-term.
“It takes a long time for your brain to heal from drugs and alcohol,” Owens said. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long to get addicted, but it takes a long time to get better.”
They see women as young as 18 years old to women in their mid-70s who need help. The center holds two graduation ceremonies annually and has already celebrated 13 graduates this year. Once a resident graduates, they become known as alumni of the program.
After going through the program, Owens said her mom is now her best friend, and her son, who used to hate the center, views it in a new light.
Thanks to the recovery center, Owens is now three and a half years sober.
“I was hopeless,” Owens said. “You learn in Alcoholics Anonymous that you feel like you’re going to die of hopelessness, and nobody ever has, but mentally, you feel that way … I’m so grateful today. That’s one thing you learn in recovery is you learn to be grateful for things that you took advantage of before. Like the sunshine or the fall leaves, different things like that, and that’s why I say this place doesn’t just cure the addiction. It heals you.”